Maeshowe Chambered Cairn

Venue location: 
Maeshowe ORK KW16 3HA
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Maeshowe appears from the outside like a large grassy mound. (The word ‘howe’ derives from the Old Norse for a hill.) A single portal leads to a low 11m long passageway, into the central, stone-built chamber 4.7m across.

Forming most of each wall of the 10m-long passage is a single, gigantic sandstone slab, weighing anything up to three tonnes. Each corner of the central chamber are three upright standing stones, and off the central chamber are three side cells, the floors, back walls and ceiling of which are single stone slabs.

At sunset during the three weeks before and after the Winter Solstice on 21 December - the shortest day of the year - the light of the setting sun shines straight down the passage and illuminates the back of the central chamber.

The sun’s rays align with a standing stone, the Barnhouse Stone, standing 800m SSW of Maeshowe.

Around 3,000 years after Maeshowe's creation Norsemen – descendants of the Vikings – broke into the mound and carved graffiti. The graffiti is now the largest collection of runic inscription that survives outside Scandinavia.