The discovery of the cairn
so many of Orkney's other prehistoric monuments, the discovery of
the Isbister chambered cairn - best known today as the Tomb of the
Eagles - was purely accidental.
The cairn was uncovered by a local farmer, Ronald
Simison, on his land on the south-eastern tip of the island of South
Ronaldsay in 1958.
After noticing flagstones jutting from a mound
in a field, Mr Simison
began digging and was astounded when, ten minutes later, he reached
the bottom of what looked like a wall.
Excited by his discovery, he continued and, before
long, had uncovered a black and white polished mace head, axe heads
and a tiny jet button.
Spurred on by his unexpected discoveries, he dug
further until he reached the top lintel of what he recognised as
being an entrance of some sort.
Mr Simison continued exposing the newly discovered
entrance bit by bit and was eventually able to peer into the
darkness of the small stone cairn.
There, by the flickering light of a cigarette
lighter, Ronald Simison saw the 30 human skulls that filled
the chamber - his first encounter with the long-dead occupants of
the Tomb of the Eagles.
However, shortly after this discovery the tomb
was sealed up again, pending a thorough archaeological excavation.
But this promised excavation was a long time in coming.
20 years passed - years in which Mr Simison tried in vain to persuade
the authorities to investigate the Isbister tomb.
Eventually he gave up and decided to do the job