Orkney World Heritage Site

Decades of archaeological research make Orkney a must-see site.

Orkney stones
The archaeological places of Orkney are on a par with locations like Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt.

For almost 30 years, Professor Colin Richards has led archaeologists working in Orkney. The research, including the identification of six Neolithic settlements, contributed to UNESCO granting the area World Heritage status in 1999. Research continues to enrich tourist experiences and community outreach.

Backed by years of archaeological research and Neolithic discoveries, Orkney is a World Heritage Site, boosting tourism and raising public awareness of archaeology

Orkney’s archaeological heritage provides an invaluable and unique opportunity to discover prehistoric society. Colin Richards, Professor of World Prehistory, has led our research in Orkney for almost three decades. Most significantly, the archaeology work added Orkney to the distinguished list of World Heritage Sites, placing these remote Scottish islands on a par with locations like Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt.

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70,000 people visit the World heritage Sites that include Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar and Barnhouse.

So far Professor Richards has identified six new Neolithic settlements and studied their relationship with other Neolithic sites in the landscape. One settlement – Barnhouse – has now been reconstructed; the archaeological research helps this cultural attraction provide an informative and enriched experience to around 70,000 visitors each year.

As a renowned expert on Orkney’s Neolithic heritage, Professor Richards works locally and further afield to protect and promote this unique landscape. The local community and tourists both benefit from his insights and contributions to:

  • Visitor interpretation and information on Orkney’s World Heritage monuments, including guidebooks, panels and training for Historic Scotland rangers
  • Articles in the local Orcadian newspaper to heighten awareness of the valuable and rich cultural heritage of the area
  • Programmes on national radio and TV, which help to promote the island as a travel destination
  • The research priorities and policies of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites research committee
  • The Merranblo wind farm inquiry, held in Stromness, which eventually turned down the application based on pivotal evidence from Professor Richards about the relationship between the Neolithic sites and their landscape
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Six new Neolithic settlements have been discovered.

Our research

Professor Richards and his teams of professional archaeologists and local volunteers have investigated multiple aspects of Neolithic archaeology in Orkney:

  • Discovery and investigation of six new Neolithic settlements.
  • Investigation of the relationship between Barnhouse and nearby monuments (Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe).
  • Studies on settlements and chambered tombs in central Mainland, Orkney.
  • Studies on the construction of monuments and their relationship with the landscape.

By applying a theoretical framework, the researchers have developed a coherent narrative which links sites that had previously been treated in isolation. This regional approach has transformed academic understanding of Neolithic society in the area.

Lead academic

  • Professor Colin Richards