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Part of the landscape

Orkney is home to a World Heritage Site and features an abundance of Neolithic monuments, dating from about 5000 years ago. Blackhammer is among them, one of 15 chambered cairns on the island of Rousay.

Entrance today is by ladder, but a low, narrow entrance passage originally led into Blackhammer’s long central chamber.

When it was first built, the chamber was divided into seven stalls, but at some point a wall was built across the middle. This resulted in the removal of four upright slabs and reducing the accessible space.

One of the most interesting features of Blackhammer is the decorative stonework: the stone slabs which form the external wall have been carefully arranged to dramatic visual effect which is similar to patterns found incised on stones at other Neolithic sites.

Life and death

Excavations in the 1930s revealed:

  • two adult male skeletons
  • fragments of animal bone
  • a bone pin
  • a polished stone axe of plain grey-green stone
  • Neolithic pottery

We do not know whether the artefacts were grave-goods buried with an individual, or objects used during burial rites.

Evidence suggests the chambered tombs were visited by the living. People certainly visited new internments, and may have also visited during important festivals. The tombs may also have been cleared out periodically.

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