Part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, this fascinating chambered tomb predates the Egyptian pyramids.
Maes Howe is among Europe’s finest Neolithic burial chambers. Built around 3,000 B.C., this mysterious structure features remarkably sophisticated stonework. Take a tour of the tomb’s interior and admire its massive sandstones, as well as the intriguing runic graffiti that was added thousands of years after its construction.
The chamber, which dates back more than 5,000 years, is remarkably well-preserved. It spans 115 feet (35 meters) in diameter, and some of the slabs used to build it were more than 18 feet (5.5 meters) long and 4 feet (1.2 meters) wide. Notice that on the outside, the chamber looks simply like a large, grassy mound. It remains unclear why this chamber was constructed or who was interred here.
Enter the chamber through its 47.5-foot (14.5-meter) long passage. This passageway is perfectly aligned to function as a calendar. On the winter solstice, the sun shines straight down this passage and illuminates the back of the central chamber.
Follow the passageway uphill and enter the main chamber, which is only 15 feet (4.7 meters) wide. Notice the huge upright stones found at each corner of this chamber.
Examine the runic graffiti cut in to the walls of the chamber. If you look closely, you’ll also spot a number of intricate carvings, including a serpent, a lion and a dragon.
The tomb was raided by Vikings during the 12th century, and Norse crusaders later took shelter here during a blizzard. The graffiti left by these groups comprises the largest surviving collection of runic inscriptions in the world outside of Scandinavia. Not unlike modern graffiti, many of these inscriptions read things like "Haermund Hardaxe carved these runes," and "Ingigerth is the most beautiful of women.”
Maes Howe is located 6 miles (10 kilometers) northeast of Stromness, and 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of Kirkwall. Buy your tickets in the visitor center at Tormiston Mill, across the road from the site. Admission is through a timed guided tour; phone ahead to book a certain tour time. Opening hours vary by season. Marvel at the skill needed to construct this incredible Neolithic site.