Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave. It was probably built around 2800 BCE. It gives its name to the Maeshowe type of chambered cairn, which is limited to Orkney. Maeshowe is a significant example of Neolithic craftsmanship. The monuments around Maeshowe, including Skara Brae, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Maeshowe is one of the largest tombs in Orkney; the mound encasing the tomb is 35m in diameter and rises to a height of 7,3m. Surrounding the mound, at a distance of 15m to 21m is a ditch up to 14m wide. The grass mound hides a complex of passages and chambers built of carefully crafted slabs of flagstone weighing up to 30 tons. It is aligned so that the rear wall of its central chamber held up by a bracketed wall, is illuminated on the winter solstice. A similar display occurs in Newgrange.

Estimates of the amount of effort required to build Maeshowe vary; a commonly suggested number is 39,000 man-hours, although Colin Renfrew calculated that at least 100,000 hours would be required. Dating of the construction of Maeshowe is difficult but dates derived from burials in similar tombs cluster around 3000 BC. Since Maeshowe is the largest and most sophisticated example of the Maeshowe 'type' of tomb, archaeologists have suggested that it is the last of its class, built around 2800 BC. The people who built Maeshowe were users of grooved ware, a distinctive type of pottery that spread throughout the British Isles from about 3000 BC.

A Neolithic 'low road' connects Maeshowe with the magnificently preserved village of Skara Brae, passing near the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. Low roads connect Neolithic ceremonial sites throughout Britain. Some archeologists believe that Maeshowe was originally surrounded by a large stone circle. The complex including Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, Skara Brae, as well as other tombs and standing stones represents a concentration of Neolithic sites that is rivalled in Britain only by the complexes associated with Stonehenge and Avebury.

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User Reviews

Ruth mcLennan (18 months ago)
You have to go there to go on the bus to see Maeshowe - it's a fairly ordinary place with toilets and souvenirs but does the job
1599maybole (19 months ago)
Maes Howe is the finest neolithic cairn in Northern Europe. It just has to be seen by any person with an interest in the ancient world. Tours are by bus from the Visitors Centre. The guides are entertaining and very informative. The fee is very reasonable.
Joe Hedley (2 years ago)
Make sure you head for the visitor center if you intend to visit Maeshowe. There is no immediate access to the site and a shuttle bus service is included in the price. Well worth it by the way....
Brendan McGeary (2 years ago)
Good experience, but it should be made clear that it's a guided tour, as I was a bit surprised when our chaperone chivvied me along for standing and looking at the surrounding area for too long. Inside the site is magnificent, but if you have difficulty bending down and walking then this is definitely not a good idea as it's inaccessible for wheelchair users and others with difficulty walking. It's incredible, but there are far too many people crammed inside so it's difficult to really appreciate it. Other sites on the island deliver much better experiences. Try and visit this in winter when it's quieter.
Dennis Royer (2 years ago)
Remarkably well preserved. Our guide was both informative and funny. There are no bones inside, and you are not allowed to take pictures inside. If you are claustrophobic you might not want to go in. To enter you have to bend over at a 90 degree angle and walk 20 feet with little space on both your right and left. Once in, it's like a beehive. The Viking graffiti was pretty interesting.
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