The Scotsman

Orkney’s up­side down ‘house for the dead’ built to help pas­sage to af­ter­life

- By ALISON CAMPSIE Archaeology · Science · Arts · Social Sciences · British Columbia · Cambridge University

A 5,000-year-old tomb in Orkney con­tains side cham­bers that were styled so that they would al­low the dead to en­ter the af­ter­life, new re­search has found.

The study, led by Jay van der Rei­j­den, a masters stu­dent at the Univer­sity of High­lands and Is­lands Ar­chae­ol­ogy In­sti­tute, made the break­through at the com­mu­nally-built dry­s­tone tombs at Maeshowe.

The tombs, re­ferred to as “houses for the dead”, showed sim­i­lar lay­outs to that of do­mes­tic houses.

Msv and er Rei­j­den’ sh as found the side cham­bers showed in­verted ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs to give the ef­fect that the cham­ber is within the un­der­world.

She said: “I’m de­lighted that my re­search, study­ing the or­der by which stones have been placed dur­ing con­struc­tion, has been able to re­veal novel re­sults and that it is there­fore able to make a real con­tri­bu­tion to the field of ar­chae­ol­ogy.

“Vi­su­alise the wall-stones are like wall­pa­pers, and when you re­peat­edly hang them up­side down in dis­tinct lo­ca­tions, pat­terns be­come dis­cernible. The swaps in­clude the re­ver­sal of mul­ti­ple ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures nor­mally placed on the right-hand side be­ing on the left only in­side the side cham­bers.

“The in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that the side cham­bers are built to be within the nether­world, by the main cham­ber walls act­ing as mem­branes, sep­a­rat­ing this life and the next, and that the in­ter­nal walling ma­te­rial is con­ceived to phys­i­cally rep­re­sent the un­der­world.”

Maeshowe, which is vis­i­ble for miles around, dates from 2,700 BC and is one of the fas­ci­nat­ing an­cient mon­u­ments that makes up the Hear t of Ne­olithic Orkney World Her­itage Site.

The tomb is ac­cessed by a long, nar­row pas­sage way which leads into a large cen­tral cham­ber, with three side cham­bers, where the dead were laid to rest. The cham­bered tomb is aligned per­fectly with the set­ting sun dur­ing the time around the win­ter sol­stice, when it shines deep into the pas­sage­way and il­lu­mi­nates the rear wall of the main cham­ber.

The lat­est re­search will be pub­lished Cam­bridge Univer­sity’s Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­view.

Nick Card, ex­ca­va­tion di­rec­tor of the Ness of Brodgar, said, “De­spite be­ing a fo­cus of at­ten­tion since its first mod­ern day en­try over 150 years ago, the iconic Maeshowe con­tin­ues to re­veal its se­crets through care­ful and con­sid­ered study. This study of­fers new ways of ap­proach­ing and un­der­stand­ing the con­struc­tion and use of not only this mon­u­ment but has wider im­pli­ca­tions for the study of Ne­olithic stone-built mon­u­ments and the so­ci­ety that con­structed them.”

 ?? PIC­TURE: MARK FER­GU­SON/SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? 0 A new study has re­vealed that parts of Maeshowe , a 5,000-year-old tomb in Orkney, were built up­side down to rep­re­sent the af­ter­life
PIC­TURE: MARK FER­GU­SON/SHUTTERSTO­CK 0 A new study has re­vealed that parts of Maeshowe , a 5,000-year-old tomb in Orkney, were built up­side down to rep­re­sent the af­ter­life

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