Remains of a Skara Brae building. (Photo credit: Wknight94 / Wikipedia)

For five thousand years, structures from a Stone Age village have survived on the rugged coast of Scotland’s Orkney Islands.

Downes: “Skara Brae is very well preserved. Things like bones survive. And also the furniture within it was made out of stone, so you can see beds and the hearth around which the people would have sat.”

That’s Jane Downes of Scotland’s University of the Highlands and Islands. She says Skara Brae is just one of the islands’ many archeological sites at risk of being destroyed by climate change.

Downes: “We’re seeing increasing sea levels, and so more inundation, but also increased storminess and increased rainfall. So there are these factors which combine to make the sites incredibly vulnerable and actually suffering erosion at a measurably increasing rate.”

Downes says building barriers, such as stone walls, might provide protection for some vulnerable sites. But it’s too expensive and time-consuming to do so for all. And when places like Skara Brae are destroyed, that history can never be recovered.

Downes: “It’s giving us aspects of life 5,000 years ago that you don’t get anywhere else.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...