"Heritage at Risk: How Rising Seas Threaten Ancient Coastal Ruins"

"The shores of Scotland’s Orkney Islands are dotted with ruins that date to the Stone Age. But after enduring for millennia, these archaeological sites – along with many others from Easter Island to Jamestown – are facing an existential threat from climate change."

"Perched on the breathtaking Atlantic coast of Mainland, the largest island in Scotland’s Orkney archipelago, are the remains of the Stone Age settlement of Skara Brae, dating back 5,000 years. Just feet from the sea, Skara Brae is one of the best preserved Stone Age villages in the world — a complex of ancient stone house foundations, walls, and sunken corridors carved out of the dunes by the shore of the Bay of Skaill. Fulmars and kittiwakes from the vast seabird colonies on Orkney’s high cliffs wheel above the coastal grassland of this rugged island, 15 miles from the northern coast of the Scottish mainland. On a sunny day, the surrounding bays and inlets take on a sparkling aquamarine hue.

Older than the Egpyptian pyramids and Stonehenge, Skara Brae is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site that also includes two iconic circles of standing stones — the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness — and Maeshowe, an exquisitely structured chambered tomb famous for its Viking graffiti and the way its Stone Age architects aligned the entrance to catch the sun’s rays at the winter solstice. These sites, situated just a few miles from Skara Brae, are part of an elaborate ceremonial landscape built by Orkney’s earliest farmers.

Skara Brae and the neighboring sites have weathered thousands of years of Orkney’s wild winters and ferocious storms, but they may not outlive the changing climate of our modern era. As seas rise, storms intensify, and wave heights in this part of the world increase, the threat grows to Skara Brae, where land at each end of its protective sea wall — erected in the 1920s — is being eaten away.  Today, as a result of climate change, Skara Brae is regarded by Historic Environment Scotland, the government agency responsible for its preservation, as among Scotland’s most vulnerable historic sites."

Adam Markham reports for Yale Environment 360 July 17, 2017.

Source: YaleE360, 07/18/2017