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  The Ring of Brodgar, Stenness

The significance of the landscape


Skae Frue from Bookan (Picture Sigurd TowrieThe mound of Skaefrue lies approximately 100 metres to the south-west of the Ring of Bookan, on the north-western edge of the Ness of Brodgar.

The flat-topped mound is on a slope leading down towards the Stenness loch and measures 23.5 metres in diameter and 2.4 metres tall.

Little is known about Skaefrue, other than a reference to a 19th century excavation by FWL Thomas which refers to three crouched burials – two adults and a child - found in cists on the mound. According to Royal Commission records, the three, together with a possible fourth burial, were “placed at the cardinal points of the compass”.

The mound’s position in the landscape is particularly interesting. As can be seen from the picture, from viewed from the Ring of Bookan, it could be argued the mound relates to the headland across the loch, or the hills of Hoy in the background.

Regarding the latter, Charles Tait has suggested the mound lies in a direct line with the midwinter sunset, as view from the centre of the Bookan henge.

Regarding the mound’s name, it is undoubtedly a corruption of its original.

Were it not for the fact that the mound’s current “curved” shape is probably due to the 19th century excavations, it would be tempting to relate the first element to the Old Norse skeifa – a horse-shoe.

Instead it is more likely to relate to skeifr (Old Norse meaning “askew”, but generally found in Orkney referring to sloping ground) and haugr (mound). In Stenness, at least, the local pronunciation of howe (derived from haugr) is “hoo”, or “oo”. Maeshowe, for example, is “Mezzoo”.  This leaves us with “skeifroo” – slope mound.

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