The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Building styles and traditions

There are no large woods or forests in Orkney so buildings have been made from the natural resources found on the islands.

Stone was gathered from the fields or shore and small quarries were opened in parishes to provide better stone which could be dressed.

The bedrock on the Orkney shores could be easily split to provide flagstones which were used for making furniture, room divisions, roofing and flooring. The earliest houses at the Knap of Howar make good use of these materials so it is clear the Neolithic people made use of what they had around them.

Due to the hard work of getting materials all early houses were simple 'but and ben' one-storey buildings. The roofs were low with the earliest houses being covered with straw. When driving around Orkney today it is still possible to see some of these lovely old homes which stand proud among their more fancy and elaborate neighbours. Others have got a new lease of life and have been converted into outhouses or have been incorporated into a new build.

This section of the website looks at how houses were made in the past, the locations chosen and the materials used.