Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset


Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Hut Circle (Prehistoric), Roundhouse (Iron Age)

Site Name Quanterness

Classification Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Hut Circle (Prehistoric), Roundhouse (Iron Age)

Canmore ID 2552

Site Number HY41SW 4

NGR HY 4177 1292

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Kirkwall And St Ola
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney


Desk Based Assessment (10 October 1963)

HY41SW 4 4177 1292.

(HY 4177 1292) Chambered Mound (NR)

OS 6" map, Orkney, 2nd ed.,(1903).

'Chambered Cairn, Quanterness. ....... a conspicuous green mound marks the site of a chambered structure which was explored at some date shortly before 1805. (G Barry 1805).

The mound is of considerable size, measuring about 90ft. in diameter, and about 10ft 6in in height. Its original form appears to have been that of a truncated cone, 128ft in circumference at the base and 14ft high. On the left side of the mound there seems to have been a long passage leading into the interior, but this cannot now be identified with certainty by examination of the surface. Further, only at one place are there any remains of the chamber apparent, and these are very fragmentary. A ground plan of the structure, drawn at the date when it was originally excavated, is reproduced here ... All of the chambers were built on the 'beehive' principle. The floors were of dark, earthy clay, plentifully charged with the much-broken unburnt bones of birds and domestic animals. Some human bones occurred in the deposit and a complete human skeleton was found in one of the compartments.'

RCAHMS 1946; Barry 1805


A S Henshall 1963.

Information from OS (JH) 10 October 1963

Field Visit (5 April 1964)

Neither the entrance to the passage nor any chambering can now be identified, except for slight mutilation to the top of the mound, due to the digging of two shallow pits and the erection of a flag pole, it is well preserved.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (GHP) 5 April 1964.

Excavation (1972 - 1974)

Between 1972 and 1974 the chambered cairn of Quanterness was excavated by Professor Colin Renfrew, with the aim of dermining the nature of the mound, to obtain organic remains for radiocarbon dating, and evidence for its wider environmental and cultural setting.

Publication Account (2002)



Early Iron Age roundhouse in Firth, discovered within the debris of the cairn of the Neolithic tomb of the same name [1, 180-98]. The work by Renfrew on the chambered tomb was carried out between 1972 and 1974 and the discovery of the roundhouse was not anticipated. It was the first in Orkney to be assigned to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age periods and the discovery shed an entirely new light on the broch period in those islands, hitherto hardly understood and relying entirely on the evidence from old excavations (no new broch has been explored by the spring of 2002). The early date of the foundation of the house, probably in the 6th or 7th centuries BC (the excavator suggests c. 700 BC), is supported both by C14 dates and by the small amount of associated pottery.

The house was built by removing part of the cairn material around its entrance passage and building the circular wall partly on the old ground surface of clay and partly on the base of the cairn material. The wall was originally about 80 cm thick, widening to 1.0 m at the short entrance in the SE; it enclosed an area some 7.0 m in diameter. The NW part of the wall overrode the entrance passage of the Neolithic tomb but it was not clear whether this was exposed during Iron Age times, as it was at Howe; at a late date it seems to have been entered. The remains of a hearth were found on the NW side.

There were alterations to the interior subsequently, involving the construction of various partition walls and, later, the thickening of the roundhouse wall itself.

Finds: most of the pottery and other finds were recovered in the entrance passage. The pottery includes a one piece with a sharply angled shoulder, analogous to the early Iron Age material from Jarlshof and Clickhimin [1, fig. 53]. There were also some sandstone cobbles, presumably hammerstones, and one ivory mount.

A number of animal bones were recovered and a report on them is available [1, 192-04].

Sources: 1. Renfrew 1979.

E W MacKie 2002


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions