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Landsat-5 satellite image. The location of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of northern Scotland in Great Britain. ORKNEY ISLANDS 59°N 3°W. +. NORTH ORKNEY.

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Landsat-5 satellite image

The location of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of northern Scotland in Great Britain.


59°N 3°W





The Orkney islands of Scotland. The named islands make up the portion of Orkney included in Penn State’s North Orkney Population History Project.








Landsat-5 satellite image


A view over the island of Eday, north Orkney. Because of its higher elevations and wetter climate, Eday has abundant natural deposits of peat, which was once cut and exported to the rest of north Orkney for use as fuel.


An abandoned farmhouse on the island of Faray, north Orkney. Archaeological surveys of old farmsteads and detailed mapping of the physical landscape allow us to link demographic records on households to the sites they once occupied.


The abandoned croft complex of Ha’ouse on the island of Westray, the single most complicated of the farmsteads included in our historical archaeological survey. Behind it is the tidal bay called The Ouse, where the original Viking settlers landed in the tenth century. Like most place names in north Orkney, Ouse and Ha’ouse are Norse (Scandinavian) in origin and probably date to the Viking period.


Turnips (introduced in the 19th century)

Bere, an old Scottish landrace of barley

The staple food and fodder crops of

nineteenth-century Orkney

Potatoes (introduced in the 17th or 18th century)

Black oats


North Ronaldsay sheep, a rare and ancient breed once confined to the Orkney Islands. Most of the year they are kept on the shingle (stony beachfront) where they graze on seaweed. Ancient stone walls keep them away from cultivated land.


Commercial work in north Orkney, c. 1900

Burning seaweed to produce kelp, a source of alkali for the production of glass and industrial dyes.

Spinning wool to make knitted goods for sale.

A lobster fisherman on his way to work.

Packing dried fish(mostly cod and saithe) for export.


A page from the 1870 register of deaths for the island of Sanday. “Vital” registers of births, marriages, and deaths, along with census data, allow a detailed reconstruction of the demography of north Orkney from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.

traditional farm buildings in orkney
Traditional farm buildings in Orkney

A reconstructed farmhouse interior in Orkney. Drying fish hang over the fireplace, in which peat is burning. The barrel to the left is for brewing ale. Note the flagstone floor.

A traditional box bed, South Hammer, Westray. To keep warm, up to eight people (adults and children) would sleep in such a box bed with its shudders closed.

An old byre (cattle shed), Sangar, Westray. Huge slabs of flagstone were erected on edge to form cattle stalls.

An old barn with a cylindrical grain-drying kiln, Nether Brough, Westray.


Orkney farm work, c. 1900

Women plowing with a horse and pony

Singling neeps (thinning turnips) with hoes

Harvesting grain with a scythe. The women in the background are tying sheaves.


The abandoned croft of North Skaill, Westray. The house is fairly “modern”, dating from about 1920.