Orkney Scotland


Cuween chambered cairn, cut into the rock of Cuween hill, is an eerie place reached after a steep climb, with an impressive high vaulted ceiling.

Cuween chambered cairn lies half way up Cuween hill near Finstown, Orkney. It is similar in design to Maeshowe, but on a smaller scale, and also an impressive feat of engineering. The interior chamber is cut into solid bedrock.

The climb is rather steep, so you can usually be guaranteed to have the place to yourself. A torch is thoughtfully provided in a small box at the entranceway, but I advise to bring your own! Inside the chamber is pitch black. It takes an effort to go in – not just a physical one. It feels eerie, and not all of our small group wished to enter. It feels as though it is only ‘for’ certain people.

The entrance passage is under 1m high, so there is no alternative but to crawl in on hands and knees. inside, there is a high vaulted ceiling with four smaller chambers branching off.

Cuween was excavated in 1901, leading to the discovery of 24 dog skulls. This resulted in the suggestion that these were a totem animal of the builders. However, radiocarbon dating by the National Museums of Scotland has shown that the dogs were placed here about 500 years after its construction. As with most of these monuments, I do not believe that ‘tomb’ (as they are frequently described) was their primary purpose. Use as a tomb seems to have been by later peoples.

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