The Scotsman

An an­cient un­der­world


All over the world and across his­tory, dif­fer­ent hu­man so­ci­eties have thought long and hard about what hap­pens to peo­ple after they die.

A study of the dry-stone tombs at Maeshow in Orkney, which date back nearly 5,000 years, sug­gests that fea­tures of the side cham­bers were de­lib­er­ately placed up­side down be­cause they were thought to be in the un­der­world.

Ac­cord­ing to this new in­ter­pre­ta­tion, the walls sep­a­rat­ing th­ese spa­ces from the main cham­ber formed the bar­rier be­tween this world and the next.

The fa­mous tomb is also care­fully aligned so that dur­ing the win­ter sol­stice, the sun shines down a pas­sage­way and hits the back wall of the main cham­ber.

The be­liefs of the in­hab­i­tants of Orkney in Ne­olithic times were ob­vi­ously very dif­fer­ent to those held to­day but, that said, they were at­tempt­ing to an­swer the same fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about life and death that still oc­cupy the minds of many.

What we share with our an­cient an­ces­tors is the idea that life is pre­cious and that care should be taken when mark­ing its pass­ing.

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