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Quoyness Chambered Cairn

A megalithic tomb with triple retaining walls, containing a passage and main chamber, with six subsidiary cells.

Quoyness Chambered Cairn

An Orcadian chambered tomb
Quoyness is a fine example of a Neolithic chambered tomb, dating from around 5,000 years ago. Such tombs have a high central chamber with small cells opening off from it.

A narrow entrance passage, 9m long, leads to the central rectangular chamber, which still stands to its original 4m height. Six irregular-shaped cells open off the chamber.

When the site was excavated in the 1800s, four of the six cells contained skulls and bones. In the floor of the central chamber, a circular stone-lined cist was also discovered, which contained the partial remains of at least ten adults and four or five children.

Animal bones were also found, along with fragments of pottery and bone and stone tools. One hammerhead-shaped stone object is strikingly similar to objects found at the Neolithic village of Skara Brae.

A house for the dead
The small peninsula on which Quoyness sits must have had a special significance in prehistoric times. Aside from Quoyness there is another chambered tomb (now ruined) and numerous smaller burial cairns. These cairns are possibly Bronze Age, around 4,000 years old.

There would have been a village somewhere in the vicinity. The design of chambered tombs such as Quoyness closely resembles the houses at Skara Brae. The entrance passages were much longer, and often a lot lower, and the whole structure was entombed in a cairn of stones, but otherwise the parallel is uncanny. The villagers clearly liked their houses of the dead to resemble their own houses.

  • The entrance passage – crawling along it is a wonderful experience, well worth the effort.


Strong Footwear Recommended


Region – Orkney

On the island of Sanday on the southern point of Els Ness, 2.5m from Kettlehoft village. Reached via Orkney Ferries Ltd from Kirkwall, tel: 01856 872044.

Grid reference - HY 677 378.


Telephone 01856 841815 (Skara Brae).