The extraordinarily well-preserved remains of the Neolithic (stone age) community of Skara Brae are on the western shore of this island. The site was first inhabited more than 5,000 years ago and was occupied for about 600 years. Entombed in sand until a violent storm exposed them in 1850, the remains are as they were rediscovered and unearthed, not a recreation. Looking inside, I marveled at just how similar the basics of these peoples' lives were to my own. They had areas for cooking, storage, sleeping and other activities. They even had stone furniture. I may fill my needs more easily, but over the millennia, our needs have remained constant.
We visited spectacular examples left from succeeding ages, including standing stones, and the burial chamber known as Maes Howe. More recent is St. Magnus Cathedral, started in the twelfth century. Built of old red sandstone, the bedrock of this archipelago, the structure reflects the Viking influence, which is still evident in today's population.
One of the most compelling stories has to do with something we could not directly see. Scapa Flow is one of the great harbors of the world. It is expansive in size, uniformly deep, well protected, and it has multiple avenues of access to the ocean. As we stopped to view the site, we heard the tale of the interned German Imperial Navy's High Seas Fleet at the end of World War I. As the final armistice approached, the commanding admiral chose to scuttle his ships rather than turn them over to the British. It was the greatest single piece of naval suicide the world has ever seen. At noon on June 21, 1919, 74 ships were scuttled. All but seven have since been salvaged. As we continued on, Undersea Specialist David Cothran was diving and photographing the SMS Dresden.