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

Frustrated Traveller (2 years ago)
Small car park at the base of the hill, relatively short and easy track up the hill, lovely view at the top, a torch is supplied in a box, you enter a very low entryway if you don’t like small spaces this might not be for you, it’s pretty interesting. If you follow the track upwards you’ll find a number of stacks looks like someone’s been practicing building with local stone.
Toby Tyler (2 years ago)
Be careful while walking in it but it's a cool little historical stone house.
Randall Silver (2 years ago)
A small cairn which is accessible 24/7. Be warned: you literally have to crawl to get inside. Hands and knees will get dirty/wet. Still, despite the size and crawling, I felt like an archaeologist for a moment, and the atmosphere inside was a nice experience.
Grant Bruce (2 years ago)
Very interesting neolithic chambered cairn. Worth a visit. There's a car parking space off the main road and a final walk of about 200m up the hill to the cairn. Great views from the top.
Alice Krausova (2 years ago)
A well preserved round cairn not very far from a small car park. It is possible to crawl inside but that very depends on your size as the passage is narrow and low. Inner chamber is high enough to stand up. You will need a torch or something to see inside.
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