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Orkney Islands

The Orkneys comprise more than seventy islands, most of them uninhabited, about twenty miles off the northeast coast of mainland Scotland in the North Sea. The islands were created by the movement of glaciers, which marked the terrain with low hills. There are few trees and much wind and rain. The largest island is known as Mainland or Pomona, of which the two towns are Kirkwall (the administrative seat) and Stromness.

Civilization in the Orkneys is very ancient: stone circles and an underground village known as Skara Brae indicate late Neolithic habitation. (Eighteenth-century expeditions were said to have turned up the bones of an ancient race of giants.) In classical literature the islands are called the Orcades, and in late antiquity were occupied by Picts. For much of their history, the Orkneys were controlled by the Norse; only in the late fifteenth century were they ruled by Scotland. An extensive survey of the islands' history, geography, and commerce can be found in the 4th edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1797). Its emphasis on the strong currents and high winds of the region is suggestive.