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Blackhammer Chambered Cairn

Neolithic burial cairn

Blackhammer Chambered Cairn

Neolithic burial cairn, similar in general shape and subdivisions to the contemporary Neolithic houses at Knap of Howar.

Access to chamber.

A fine stalled cairn

Orkney has an abundance of Neolithic burial monuments, dating from around 5,000 years ago. They come in two main types. There are stalled cairns, characterised by a rectangular chamber subdivided by pairs of upright slabs into individual stalls, or compartments. There are also chambered tombs, where a high central chamber has small cells opening off it. Blackhammer is a fine example of the former.  A low, narrow entrance passage originally led into the long central chamber (access is now via a ladder through the modern roof). When first built, the chamber was divided into seven stalls. However, at some later stage a wall was built across the middle of the chamber, resulting in the removal of four of the upright slabs and reducing the accessible area.  

Island cemeteries

There are no fewer than 15 chambered cairns on the small Orcadian island of Rousay, of which four are in Historic Scotland’s care. Each seems to have served as a cemetery for a small farming community, and remained in use over hundreds of years. The contents of these burial chambers were probably cleared out periodically, and recent excavations at Blackhammer found just two skeletons (one in the entrance passage, the other in the westernmost stall) along with fragments of animal bone, stone and flint tools and Neolithic pottery. We do not know whether the artefacts were grave-goods or objects used in burial rites.

  • The ‘walk through prehistory’ – along the south shore of Rousay from the ferry pier, via Blackhammer, Taversöe Tuick and Knowe of Yarso, to the magnificent chambered cairn and Iron-Age broch at Midhowe.


Region – Orkney

On B9064 on Island of Rousay 2m West of pier Orkney Ferries Limited from Tingwall Terminal.

Grid reference – HY 414 276.


Telephone 01856 751360