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Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn

Neolithic chambered tomb

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn

A low mound covering a Neolithic chambered tomb with four cells. Contained the bones of men, dogs and oxen when discovered.


Neolithic tomb

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn is a fine example of a Neolithic chambered tomb, in which small cells open off a high central chamber. It is one of two main types of Neolithic burial monument on Orkney dating from around 5,000 years ago.

The other type is the stalled cairn, in which pairs of upright slabs divide a rectangular chamber into stalls.

The tomb is reached from the east, down a 5.5m-long narrow passage. The central chamber is dark but spacious, still standing over 2m high (the present roof is modern).

Four small cells lead off the main chamber. Despite the all-pervading gloom, the quality of the masonry throughout the tomb is high.


Tribe of the dog

When the tomb was broken into, the remains of at least eight humans were found. Five skulls lay on the floor of the chamber, one at the entrance and the other two in side cells.

More intriguing were the skulls of 24 small dogs discovered on the chamber floor. Did the local tribe or family have the dog as their symbol or totem, perhaps?

Other possible Orcadian totems include the sea eagle at Isbister tomb, also known as the ‘Tomb of the Eagles’, in South Ronaldsay (in Orkney Islands Council care), and red deer at <Knowe of Yarso>.

Highlights
  • The masonry – of remarkably high quality.
  • The gloom – perfect for conjuring up images of Neolithic burial rites being performed here 5,000 years ago.

Facilities

Car Parking Strong Footwear Recommended

Location

Region – Orkney

0.5m South of Finstown on B9056 from Kirkwall.

Grid reference - HY 364 128.

Access

Access to chambers. Access can be muddy.

Tel: 01856 841815 (Skara Brae).