The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian


Chambered Tomb


Maes Howe or Maeshowe is among the finest chambered tombs in Europe, dating from around 2700 BCE. It was said to be inhabited by a creature known as a Hogboy, but human beings too left their mark on the site. When it was excavated in 1861, the archaeologists found they were not the first on the scene: Vikings had broken, about 700 years earlier, and left graffiti on the walls. The presence of the twelfth-century vandals is recorded in twenty-four runic inscriptions, two of which refer to 'Jorsalafara' - literally, 'Jerusalem-farers', or crusaders.

The sort of things prople write on walls hasn't changed all that much over the centuries.

Thorny bedded; Helgi writes it'

-perhaps the tomb, macabre though it might seem, was where the locals did their courting, or perhaps the men were thinking of happier times:

Ingigerd is the most beautiful of women',

says one inscription.

Also carved here is a picture of an animal usually interpreted as a dragon, and some of the writings relate to buried treasure.. the poem Beowulf tells of a hoard guarded by a dragon in a barrow containing a secret passage, and it has been suggested that on entering Maes Howe the Vikings drew the dragon and wrote the runes because they were vividly reminded of the episode. There may, however, have been some factual element: one of the inscriptions states that the treasure was concealed north-west of the barrow, and in 1858 a cache of Viking silver ornaments was found at Sandwick, some way north from Maes Howe.

Particularly interesting is an inscription in large, even runes, informing us that these were cut,

'with the axe which belonged to Gaukr Trandilsson in the South of Iceland'.

The carver does not add his name, but, Hermann Palsson of Edinburgh University has used centuries old Icelandic poetry to establish his identity:

he was Thorhallr Asgrimsson, named in the Orkneyinga Saga as captain of the ship that brought Earl Rognvaldr Kali back from the crusade to Orkney late in 1153, and great-great-great-grandson of Asgrimr Ellitha-Grimsson, named in Njals Saga as the slayer of Gaukt Trandilsson. The axe of the victim was kept as an heirloom by the killer's family for six generations, around 200 years, and was brought to Orkney by a direct descendant of Asgrimr.

The tracing of its history is an astounding example of archaeological and scholarly detective work.

The Lore Of Scotland - A Guide To Scottish Legends

Westwood & Kingshill
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
21st January 2024ce
Edited 21st January 2024ce

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to add a comment