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

Josephine Jones (2 years ago)
Professional, knowledgeable staff with a good understanding of how to present the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site to visitors. A good range of products available including local, quality jewellery and superb guide books.
David Cowley (2 years ago)
Warm welcome and a very interesting talk from Phil. Good toilet and parking facilities and a small shop.
Christopher Reynolds (2 years ago)
There is no point visiting here. HES have kept Maeshowe closed because they have to monitor visits to the chambered tomb and they don't want to put staff in the same room as everyone else. As a result they have kept the visitor centre open and scheduled talks where they put their staff in the same room as everyone else. There is absolutely no difference. Lazy, pathetic and a massive disservice to people who have travelled a significant distance on a once in a lifetime trip to see some of the most important archaeology in the world. Thanks HES for absolutely nothing.
Ian McLennan (2 years ago)
George gave a talk about the whole area, as this site is still closed. Very knowledgeable and interesting. Worth the visit.
Arick Bakken (2 years ago)
The people here are awesome and knowledgeable. This was a perfect way to set up our visits to the various Stone Age Sites. Booking ahead was annoying. Wish more people could get the info we got.
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