Unstan Cairn, Stenness, Orkney

Unstan's chambered tomb

Just by the salt water Loch of Stenness is the Unstan cairn, another Neolithic burial chamber. But this one you can just drive up to and explore on your own. There’s a gate over the entrance but it isn’t locked.

Unstan's tomb

The chamber has a modern-ish roof and a skylight in it so it’s surprisingly bright when you get in there.

Again, you have to bend down to get through the low tunnel.
Unstan's tomb

As you can see, this Neolithic burial chamber is partitioned off in places. These big slabs of stone are all over the island and have been used for buildings all over the place, very handy, they’re even used for fencing off fields sometimes. A lot of crouched skeletons were found in this burial cairn, along with a large number of pieces of pottery.

Unstan's tomb

Quite a lot of the stones have been carved/grafittied over the years, some of it quite modern probably but the photo below might be of original carvings.

Unstan cairn

A couple of horses were grazing in the field just outside the chamber.
horses + Loch of Stenness

It’s well worth stopping off at Unstan Cairn if you’re visiting Orkney.

6 thoughts on “Unstan Cairn, Stenness, Orkney

  1. A couple of thoughts occur: there must have been a reasonable-sized population to have sustained the construction of these sites, feed the workers etc?
    And, what is the temperature inside the chamber – I imagine it to be quite chilly?

    • Valerie,

      You should try to see this BBC series by Neil Oliver http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b087vh70 – he said that Orkney was the Neolithic centre of the world, so it must have had quite a large population. Apparently there are settlement remains all over the place. Those chambered cairns are actually quite cosy inside, for one thing it’s nice to get out of the wind, and the turf covering keeps out draughts and insulates them.

      • Thanks, Katrina, I’ll see if I can watch that.
        I remembered Neil Oliver’s name from The Face of Britain which is another series I’d like to see; also I see he’s been part of some interesting programmes about Coasts including NZ.

        • Valerie,
          That series Coast is so good, mind you there seems to be at least one episode of it on every day here – on various TV channels.

  2. Cool! I share your fascination with these structures. Have you seen Knowth or Newgrange in Ireland. Amazing!

    • Pearl,
      No I haven’t been to those places, I’ve only been to Northern Ireland (Belfast) and I can’t say I liked it much. Maybe one day we’ll check out Ireland.

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