Maeshowe alignments

Picture ORCA

Trench P, looking towards Maeshowe and the Standing Stones of Stenness.

In 2008, it became clear that –  as suspected –  the settlement on the Ness of Brodgar was “no ordinary Neolithic village”.

That was the year the archaeologists uncovered a structure that dwarfed everything else on site — Structure Ten.

“At some stage in the site’s life it wasn’t domestic at all,” said Nick Card at the time. “The sheer scale of these structures suggest it’s something way beyond that.”

“If Structure Ten was roofed, it would have have been truly incredible — monumental in every sense of the word — an astonishing sight and something that most Neolithic people would have been in awe off.”

Although larger than Structure Eight at Barnhouse, the building on the Ness bears a clear resemblance to it — including an obvious alignment to Maeshowe.

Nick Card was sure this alignment is no coincidence.

Built roughly east-west, the Ness structure points across the Harray loch towards Maeshowe. Dating from around 2600BC, Structure Eight at Barnhouse is surrounded by a wall with two entrances. One of these entrances also faces the chambered cairn.

A third possibility, although open to debate, are the two “dolmen” stones in the centre of the Standing Stones of Stenness. Maeshowe is framed beautifully through the gap in these two stones, thought to be the remnants of a “porch” or “monumental entrance” to a timber structure that once stood within the stone circle.

The alignments could be significant in a number of ways. Were the buildings, symbolic of life, facing Maeshowe, a symbolic house of the dead?

Or were the alignments a way to tie all the structures together — to highlight, or emphasise, the connections between them?