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  The Taversoe Tuick, Rousay

The outer chamber - communicating with the dead?

Perhaps the most intriguing element of the Taversoe Tuick is one that is actually very easy to miss when visiting the site.

Dug into the ground to the left and downhill of the Taversoe Tuick's lower entrance is a third subterranean chamber.

At first glance the small external chamber looks fairly unremarkable, however, it is effectively a half-scale model of a burial chamber measuring 1.6 metres long by 1.1 metre wide and only 85cm at its highest

This "mini tomb" lies approximately seven metres to the south of the main cairn, on the edge of the enclosing platform. Divided by four upright slabs the oval shaped chamber is connected to the Taversoe Tuick by a narrow, stone-lined channel that tapers from 46cm at its widest to a mere 6cm when it reaches the outer chamber.

Originally this small channel was thought to be a drain, designed to carry off water from the main chamber. A strange assumption considering the channel leads to outer chamber.

But even back in 1899, Lady Burroughs of Trumland House remarked that the channel could not be a drain because of a blocking stone inserted about four metres along the passage. The excavators, who began investigating the site in 1937, corroborated Lady Burroughs' comments. During particularly heavy rains in July 1938 it was noted that the channel remained dry.

So if the channel was not a drain, what was it?

We can only guess what the chamber's function was in relation to the main cairn. It has been suggested it was merely a depository for leaving offerings or the like. Although this is entirely possible, the work involved in constructing it would have been considerable, particularly connecting it to the lower chamber of the Taversoe Tuick by a small, stone lined shaft.

An interesting theory has been proposed - particularly relating to the Taversoe Tuick and the Wideford Cairn but also applicable to the other cairns - that suggests that this shaft allowed the living to converse with the spirits of the dead.

It is generally accepted that the Neolithic Orcadians participated in some form of ancestor worship so was the narrow slot used as some form of an oracle? People might seek the advice of the ancestors by climbing into the miniature chamber and speaking into the tiny opening - the echoes of their distorted words coming back as an answer could then be interpreted as they wished.

For more information about theories relating to acoustics and the design of chambered cairns, click here.

Section Contents
Orkney's Chambered
Building the Cairns
How were they used?
Unstan Ware and Grooved Ware
Were the Cairns Designed for Sound?

Isbister - The Tomb of the Eagles
Cuween Cairn
Quoyness, Sanday
Wideford Hill
Unstan Cairn
Crantit Cairn
Midhowe, Rousay
Taversoe Tuick
Cairn Layout
The Upper Chamber
The Lower Chamber
The Outer Chamber - Communicating with the dead?
Blackhammer Cairn
The Dwarfie Stane

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