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Rousay, Midhowe

Chambered Cairn (Neolithic)

Site Name Rousay, Midhowe

Classification Chambered Cairn (Neolithic)

Canmore ID 2274

Site Number HY33SE 1

NGR HY 3722 3048

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Rousay And Egilsay
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY33SE 1 3722 3048.

(HY 3719 3052) Mid Howe: Orkney-Cromarty Stalled Cairn. Before excavation in 1932-3 and later in 1934, it was a long grassy mound from which the tops of some upright stones projected. It has now been placed under the guardianship of the Dept of the Environment who have enclosed it in a stone building.

The cairn, rectangular in plan with rounded corners, measures 106' 9" in length and 42' 6" in width, with the main axis SE-NW. It is bounded by an elaborately built wall-face with another wall-face 4' 6" to 7' 9" within it. The outer wall-face is constructed with two horizontally laid foundation courses; the inner wall-face survives up to a height of 6' and is built of horizontally laid slabs. The passage opens from the SE end of the cairn. The outer end was found blocked by masonry, its outer face flush with the outer wall-face round the cairn, and the inner end was similarly blocked; no roofing remains.

The chamber is 76' long by 6' 6" to 8' wide, divided by pairs of transverse upright slabs into twelve compartments from 4' to 7' long. The walls are of well-built vertical dry masonry.

At the NW end of the cairn there had been a secondary occupation at a higher level. There seemed to have been a passage leading from the NW end of the cairn to the chamber as a height of about 3' above floor level. Some secondary constructions were also found against the N corner of the cairn, including a cist-like tank.

Two walls spring from the N and E corners of the cairn. They have an average width of 4' 6" and are up to 4' high. The N wall was traced for 68', and at 36' 6" from the cairn there was a carefully built gap 2' wide; the E wall was traced for 45' and there was a similar gap 3' 6" from the cairn. The foundations of the walls are 9" to 12" below the base of the cairn, and where they abut the cairn its facing wall is undisturbed. Their date and purpose are unknown.

Various finds from the site are in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS). The pottery is of the Unstan type.

A S Henshall 1963; RCAHMS 1946; R W Feachem 1963; J G Callander 1934.

Mid How Chambered Cairn (As per HBM [DofE] plaque), at HY 3722 3048, as described and planned, housed inside a building.

Visited by OS (AA) 10 October 1972.


Field Visit (1941)

Visited by Childe in 1941.

V G Childe 1942

Publication Account (1996)

Built on low-lying ground near the sea, this excavated stalled cairn is entirely housed within a modern hangar-like building, so that it can be viewed both at ground-level and from an overhead walkway; it is a very fine monument, with an elongated chamber, 23m in length, divided by pairs of upright slabs into twelve compartments and encased within an oblong cairn. A decorative effect has been achieved on the outer face of the cairn by setting stones at an angle, best seen almost as a herring-bone pattern on the east face. At its northeast corners, the cairn is attached to contemporary field-walls which have been traced for about 20m and 13m respectively, underlining the association of the tomb with its surrounding agrarian landscape.

The chamber had been filled with stones when the tomb was closed (masonry closing the passage is still in position) and the contents were undisturbed: remains of twenty-five people were found, mostly lying on or tucked beneath the shelves along the east side of the chamber, including nine complete skeletons.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Orkney’, (1996).

Orkney Smr Note

No local name is preserved; the site is conventionally

referred to as Midhowe Cairn although Midhowe is really the name

of the broch OR 631.



NMA EO 459-73. Skeletal: Anatomy Dept, Aberdeen Univ.

Animal bones. Royal Scottish Museum.


Orkney-Cromarty stalled cairn 106ft 9in long overall, the

chamber having 12 compartments. Before excavation in 1932-3 and

1934 it was a long grassy mound from which the tops of some of

the slabs projected. Now in SDD guardianship and enclosed within

a stone building. [R1]

Information from Orkney SMR [n.d.]


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