Tomb Architecture


January/February 2013

Neolithic-Orkney-Chambered-Tomb-UnstanThe progression in architecture seen at the Ness of Brodgar mirrors the architectural progression seen in Orkney’s Neolithic tombs. The very earliest tombs, such as the ones on the Calf of Eday, an outlying island, are simply small oval rooms with radial divisions—scaled-down versions of the earliest buildings at the Ness of Brodgar. These are followed by “stalled” tombs, rectangular structures with stone piers creating a series of “stalls” down either side, such as the Midhowe tomb on the island of Rousay. These clearly reflect the rectangular buildings with internal stone piers seen at the Ness of Brodgar. Finally, the stalled tombs give way to “chambered” tombs, which consist of a central room with an entrance passageway and side chambers coming off of it, such as nearby Maes Howe, which is aligned with the winter solstice so that the setting sun shines down the entrance passageway on the shortest day of the year. At the Ness, this final phase is reflected by the “cathedral” (Structure 10), which has the same interior shape and alignment as Maes Howe.


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