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  Maeshowe

The origin of the 'Maeshowe' placename

Maeshowe MistFor years, scholars have puzzled over the placename element maes - found not only in Maeshowe, but also attached to a number of sites across Orkney.

It was suggested that maes stemmed from the the Norse word melr, meaning sand. But although this could apply to the shoreside maes- placenames, it made no sense in relation to Maeshowe.

So, for years, the Maeshowe placename was generally consigned to the "unknown" bin.

But in 2010, Dr Berit Sandnes, of Lund University, suggested that maes comes from the Old Scandinavian word mað, meaning meadow.

She explains: "It fits linguistically, as a final ð or th will normally disappear in Orkney dialect. Farm-names ending in -gar have developed from Old Norse garðr ‘farm’, for instance.

"A name meaning ‘meadow mound’ does certainly make sense as Maeshowe is located so close to Loch of Harray. About four kilometres north of Maeshowe, the house of Maesquoy is situated right on the bank of Burn of Furso. Both locations seem likely to have been meadows originally."

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