Scotlands History

Maes Howe

Built before the great pyramids of Egypt, Maes Howe is a splendid Neolithic chambered tomb or burial monument not far from Stromness, in the Orkneys. It has been described as ‘one of the greatest architectural achievements of the prehistoric peoples of Scotland’.

Dating from around 2800 BC, the earth mound of Maes Howe lies at the heart of Neolithic Orkney, not far from Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar.

The chambers and entrance passage at Maes Howe are formed by massive stone slabs that were carefully knapped and positioned. The long entrance passage is aligned so that the sun shines straight through it at the winter solstice, lighting up the main chamber.

Maes Howe is also famous for its graffiti. In the 12th century, a Norse or Viking raider cut runes into the stone walls of the monument. (The tombs were already 4000 years old by AD 1200.) One carving tells us that ‘Helgi was here’. Another tells us that pilgrims on their way from Norway to Jerusalem broke into the tomb.

  • Image of the main burial chamber at Maes Howe

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Neolithic ritual - bullroarers

Listen to bullroarers, an ancient ritual musical instrument possibly used in Neolithic times.