Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn

Orkney, United Kingdom

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn is a Neolithic chambered cairn, dating back to around 3,000 BCE. It is cairn of similar design to Maeshowe, but on a smaller basis. Cuween Hill was constructed as a burial place by a group of Neolithic farmers.

The entry to the tomb is down a narrow passage, partly open to the sky. The main chamber, built on the bedrock, stands well over 2 meters high, and was probably taller before 19th century explorers broke through the roof to gain entry. The roof has been replaced with a modern one. Four small side-cells lead off the main chamber.

Remains of at least eight human burials were found in the chamber along with many animal bones. Most of the human remains consisted of skulls. On the floor of the chamber lay the skulls of 24 small dogs. The discovery of the dog skulls has led to suggestions that the local tribe or family may have had the dog as their symbol or totem.

When the cairn was opened in recent times, it was found to have been carefully blocked up. This could indicate that it was closed permanently when the community stopped using it, or it could mean that tombs like this were closed up regularly between episodes of use.

Access to the cairn is on foot, through the original entrance. Visitors will need to crawl through the passage on their hands and knees. There is enough room inside to stand, but the light is limited. The cairn was excavated in 1901, and it is in the care of Historic Scotland. The roof is now a modern concrete dome.

In the 1990s, excavations uncovered the remains of a small Neolithic settlement at Stonehall, below the cairn at the foot of Cuween Hill.

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4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

CUPIDO Interreg (15 months ago)
It is a stunning place, that is well preserved and allows to be explored for free by entering through a side entrance. Definitely worthwile a visit. Also there are some great virtual tours available 3D models available to explore it online.
Tor PB (2 years ago)
Fascinating place, completely free and well worth a visit. You'll need a torch (phone will do) as it's pitch dark inside, and you'll have to climb over a stile and crawl through a low tunnel to get in. There's a good information board outside. No other facilities, but the parking area and access is well maintained. It's not remotely on the same scale as Maeshowe but it is a similar design, and does have the advantage of having very few visitors, so you can take your time having a thorough look around.
Max Collop (2 years ago)
À remarkable gem of a place.....beautiful inside and a fabulous location. Take some waterproof over trousers unless you want muddy knees....
Riana Allen (2 years ago)
We visited this after having been on the Maeshowe tomb tour so the kids better understood what they were seeing, which was helpful. The entrance is quite small and a little muddy. I ended up crawling in on hands and knees. I did appreciate the provided torch, but the battery was almost dead when we got there so it was dim. Still very cool to see inside. The kids enjoyed the outside more and rolling down the hill. The view from here is also stunning. Definitely worth a quick (slightly dirty) visit.
Bob Brown (2 years ago)
A great experience, crawling into this ancient cairn without artificial lighting. A torch is available, although don't rely on this being adequate, so take your own. The site is not manned and entry is free. It is worth seeing with its interesting internal structure and informative information panel. The view from the hill is worth seeing too.
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Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Veste Coburg

The Veste Coburg is one of Germany's largest castles. The hill on which the fortress stands was inhabited from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages according to the results of excavations. The first documentary mention of Coburg occurs in 1056, in a gift by Richeza of Lotharingia. Richeza gave her properties to Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne, to allow the creation of Saalfeld Abbey in 1071. In 1075, a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul is mentioned on the fortified Coberg. This document also refers to a Vogt named Gerhart, implying that the local possessions of the Saalfeld Benedictines were administered from the hill.

A document signed by Pope Honorius II in 1206 refers to a mons coburg, a hill settlement. In the 13th century, the hill overlooked the town of Trufalistat (Coburg's predecessor) and the important trade route from Nuremberg via Erfurt to Leipzig. A document dated from 1225 uses the term schloss (palace) for the first time. At the time, the town was controlled by the Dukes of Merania. They were followed in 1248 by the Counts of Henneberg who ruled Coburg until 1353, save for a period from 1292-1312, when the House of Ascania was in charge.

In 1353, Coburg fell to Friedrich, Markgraf von Meißen of the House of Wettin. His successor, Friedrich der Streitbare was awarded the status of Elector of Saxony in 1423. As a result of the Hussite Wars the fortifications of the Veste were expanded in 1430.

Early modern times through Thirty Years' War

In 1485, in the Partition of Leipzig, Veste Coburg fell to the Ernestine branch of the family. A year later, Elector Friedrich der Weise and Johann der Beständige took over the rule of Coburg. Johann used the Veste as a residence from 1499. In 1506/07, Lucas Cranach the Elder lived and worked in the Veste. From April to October 1530, during the Diet of Augsburg, Martin Luther sought protection at the Veste, as he was under an Imperial ban at the time. Whilst he stayed at the fortress, Luther continued with his work translating the Bible into German. In 1547, Johann Ernst moved the residence of the ducal family to a more convenient and fashionable location, Ehrenburg Palace in the town centre of Coburg. The Veste now only served as a fortification.

In the further splitting of the Ernestine line, Coburg became the seat of the Herzogtum von Sachsen-Coburg, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg. The first duke was Johann Casimir (1564-1633), who modernized the fortifications. In 1632, the fortress was unsuccessfully besieged by Imperial and Bavarian forces commanded by Albrecht von Wallenstein for seven days during the Thirty Years' War. Its defence was commanded by Georg Christoph von Taupadel. On 17 March 1635, after a renewed siege of five months' duration, the Veste was handed over to the Imperials under Guillaume de Lamboy.

17th through 19th centuries

From 1638-72, Coburg and the Veste were part of the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg. In 1672, they passed to the Dukes of Saxe-Gotha and in 1735 it was joined to the Duchy of Saxe-Saalfeld. Following the introduction of Primogeniture by Duke Franz Josias (1697-1764), Coburg went by way of Ernst Friedrich (1724-1800) to Franz (1750-1806), noted art collector, and to Duke Ernst III (1784-1844), who remodeled the castle.

In 1826, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was created and Ernst now styled himself 'Ernst I'. Military use of the Veste had ceased by 1700 and outer fortifications had been demolished in 1803-38. From 1838-60, Ernst had the run-down fortress converted into a Gothic revival residence. In 1860, use of the Zeughaus as a prison (since 1782) was discontinued. Through a successful policy of political marriages, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha established links with several of the major European dynasties, including that of the United Kingdom.

20th century

The dynasty ended with the reign of Herzog Carl Eduard (1884-1954), also known as Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a grandson of Queen Victoria, who until 1919 also was the 2nd Duke of Albany in the United Kingdom. Under his rule, many changes made to the Veste in the 19th century were reversed under architect Bodo Ebhardt, with the aim of restoring a more authentic medieval look. Along with the other ruling princes of Germany, Carl Eduard was deposed in the revolution of 1918-1919. After Carl Eduard abdicated in late 1918, the Veste came into possession of the state of Bavaria, but the former duke was allowed to live there until his death. The works of art collected by the family were gifted to the Coburger Landesstiftung, a foundation, which today runs the museum.

In 1945, the Veste was seriously damaged by artillery fire in the final days of World War II. After 1946, renovation works were undertaken by the new owner, the Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen.

Today

The Veste is open to the public and today houses museums, including a collection art objects and paintings that belonged to the ducal family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a large collection of arms and armor, significant examples of early modern coaches and sleighs, and important collections of prints, drawings and coins.