Nearest town: Stromness
Nearest village: Finstown
Map reference: HY 318127
mound maybe once contained a treasure
A long time ago was a great treasure hidden here. Lucky will be
he who can find the great fortune. Hákon single-handed bore treasure
from this howe. So reads part of one of the runic inscriptions carved
on the stones inside Maes Howe, probably in the 12th century AD when Vikings
broke into the tomb. They also left pictorial carvings (a dragon, a walrus
and a serpent knot), but they took away all the treasure, and we shall never
know what it comprised.
Maes Howe had already been in existence for over 3.500 years when the Vikings
raided it, for it is thought to have been constructed around 2500 BC. It
was built on a rocky knoll amidst a landscape not unlike today's,
near the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones
of Stenness, and is one of the finest monuments of prehistoric Scotland.
The mound is about 7.3 m (24 ft) high and 35 m (115 ft) in diameter, and
a long passage (11 m/36 ft) leads to a tall chamber 4.6 m (15 ft) square,
deep in the mound. In one wall is the doorway, but each of the other three
walls contains a square hole nearly 1 m (3 ft) above the ground. These open
out into small chambers which once may have contained burials.
of the drystone masonry is superb: no mortar was used and some of the slabs
still fit so well together that a knife blade cannot be inserted between
them. It has been estimated that the building of Maes Howe, including the
quarrying and transportation, could have taken almost 39.000 man-hours.
As the original contents of the tomb are unknown to us, it is very difficult
to speculate on rituals carried out at the site. The fact that the entrance
faces SW suggests that the builders of Maes Howe had an interest in the
winter sunset. At mid-winter, light from the setting sun streams through down
the passage to illuminate the inner chamber.
In local folklore, Maes Howe was believed to have been inhabited by a
very strong goblin, the Hogboy, perhaps derived from Haugbuie, Norse
for Ghost of the Tomb.