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  Minehowe - The Underground Enigma

Return to Minehowe - the 2000 excavation

One of the most intriguing features of Minehowe is the massive ditch that once encircled the mound.

Unlike the ditches that surround the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones a' Stenness, no trace of Minehowe's ditch remained above ground.

The excavation have revealed that the ditch was deliberately filled in at a later date, possibly the Pictish period.

Originally the geophysics similarities between this ditch and the one surrounding the Stones o' Stenness had the experts wondering whether Minehowe had been in use from the Neolithic. The excavation, however, turned up no evidence of Neolithic material so the idea was ruled out.

But what was clear is that the ditch was a major feat of construction.

Surrounding the base of the howe, the ditch was originally around 14 feet deep and 18 feet wide. Access to Minehowe was granted by a single entrance causeway that was built up with stonework at the sides. For pictures, click here.

At the rear of the mound, a trench uncovered an area of flagged "pavement" running beside a small retaining alcove. At the time the excavators were uncertain as to the relationship between the ditch and the paving - in other words whether the ditch was open at the edge of the paving or whether the paving had been added after the ditch had been filled in.


Although Minehowe's mound is almost certainly natural, it may have been modified or altered at some time.

A retaining wall found beside the ditch appeared to be holding back the mound material, which seemed to indicate that the Iron Age builders shaped the top of the howe to their own design.

Orkney archaeologist Julie Gibson said: "The mound looks quite natural at the top, although the shape of it would have been enhanced by the retaining walling and the ditch would have emphasised the mound quite enormously."

On first glance the stonework and paving bears a passing resemblance to the stonework found at the Neolithic chambered cairns of Quoyness in Sanday and on Wideford Hill. However, the excavation confirmed the external Minehowe structure is certainly much later.

"When we first saw it that's how it looked but the overlying material we dug out contained Iron Age pottery. This stops the paving being Neolithic so we're secure that we've got later paving, probably Pictish or late Iron Age." said Julie.

As the excavation continued another feature was uncovered - a stone lined and paved alcove set into the side of the mound. The purpose of this alcove, built as it is on top of what appeared to be a deliberated levelled platform, remains unclear. Click here for pictures.

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