Maeshowe or Maes Howe; is Orkhaugr, in old Norse

What an impressive Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave situated on Mainland Orkney, Scotland. It was probably built around 2800 BC. Someone assembled, one of the best preserved and most impressive chambered tombs in Europe. It was likely used as a communal tomb for burial purposes. Though, it may have also had ritualistic, astronomical significance and for chilling. The structure consists of a large mound of earth and stones, with a central passage leading to a burial chamber.

Today, it is of legends. A popular tourist attraction. Showing visitors a glimpse into the ancient past and the neolithic. Apart of the “heart of neolithic orkney.” A supreme example of the neolithic craft and world heritage site.

Design and construction
One of the largest tombs in the area. The mound is 115 feet (35 m) in diameter. It even rises to height 24 feet (7.3 m). There is a ditch surrounding the mound, at a distance of around 60 feet out. It is 45 feet wide.

A grass mound hides the complex of passages and chambers. Built of carefully crafted slabs of flagstone. They believe some are as large as 30 tonnes (60,000 lbs). Builders aligned rear of the chamber. To align, it must be illuminated during winter solstice. This was similar to Newgrange.

To get inside you have to almost crawl. Currently the entrance is only 3 feet high. It continues to the mounds chamber is about 11meters (36 feet). Its almost square room is around 15×15′. The stonework is preserved to a height of about 12.5 feet (there is a modern roof). his entrance passage is 36 feet (11 m) long and leads to the central almost square chamber. It is largely constructed by flat slabs of stone. Many the entire length of wall. At about 3 feet. The slabs begin to ‘beehive up’ for support.

Dating varies
Similar burials in and around Orkney were built around 5000 years ago. Since Maeshowe is one of the more sophisticated. And, they had ‘grooved ware pottery’. Archaeologists suggest it was built around 4800 years ago (2800 BC).

In the SE of the Loch of Horray lies Maeshowe. It appears, a grassy mound rising from the flat plain. It is aligned with other neolithic sites in the area. Because the entrance is placed directly in location of the winer solice. For a few days, each year, light illuminates the entrance to the back of the chamber.

The ‘low road’
Skara Brae is connected on a prehistoric path to Maeshowe. It passes near the standing stones of Stenness, and the ring of Brodgar. ‘Low roads’ connect neolithic ceremonial sites throughout the UK as well. Though Scotlands sites rival them. These paths, or ‘low roads’ could be have been like modern neolithic highways. Or, maybe risk of ambush, or a wildlife attack. What do you think?

Culture linkage(s)
Because Maeshow is similar to Newgrange in Ireland. There must have been a linkage. Both are characterized long entrance passageway. Leading to a square, or rectangular chamber. Where there are side cells. There are a number of other Maeshowe type tombs in and around Scotland including Quanterness and Wideford hill.

In the 60s scientists begin suggesting structural and astronomical similarities to the great pyramids. They suggested that the observation and sighting passages were aimed at stones, stars and objects to indicate direction and time . And, that rather than chambers in the a tomb. Side cells, could have been space for observers. For things like community events. And, ritualistic or astronomical significances.

Find, refinding and the theory of loot
The area, and burial are significant. Around 900 AD, the external wall surrounding the ditch was rebuilt. Perhaps by Norseman or others.
There is a bunch of neat information writen about the modern day excavations. Including James Farrer, and the 1860s. They were not known for there delicate excavation back then. Compared to more modern times. The crew did find the famous runic viking inscriptions. That were dated from around the 1200s. And, provided proof that Vikings, and norseman had known of the tomb, and prehistoric site. In the Orkneyinga saga. It is described how Earl Harald Maddadarson; and, Earl of More looted the temple anyways. And, on the walls are the greatest collection of such (runic) carvings in the world.

The hill name maybe “a buttock”
Since it looks, and mas translates from gaelic this way. However there are other meanings, from Welsh and other parts. One thing is for sure. These people were pretty isolated. Yet still able to share similarities. Like stone work, and temples from the 1st and 2nd dynasties in Egypt. And, during a time close to the first cities of Mesopotamia, Greece; Harappa culture in the Indus valley. And, others (link).

Visitor Centre
The Maeshowe Heart of Neolithic Orkney Visitor Centre opened to the public in April 2017. (location map)

Maeshowe was likely used as a communal tomb for burial purposes and had ritualistic and astronomical significance. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction and a UNESCO Heritage Site. Check it out. And, take a personalized glimpse into the burial practices and ancient origins of the Neolithic Orkney Islands.


Childe, V. Gordon; Simpson, W. Douglas (1952). Illustrated History of Ancient Monuments. Vol. VI Scotland. Edinburgh, UK: Her
Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Hedges, John W. (1984). Tomb of the Eagles: Death and Life in a Stone Age Tribe. New York, NY: New Amsterdam. ISBN 0-941533-

Piggott, Stuart (1954). Neolithic Cultures of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-07781-8.

Renfrew, Colin (1979). Investigations in Orkney. London, UK: Rep. Research Comm. Soc. Antiq. London #38.

Tompkins, Peter (1971). Secrets of the Great Pyramid. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

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