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Sanday, Quoyness

Chambered Cairn (Neolithic)

Site Name Sanday, Quoyness

Classification Chambered Cairn (Neolithic)

Alternative Name(s) Els Ness; Quoyness Brough; Augmond's Howe; Egmund's Howe

Canmore ID 3395

Site Number HY63NE 1

NGR HY 6766 3779

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Administrative Areas

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

Archaeology Notes

HY63NE 1 6766 3779

(HY 6766 3779) Quoyness Brough (NR)

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

A Maes-Howe-type chambered cairn, measuring 67' by 56', the intact chamber being enclosed within a complex cairn and surrounded by a platform. It was excavated by Farrer and Petrie in 1867, in the belief that it was a broch, but was subsequently recognised as a chambered cairn and re-excavated by Childe in 1951-2 for the MoW in whose guardianship it has been placed.

The roughly rectangular chamber, with six cells, is enclosed within an ovoid cairn, supported by two retaining walls, the whole being covered with cairn material supported by a third wall, standing on a raised platform.

Sherds of Neolithic pottery found on the floor show affinity with the Rinyo (HY43SW 20) and Skara Brae (HY21NW 12) settlements; while a slate disc found in the chamber is comparable with finds in western Scotland, Wales, Spain and Portugal.

Childe envisaged the complete cairn as a domical mound like Maes-Howe (HY31SW 1) and it must have stood at least 14' high. MoW have exposed the upper part of the innermost encircling wall, and short sections of the two outer walls on either side of the passage. The outer half of the passage is without lintels so that the sides above the original wall-head have been faced with walling up to the level of the cairn surface, and the present entrance is by modern steps through the outermost wall.

According to the NSA the name 'Augmond's (or as it is locally pronounced, Egmund's) Howe' applied to the neighbouring site (HY63NE 3) properly applies to this cairn.

New Statistical Account (NSA) 1845; J Farrer 1870; J Anderson 1886; RCAHMS 1946, visited 1928 and 1935; V G Childe 1954; A S Henshall 1963; R W Feachem 1963.

A chambered cairn as described and planned by Henshall. Neither the name Quoyness Brough or Augmund Howe is known locally.

Re-surveyed at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (NKB) 6 July 1970.

Scheduled as Quoyness, chambered cairn, Els Ness, Sanday.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 25 April 1994.


Antiquarian Observation (1862 - 1870)

Drawings by George Petrie of sites in Orkney and Shetland in sketchbook MS 28/487/7 in the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Collection.

Field Visit (1929)

Following his visit to the site, Childe convinces the landowner, Mr Irvine of Elsness Farm to place the monument under guardianship.

V G Childe 1954

Excavation (July 1951 - August 1951)

Childe supervised preparatory excavations by the Ministry of Works between July and August 1951.

V G Childe 1954

Excavation (July 1952 - August 1952)

Following a season's excavations in 1951, Childe returned in 1952 for 3 weeks to investigate features uncovered in the previous season.

V G Childe 1954

Publication Account (1996)

The location of Quoyness is very similar to that of Holm of Papa West ray South (no. 77), on an isolated peninsula, except that Eis Ness, unlike the Holm of Papay, is still, just, connected to the adjacent mainland. Both are outstanding examples of Maes Howe type tombs. Although lacking its original roof, the chamber stands intact to its full height of 4m, and consequently the external appearance of the cairn is also very impressive, the more so as it stands on an artificial platform. Three consecutive wall-faces can be seen, representing the inner cairn round the chamber, a middle revetment flush with the outer end of the entrance-passage and an outer casing. Originally the entrancepassage was roofed for its full length of 9m, but only the inner 3.5m is now intact and roofed at a height of 0.6m - the complete 9m crawl must have been a daunting experience!

Emerging on hands and knees, the chamber seems vast and soaring skywards. Low entrances open into six side-cells, all but two of which contained burials, and there were further burials in a cist sunk into a pit in the southern corner of the chamber. Unfortunately this was a depressingly bad 19th-century excavation in which an enormous amount of archaeological information was lost. Objects found in and around the tomb included bone and stone implements similar to examples from the contemporary settlement as Skara Brae (no. 61), and it is likely that the tomb was built very early in the 3rd millennium BC.

The wrecked but still impressive mound nearby to the south may well have been another chambered tomb, traditionally known as Egmondshowe (HY 676375); it is enclosed by an arc of eleven small bronze-age burial mounds connected by a bank. At least another twenty-six small cairns are scattered over the peninsula, implying its continuing sanctity as a burial place throughout the 2nd millennium BC. The excavation of Tofts Ness (no. 60) has shown, however, that sometimes such cairns are the result of domestic rather than funerary use.

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

Field Visit (1999)

his Maes Howe type chambered cairn forms a prominent feature on the low-lying peninsula of Els Ness. It was investigated by Farrer and Petrie in the 1860's with subsequent salvage excavations carried out by Childe in the 1950's. The cairn measures 20.5m by 17m and stands on an artificial platform. A 9m entrance passage leads into the central chamber. This stands 4m high and has six symmetrically-arranged side cells opening off of it. Sherds of Neolithic pottery, animal bone and stone implements were uncovered, along with a quantity of human remains. The tomb has been consolidated and partially restored and is open to the public under guardianship protection. Ref.: Farrer, J (1870) 'Note of excavations in Sanday...', PSAS, 7 (1866-8), 398-401; RCAHMS (1946) #449; Childe, V G (1954) 'Re-excavation of the chambered cairn of Quoyness, Sanday on behalf of MoW in 1951-2' in PSAS, 86 (1951-2), 121-39; RCAHMS (1980) #3; Davidson, J L & Henshall A S (1989) 'The chambered cairns of Orkney', #44.

Coastal Zone Assessment Survey, 1999

Orkney Smr Note

'There is another burgh a little to the westward of

Augmund's Howe, also built close by the beach, but considerably

less than the former. On the NW side there is a circular

enclosure of about an acre, which has at one time been under

cultivation, and has given the name Quoyness to this building'.


Excavated 1867 by J Farrer who interpreted it as 'a large

brough' which he speculated had, subsquent to its original use,

been converted into a tomb.

[R2], cuttings in NMR ref SAS 397, [R3].

1/4 Imp plan, Dryden 1879 after Petrie 1867, annotated 'Arch

Scot 5 p 94; The Orcadian, Aug 1867; Petrie's notebook 9, pp

104-21; notes, foolscap 4 to.' [R4], NMR ref SAS 32, ORD/47/2

In Office of Works Guardianship. Account based on Farrer's

report with Dryden's plan. [R5]

Re-excavated by V G Childe followed by consolidation as a

guardianship monument. [Childe erroneously claims that the name

Augmund's or Egmonds Howe should apply to this site]. [R6]

Detailed discussion. [R7, R8]

Plan on 1/4 Imp flimsy paper, in coloured pencil [Petrie

collection]. NMR SAS, Petrie notebook no 9, in RMS.

Plan and sections, 1/2 Imp, Sir Henry Dryden 1879 after

measures by G Petrie 1867. NMR SAS

1/4 Imp section, Dryden 1879 after Petrie 1867. NMR SAS

Information from Orkney SMR [n.d.]


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