Archaeologists discover an elaborate 6,000-year-old sauna

The fact that tap water was thousands of years away from being invented didn't stop ancient people who wanted a good soak in a steam bath. Archaeologists studying the Links of Noltland in Scotland's Orkney islands believe they have found a 6,000-year-old sauna, complete with a water tank, The National reports. The sauna is one of 30 buildings investigators are hastening to uncover and learn more about before the site potentially succumbs to erosion. Thankfully, the sauna remains remarkably intact, allowing researchers a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived at the site between 4000 and 1000 B.C.

"We know this was a large building, with a complex network of cells attached to it and a sizeable tank of water in the central structure, which would likely have been used to produce boiling water and steam, which would have been used to create a sauna effect," Rod McCullagh, the deputy head of archaeology strategy at Historic Scotland, told The National. He added that "What this would have been used for we don't know exactly, but the large-scale, elaborate architecture and sophistication of the structure all suggest that it was used for more than just cooking."

See more

The sauna could have been used in rituals, for example, or for healing and hygiene. Likewise, it could have been a place for women to give birth, or for elderly people to use while dying, or perhaps it functioned as a room to prepare the dead for burial. Then again, ancient people might simply have used it for a good ol' soak.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.