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Every cloud ... Orkney storms create dramatic effect at Maeshowe

17 November 2006

Coping with the storms that hit Orkney at the end of October was hard for many local people as the subsequent flooding, the worst in over 40 years, affected homes and businesses greatly.  However, for the Historic Scotland stewards at Maeshowe there was a silver lining on the edge of the clouds, as they were able to gain real insight into what this Neolithic chambered tomb may have looked like some 5,000 years ago, with the flooding creating a stunning effect.

Alan Jones, Historic Scotland Manager at Maeshowe said: "Once the wind and rain had settled, I immediately had to capture what I was seeing!  The ditch surrounding Maeshowe was filled to the top with water, isolating the chambered tomb in the centre.

Some archaeologists believe that 5,000 years ago, the temperature in the north was 3 degrees warmer, and if they are correct, then the climate would have been wetter.  One theory is that the ditch or henge may have intentionally been filled with water to isolate the world of the living from that of the dead.  If this was the case, thanks to the storms we caught a real glimpse of the site as the pre-historic settlers would have intended, which is truly fascinating."

All Historic Scotland sites in this area luckily escaped any real damage, with only a few minor repairs; and the weather certainly did not deter visitors with a few making the intrepid journey through mud and water to reach the sites!

Maeshowe comprises of a late Neolithic chambered tomb and is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site.  The mound, chamber and surrounding bank and ditch were probably built around 3000 BC (earlier than the pyramids of Egypt) by people related to those who set up the Stones of Stenness and lived in settlements like those in Skara Brae and Barnhouse.  Said to be the finest Neolithic building in Europe, the tomb is famously aligned with the setting of the winter sun, and contains an exceptional collection of later Norse runic inscriptions, as well as Neolithic carvings.

Notes for editors
  • Maeshowe is the finest chambered tomb in north-west Europe and more than 5000 years old. Access is by guided tour only with timed ticketing in operation.  Telephone 01856 761606 to book.  Car parking and tickets are available from the nearby Tormiston Mill.  Adult £4.50, Children £2.00, Concessions £3.50.

  • It was broken into in the mid-twelfth century by Viking crusaders who carved graffiti runes on the walls of the main chamber.   This is the largest collection of runic inscriptions in the world, an assemblage of international significance for their nature and content, including examples of Norse humour.

  • In 1999, Maeshowe was designated a World Heritage Site with Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.

  • Historic Scotland has 345 outstanding historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae.

For further information


Kate Turnbull
PR Executive
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8959
kate.turnbull@scotland.gsi.gov.uk