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The Dwarfie Stane

Chambered Tomb


The earliest known account of the Dwarfie Stone is in a Latin description of Orkney in 1529 by Jo. Ben, an unknown author, variously identified as John the Benedictine, or John Bellenden. Ben relates that the chambers had been originally made by a giant (i.e., in point of strength) and his wife, and that the latter was enceinte at the time, as was shown by her bed, which had the shape of her body. He was unable to account for the use of the door stone farther than that it was related that another giant, who was at enmity with the occupant of the stone and grieved at his prosperity, made the door stone to fit the size of the entrance so that the occupant might be shut in and perish from hunger, and that thereafter when he himself ruled the island he might have the stone for his own use. With this end in view the other giant took the stone, thus made, to the top of the mountain, and with his arms threw it down into the entrance. The giant inside awakened, and found himself in a quandary, being unable to get out, whereupon he made a hole in the roof with his mallets, and so escaped.
From A W Johnston's article on the Dwarfie Stone in 'The Reliquary' April 1896. He also writes:
"Dr. Clouston, in his Guide to Orkney [1862], states that offerings used to be left in the stone by visitors."

also that
In Bleau's Atlas (1662) the stone is called the Dwarves' Stone, pumilionum lapis, or commonly "Dwarfie Steene." It is also related that it was a common belief that the cells conduced to the begetting of children by those couples who might live in them.
It may be noted that Ben, in 1529, described the doorstone as stopping the entrance, ostium habet obtrusum lapide; later writers, including Ployen, in 1839, describe it as standing before the entrance.
Perhaps that shouldn't be given any more credence than the folklore though? as early accounts often get the measurements of the stone completely wrong, and we can be pretty sure those haven't changed at least.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
24th March 2009ce
Edited 12th September 2010ce

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