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Archeological Sites of Orkney Scotland- Maeshowe

Updated on June 19, 2013


I have been exploring and researching archeological sites of the lands of Orkney Scotland (my homeland). I hope you will join me in this wee adventure (on paper) as I tell of the "unearthed tales" of an era long gone by but still very intriguing to us today. I will write a hub for each site I have learned about. I now woud like to share this with you. Let's start our adventure with the well known cairn "Maeshowe".

Largest of the Cairns

Maeshowe is the largest of many chamber cairns found in Orkney. It was first discovered by an archaeologist by the name of James Farrer in 1861. Originally it's shape was conical with a deep depression at the top. It stood 36ft. high and a diameter of 100ft. When the state took it over they added a concrete roof; in doing this process it changed the shape of "Maeshowe" to have a more rounded appearance; this was done in 1910.

Possibly Built on-top of other Building

This amazing piece of history was built during the Neolithic period, it is surrounded by a ditch and raised bank, it was said to have been built on a leveled platform. Archeologists recently say that there has been hints that it may have been built on top of another building-possibly the Neolithic House. There is belief that the house was replaced by a stone circle- four of the stones were used in the making of "Maeshowe".

Stone Slabs

There was an excavation that took place in 1996 during which a socket-hole was discovered on a platform on the rear of the mound. This added to the theory that a stone circle was once there. The massive stone slabs that lined the entrance way may have come from the stone ring. Another theory is the encircling ditch was meant to be filled with water. This would have enhanced the barrier between the living and the dead.

Prehistoric Tribal Systems

"Maeshowe" consists of a large central chamber, three side chambers. To gain entry to the inner chamber you must go through a long, low passage. It is believed that this impressive piece of architecture was built for the elite to show their power wiithin the prehistoric tribal systems of this time period.

Similar to Newgrange

One of "Maeshowe's" special attributes is that it aligns to midwinter not unlike the chambered tomb "Newgrange" in Ireland. The side chambers are built into the centre of the walls facing the entrance; their entrances are 31.5 inches from the ground. On the floor outside each of these chambers is a large rocks; which are thought to be there to seal off the chambers.

Runic Inscriptions

In the middle of 12th century A.D. it was broken into by Norseman. They carved runic inscriptions over the walls of the main chamber. A number of these refer to a great treasure that the tomb was said to contain. This is strange as the Stone Age burial chamber would not have had what the Norseman would consider treasure such as gold and silver. Some believe that there was no great treasure but the Norseman were telling a tall tale. Others say it could have been the burial place of a Viking Chief during earlier days of the Norse settlement in Orkney. If there were any treasures they would not have been left by Neolithic builders but more likely left by Vikings.

Lack of Human Remains

Findings have shown that "Maeshowe" was reused as the outer bank of the tomb was rebuilt during the 9th century. The reuse of "Maeshowe" explains the lack of human remains as whoever reused it would have cleaned it out before using it themselves.

Pagan Norse

There was even said to be an unpleasant dweller at "Maeshowe" known as the Hug boy, Hogboon, and Haug bai. This was one of the many mound dwelling supernatural creatures. This has a connection to the Pagan Norse who believed that a person's spirit stayed close to the family farm and would protect them and the farm. They would build a burial mound especially for the founding father putting it over his body. It is believed that "Maeshowe" housed a ancient spirit of considerable stature.


My learning about this mystical site "Maeshowe" was most interesting and educational for me. I am enjoying learning about these sites that are part of my homeland's history. Hope you will join me for my next site visit in the land of Orkney Scotland! To find out what site I will be visiting next you will have to comeback until then take care!



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    • Pamela-anne profile image

      Pamela-anne 4 years ago from Miller Lake

      Eiddwen thanks for your kind vote much appreciated and thanks for reading my hubs take care and God bless!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A wonderfully interesting hub which I vote up.


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      anne 4 years ago

      Very well done Pam keep up the good work

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A great idea to know more on Archeological Sites of Orkney Scotland, such an interesting insight. Learning something is my daily goal this one adds to my list thanks for sharing. Voted up