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between 12:00 Friday 15th December and 12:00 Monday 18th December


Stronsay, Ward Of Houseby

Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Midden (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Stronsay, Ward Of Houseby

Classification Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Midden (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Ward Of Housebay

Canmore ID 3353

Site Number HY62SE 12

NGR HY 6702 2115

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2023.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Stronsay
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY62SE 12 6702 2115.

(HY 6702 2115) Ward of Housebay (NR)

OS 6" map, Orkney, 2nd ed., (1900).

A turf-covered chambered mound which rises to a height of about 8' and measures at least 65' in diameter.

Some years before 1928 the interior was partly explored by making a small opening but no plan was preserved. The opening was still there in 1928 and was found to lead to a passage varying in width from about 3' to 4' and seldom more than 2' high. In places this was partly choked with debris, but it was examined for a distance of 31'. It runs in a NW direction for about 21', and then turns west. Here it opens out and branches at right angles on either side, probably an indication of the proximity of the chamber or chambers proper. On the left, however, progress is soon barred by fallen material, while on the right a double entry, divided by a double pier of masonry, is blocked by a large slab behind it.

Not mentioned in A S Henshall 1963.

RCAHMS 1946, visited 1928; A S Henshall 1963.

A cairn, which from the RCAHMS description is undoubtedly chambered. Access to the interior is now blocked and there is no trace of the passage. On the SE side is a section of dry-stone retaining wall, forming an irregular curve for about 7.0m. A single earthfast stone is discernible on the NW side, which, if a facing stone, indicates a diameter of about 18.5m. The cairn appears to stand on a platform similar to the Quoyness chambered cairn (HY63NE 1) but this is too amorphous for survey action.

The name 'Ward of Housebay' is still known locally.

Surveyed at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (NKB) 17 July 1970.

This probably Maeshowe cairn is beset with remains of slab-structures, midden and walling, which confirms the presence of a settlement secondary to the cairn.

R {G} Lamb 1979

The upper part of the entrance to a passage about 1m wide is exposed in the SE side. Above the front lintel a wall-face is exposed 0.9m high and extends for 6.5m to the E. It can be traced intermittently around the mound giving a diameter of 17m. In places there are traces of a second wall-face with a greater diameter. Its classification as a chambered cairn is feasible.

The indications of settlement on the S of the cairn is confirmed in cliff-erosion.

Visited by OS (JLD) 13 May 1982.

This mound some 2.5m in height, stands prominently on a headland and is known to contain passages. It is some 20m in diameter and could accommodate either a chambered cairn or a broch. There are slab structures on the surface, suggesting secondary occupation, and a midden deposit visible in a small shoreline exposure appears to be stratigraphically later than the main mound.

This midden has yielded some coarse pottery of Iron Age type. (Tankerness House Museum, 1979, 208-11).

D Fraser 1982; D Fraser 1983; RCAHMS 1984, visited July 1979.


Field Visit (July 1979)

Mound 8ft high, 65ft diameter. Some years earlier a passage

opened up, width 3-4ft, height seldom more than 2ft, examined for

a distance of 31ft. It runs NW for 21ft then turns W. Here it

branches at right angles on either side, probably an indication

of the proximity of the chamber or chambers proper. [R1]

Listed as uncertain. [R2]

Passage now blocked, no trace of it. On SE is a section of

drystone wall revetment forming an irregular curve for about 7m.

A single earthfast stone on NW, if this is a facing stone would

indicate a diameter of 18.5m. Cairn appears to stand on a

platform similar to Quoyness, Sanday, but this is very amorphous.

Name still current. OS visit Jul 70

The section of drystone retaining wall noted by OS can be

traced for 5.5m. There are a great many erect earthfast slabs

set about the mound, on its summit and sides and about its base,

apparently belonging to slab-structures which must be assumed to

post-date the mound. The possible Quoyness-style platform is

unclear. The passage used to open to the SE where the wall is

best preserved; it was blocked up to keep rabbits out. This was

in the years just before myxamytosis ie presumably the early


At the head of a small narrow geo on the S side is the

erosion exposure of the section (as sketched on SMR card). At

1.3m below surface is the shale bedrock on which is developed a

black loam soil now buried beneath a midden of limpet shells,

animal bones and teeth, burnt stones and sticky black earth. A

small body sherd of coarse pot was taken from here. Above are

five courses of drystone wall beneath the modern soil.

This wall appears not to be a continuation of the retaining

wall of the mound, the slope of which begins immediately above

the exposure. It seems much more likely that the wall in the

section belongs to the same context as the slab-structures on and

around the mound and that slab-structures, wall and midden

represent phases of a settlement which is later than the burial

mound. (However, it cannot be ascertained definitely that the

midden is not stratigraphically lower than the mound). The

buried soil may be the surface on which the mound is built, or a

soil developed on the slopes of the mound between the abandonment

of the mound and the establishment of the settlement.

All-in-all, the relationship between chambered tomb and

settlement presents a most interesting problem.

On the E fringe of the mound a smaller erosion exposure

above the shore shows only broken shale fragments just below the

surface. A small base sherd of pottery similar to that from the

midden, was taken from this deposit at 150mm below surface.

Information from Orkney SMR (RGL) Jul 79, inf. A Harcus, Houseby.


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