Earthbound Orkney Celebrates Orkney’s Art and Heritage Under Our Feet

Earthbound Orkney

From: 27 Jun 2024

To: 31 Aug 2024

HES Maeshowe Visitor Centre
Ireland Rd
KW16 3LB

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A new exhibition, at Maeshowe in Stenness, then in Kirkwall, is set to celebrate ‘the art and heritage of Orkney’s earth’, centring on the greener materials beneath our feet that are a key part of a sustainable future.

Earthbound Orkney is a summer-long programme of talks, training, exhibitions and a book, marking the evolution of the earth beneath Orkney which has been at the heart of its culture and construction for more than 6,000 years. It shares the knowledge gathered by Tom Morton of Arc Architects and Becky Little of Rebearth, who specialise in the heritage of natural materials, and have been studying Orkney’s clay subsoils for the last three years in a project funded by Historic Environment Scotland.

Contemporary earth artefact from the exhibition
Contemporary earth artefact from the exhibition

The exhibition features clay balls (pictured), recovered from several Neolithic sites, and thought to be about 5,000 years old. These are shown alongside art works exploring the different character of clay soils across the islands. Tom says, ‘Many people will know that traditional buildings used clay mortar in the walls, but these local natural materials are now enjoying a comeback as sustainable, low carbon construction materials that can contribute to resilient and circular economies of the future, especially for island communities.’

A relationship to earth was key to the Neolithic culture on Orkney: farming relied on knowledge of the fertility and drainage of earth, while pottery required an understanding of the physical chemistry of different clays, their plasticity and response to heat. Earth was also fundamental to Neolithic construction – mortar and cores in stone walls, plasters and pigments, bedding and sealants, and beautiful beaten clay floors. The tradition of earth construction lasted in Orkney until the late 19th century.

A video presentation can be seen here, and the book to accompany the exhibition will be available at the exhibition or by emailing

Admission is free, and the exhibition moves to Kirkwall’s Ship O’Fools Gallery, 5th – 12th September.

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