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800px-Orkney Islands in Scotland.svg.png


Admin HQ: Kirkwall

Government Body: Orkney Islands Council

Control: Independent

  • MPs: Alistair Carmichael
  • MSPs: Liam McArthur

Total Area: 990 km2 (380 sq mi)

Population (2010 est.):

  • Total: 21,000
  • Rank: Ranked 32nd
  • Density: 20/km2 (50/sq mi)

ONS code: 00RA

website: http://www.orkney.gov.uk/

Orkney (Scottish Gaelic: Arcaibh), also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago in northern Scotland, 16 kilometres (10 mi) north of the coast of Caithness. Orkney comprises approximately 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited.<ref>Haswell-Smith (2004) 336-403</ref><ref>Wickham-Jones (2007) 1 states there are 67 islands.</ref>

The largest island, known as the "Mainland" has an area of 523.25 square kilometres (202 sq mi), making it the sixth largest Scottish island and the tenth-largest island in the British Isles. The largest settlement and administrative centre is Kirkwall.<ref>Haswell-Smith (2004) 334, 502</ref><ref> Lamb, Raymond "Kirkwall" in Omand (2003) 184</ref> The name "Orkney" dates back to the 1st century BC or earlier, and the islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years. Originally occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes and then by the Picts, Orkney was invaded and forcibly annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse.

The Scottish Parliament then re-annexed the earldom to the Scottish Crown in 1472, following the failed payment of a dowry for James III's bride, Margaret of Denmark.<ref>Thompson (2008) 220</ref>Orkney contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe, and the "Heart of Neolithic Orkney" is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Orkney is one of the 32 council areas of Scotland, a constituency of the Scottish Parliament, a lieutenancy area, and a former county. The local council is Orkney Islands Council, one of only three Councils in Scotland with a majority of elected members who are independents.

In addition to the Mainland, most of the islands are in two groups, the North and South Isles, all of which have an underlying geological base of Old Red Sandstone. The climate is mild and the soils are extremely fertile, most of the land being farmed. Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy and the significant wind and marine energy resources are of growing importance. The local people are known as Orcadians and have a distinctive Scots dialect and a rich inheritance of folklore. There is an abundance of marine and avian wildlife.


Pytheas of Massilia visited Britain – probably sometime between 322 and 285 BC – and described it as triangular in shape, with a northern tip called Orcas.<ref>Breeze, David J. "The ancient geography of Scotland" in Smith and Banks (2002) 11-13</ref> This may have referred to Dunnet Head, from which Orkney is visible.<ref>Early Historical References to Orkney" Orkneyjar.com. (accessed 26th June 2014)</ref>

Writing in the 1st century AD, the Roman geographer Pomponius Mela called the islands Orcades, as did Tacitus in AD 98, claiming that his father-in-law Agricola had "discovered and subjugated the Orcades hitherto unknown" (although both Mela and Pliny had previously referred to the islands.<ref>Early Historical References to Orkney" Orkneyjar.com. (accessed 26th June 2014)</ref><ref>Tacitus (c. 98) Agricola. Chapter 10. "ac simul incognitas ad id tempus insulas, quas Orcadas vocant, invenit domuitque"</ref>

Etymologists usually interpret the element orc- as a Pictish tribal name meaning "young pig" or "young boar".<ref>Waugh, Doreen J. "Orkney Place-names" in Omand (2003) 116</ref> Speakers of Old Irish referred to the islands as Insi Orc ("island of the pigs").<ref>Waugh, Doreen J. "Orkney Place-names" in Omand (2003) 116</ref> The archipelago is known as Arcaibh in modern Scottish Gaelic, the -aibh representing a fossilized prepositional case ending.

Norwegian settlers arriving from the late 9th century re-interpreted orc as Old Norse orkn "seal", with the added suffix ey "island".<ref>Thomson (2008) 42</ref> Thus the name became Orkneyjar (meaning "seal islands"), later shortened to "Orkney" in English. According to the Historia Norvegiæ, Orkney was named after an earl called Orkan.<ref>http://www.vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/Text%20Series/Historia%26Passio.pdf</ref>

The Norse knew Mainland Orkney as Megenland (mainland) or as Hrossey (horse island).<ref>Haswell-Smith (2004) 354</ref>The island is sometimes referred to as Pomona (or Pomonia), a name that stems from a sixteenth-century mis-translation by George Buchanan and has rarely been used locally.<ref>Buchanan, George (1582) Rerum Scoticarum Historia: The First Book The University of California, Irvine. Revised 8 March 2003. (accessed 27th June 2014)</ref>


A charred hazelnut shell, recovered in 2007 during excavations in Tankerness on the Mainland has been dated to 6820–6660 BC indicating the presence of Mesolithic nomadic tribes.<ref> "Hazelnut shell pushes back date of Orcadian site" (3 November 2007) Stone Pages Archaeo News. Retrieved 6 September 2009.</ref> The earliest known permanent settlement is at Knap of Howar, a Neolithic farmstead on the island of Papa Westray, which dates from 3500 BC. The village of Skara Brae, Europe's best-preserved Neolithic settlement, is believed to have been inhabited from around 3100 BC.<ref>"Skara Brae Prehistoric Village" Historic Scotland. Retrieved 3 February 2010.</ref>

Other remains from that era include the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Maeshowe passage grave, the Ring of Brodgar and other standing stones. Many of the Neolithic settlements were abandoned around 2500 BC, possibly due to changes in the climate.<ref>"Skara Brae Prehistoric Village" Historic Scotland. Retrieved 3 February 2010.</ref><ref>"Skara Brae Prehistoric Village" Historic Scotland. Retrieved 3 February 2010</ref>

During the Bronze Age fewer large stone structures were built although the great ceremonial circles continued in use as metalworking was slowly introduced to Scotland from Europe over a lengthy period.<ref>Moffat (2005) 154, 158, 161</ref>There are relatively few Orcadian sites dating from this era although there is the impressive Plumcake Mound near the Ring of Brodgar and various islands sites such as Tofts Ness on Sanday and the remains of two houses on Holm of Faray.<ref>Wickham-Jones (2007) 74–76</ref>