Maes Howe

Click on the Pictures for a close-up view

Maes Howe, is located in the centre of the island of Mainland and it is one of the finest persevered Neolithic tunnel mounds in Western Europe. It is of the type categorised as a chambered tomb, despite the fact that there were no bodies found in the chamber. The mound is placed centrally within a circular ditch and bank about five hundred feet in diameter. This bank does not seem to be a true henge and Archeologist Lord Renfrew has suggested it may be the remnants the construction of the flat circular clay platform on which the mound now stands.

Radiocarbon dating for the bank and flat platform show it to be far older than the tunnel mound, dating from 3930 BC whilst the structure itself dates from around 2820 BC. The view from this artificial plain is spectacular. The site seems to be sitting within a bowl of surrounding high ground.




The quality of the building techniques used in the construction of the chamber are outstanding. Archaeologist Audrey Henshall says of it:

"The excellence of the masonry at Maes Howe goes far beyond that of any other tomb... it is one of the supreme achievements of neolithic Europe"

The blocks used fit together with a fine precision, surfaces have been chiselled to achieve a flat surface or to round off the edge of the corbelling and, unlike other sites, the slabs are accurately plumbed to the vertical. The way massive rectangular slabs have been used is also unique to this site; some being over eighteen feet long and weighing three tons.

The following sequence of photographs shows details of the construction.





At the time of sunset at the winter solstice the sun shines down the main passage and illuminates the wall below the entrance to the north eastern chamber. This main passage had a large triangular stone block which could be used to seal the passage, although it was not large enough to fill the gap and would have required additional stones to completely block out the light. The chamber was entered from top by Vikings in the ninth ot tenth century AD, who inscribed the walls saying that the chamber was empty when they broke into it.


There is a strangeness about the winter solstice alignment of this tunnel. When he first looked out along the tunnel towards the south west, Robert couldn't help noticing  that the entrance frames the high peak of Ward Hill that stands on the island of Hoy across the Clestrain Sound. All the other aligned tunnel mounds he had visited had their mouths pointing to flat horizons, and to build a tunnel pointing towards such an obvious obstruction for the sunlight could seem a little careless.


The view towards Ward hill from the entrance to Maes Howe.

The view towards the remains of the Barnhouse village from the entracen to Maes Howe.