Yet another so-called "tomb" that contained no human remains in its inner chambers when first excavated and cleared in 1849.

It is said that "false-patriotism" is the last bastion of a scoundrel, and it could equally be said that "false-notions about ancestor-worship" would rate as the last bastion of an archaeologist. Whenever our "experts" can't come up with an adequate explanation as to why particular ancient structures were built, many immediately retreat to implausible explanations about the "mortuary-funerary" preoccupation of our forebears and their overly superstitious practices or rituals surrounding death (or fertility), which seemed to dominate their every waking moment. With regards to the Orkney Islands, for example, we're expected to believe that otherwise sane people went to live in a sub-Arctic region, far-away from more comfortable climes to the South, then undertook the mammoth task of erecting endless, huge, laboriously built mausoleums for the dearly-departed. Along with the usual horrendous mix of everyday problems in keeping body and soul together in a hard sub-Arctic environment, the living also had to find time to create spacious, insulated, dry chambered mounds and cairns for the recently-deceased. Apparently, either burying or burning the dead in peat fires wasn't quite good enough, so one's whole life had to be, first & foremost, dedicated to housing cadavers in comfortable death-houses.

The truth of the matter is clearly quite different. The dead were just the dead and corpses were disposed of in traditional, practical and sanitary fashion, in peat fires for the most-part around the Orkney Islands. Going by a wealth of evidence found at Knowes o' Trotty cemetery on Mainland, large-scale cremations were certainly occurring there, including for important dignitaries. The same holds true of the other islands, where cremation was the norm when disposing of the dead.

The evidence clearly shows that the chambered cairns & mounds were built exclusively for the living and provided generations of transient students with very adequate, fully insulated shelter out of the, all-to-frequent, harsh conditions of the Orkney great-outdoors. It's only millenniums later, after the vast school fell into permanent disuse, that local residents decided some abandoned, underground chambers might be suitable spots to deposit surplus corpses ... probably in the dead of Winter when the ground was frozen or when the weather was too bad to burn anything. There was, undoubtedly, some kind of "convenience-factor" that led to the unusual practice starting up at much later epochs.

Many of the chambers excavated in more recent eras were found to contain no human remains whatsoever (Maeshowe, Wideford, etc., being prime examples). A lot of the chambered sites show evidence of long-term feasting going on, with large quantities of cooked animal bones and broken pots found at and around those locations, but no human remains. Some of the chambered buildings had, what can only be described as, chimneys to service internal cooking fires, while others clearly had hearths in which the fires were lit. In many instances, the high dome-roof structures, supported by thick timbers and covered in earth, had long-since collapsed in by the time our antiquarians or archaeologists excavated them, thus obscuring all traces of the former chimneys.

So the evidence suggests that either people were cooking, feasting, sleeping and living domestically inside the chambered cairns & mounds themselves (in normal, practical fashion) or, in line with ridiculous "expert" opinions about how these so-called "tombs" functioned, the living must have entered therein periodically to light fires and cook meals for the dead and provide a cozy environment for the rotting cadavers or bone-heaps.

There's also evidence that many of the chambered cairns or mounds were simply sealed-up and left empty. This infers an intention to unseal and reuse the chambers as underground domiciles when and if their proprietors returned at some future time, which they undoubtedly did on an annual basis for many centuries. Due to the bitter cold of Winter in the Orkney Islands and the risks of hypothermia or frostbite for anyone out & about in the elements for extended periods, it's only practical to consider that the school ran seasonally in the warmer months. Under such circumstances, outlying classrooms would, conceivably, be sealed up temporarily to keep them free of vermin, animal & bird excreta, clear-clean-hygenic and dry until the next influx of students arrived the following Spring.

Recent excavations at Cantick Mound (a Neolithic chambered cairn) suggest that it was used for completely different purposes as the years wearied on between the Neolithic Age (4500 BC to 2200 BC) to the Bronze Age (2200 to 800 BC) to the Iron Age (500 BC to 1000 AD). Although cremated remains and some inhumation burials were found there, they appeared to have been from the much later epochs. One article about the dig states:

"Last season’s excavations, then, posed a series of questions. The cist complex and cremation burials appeared to be Bronze Age but did they have origins in the Neolithic? The square outer revetment wall was certainly a secondary addition, but did it date to the Iron Age, following the square barrow tradition such as that in East Yorkshire, or the Pictish period with parallels found in Caithness and Shetland? Could it be that the square mound was unique to Cantick?"


Orkney Islands Archaeologist, Dave Lynn, writes that in a comprehensive study of Howe Broch at Stromness, it was found to have been built directly over successive stages of earlier structures with a singular clay core, including a stage that had been a chambered cairn. Materials from the earlier structures were incorporated into latter ones. This sequence of rebuilding went through 7 successive stages, with numbers 3-4 occurring during the post-Neolithic period. However, the early and latter builders always built on the same spot religiously, right through the 6th modification, which was a fully fledged broch. By these repetitive disturbances of the sub-surface terrain the natural compaction was seriously disrupted several times, which led to instability problems that plagued the much bigger and heavier buildings that came later, like the large broch of stage 7. Despite this, the centre of the broch remained true to the central clay core around which the original structure had been built millenniums earlier.

Dave Lynn notes: .."a broch is a massive construction which would require prior preparation of the site to allow a satisfactory build. It is also a logistical issue, as importing the huge quantities of construction material (particularly the building stone) to the site and arranging its deployment on site would be impractical unless space was cleared for access, manoeuvring and preparatory shaping. The irony at Howe is that while pre-constructional clearance was massive, the decision to retain the remnant clay core of the Neolithic cairn - rather than remove it - caused a perpetual instability blight which was never resolved despite its damaging consequences."

So, the question arises, why didn't successive teams of builders move the latter buildings a short distance sideways to fresh locations? The short answer is that it was of utmost importance to retain (and forever-maintain) the original spot, as it constituted a finite surveying trig-point that could not be moved without disrupting and nullifying the all-important, inbuilt codes of position ... the very reason why the original structure was placed there in the first instance.

Dave Lynn goes on to note, with some apparent frustration: "Although over 230 burnt mounds are known in Orkney, situated in or near "agricultural land" (Hedges 1974, pp 61-65), they are not easily explained, particularly in a search for the main form of house type for the period. Instead there is an impression that we are missing a key structural form for these few centuries, a type of building which would have been more clearly residential in design and which would have occurred in sufficient numbers to be recognised today in normal archaeological circumstances.

The paradox is that for a period of climate collapse, which was colder and wetter than any post-Ice Age era, the folk in Orkney apparently chose to live in the boggiest and marshiest parts of the landscape (exaggerating to some extent from Hedges 1974, p79) which is where we find much of the Orcadian burnt mound distribution today. Something feels wrong with this explanation, but we have no archaeological evidence to correct it as things stand. There are no other recognised remains from the Orcadian Bronze Age in the quantity needed to provide an alternative."

As any real-estate agent knows, it's all about location-location-location. Because there are burnt mounds scattered all about and often in the most unlikely of places, doesn't mean that people lived on them, alongside or even in the near vicinity, only that a lot of mounds were built to serve some otherwise inexplicable purpose.

The reason why the mounds were built in bogs and marshes or on widely diverse kinds of terrain, both good and bad, is because they were surveying trigs. The mounds had to be exactly at that particular spot, which sat at a coded distance and angle from a central hubstone or hub-mound, up to several miles away. Periodically, assistants, tutors or students would come and light a night fire on the mound, for the benefit of other tutors and student groups in place and waiting miles away at varied, pre-scribed observation locations. By use of this nocturnally-glowing mound, situated at a known degree angle and distance away from the observers, stellar rises, sets or other movements out to that quarter of the night sky could be carefully studied throughout the long night. This is exactly the kind of information future navigators would need in order to maintain bearings at sea when guided by stellar rises or sets on the horizon.

It would appear that in the early years, when the school was up & running, there were a few moderately-sized support communities living around the Orkney Islands, but because this sub-Arctic location was primarily a school of navigation that, realistically, only ran in the warmer season permanent residents were probably few and far between. It would be essential to have service teams or caretakers to maintain the dormant farms through the Winter, feed livestock and be on-hand for the first seasonal planting, etc., but those staying on would have, undoubtedly clustered together to hibernate and wait out the cold season in a few sparsely populated locations.


The people of Britain have had a fascination with mazes since time immemorial and incised examples of mazes or labyrinths in stone pictograms survive from, probably, 3000 BC & earlier. The great open-air universities, like that at the Orkney Islands, were the original mazes in the truest sense of the word, as students had to navigate themselves around pre assigned, meandering circuits in the landscape, using triangulation mathematical skills, knowledge of cyclic astronomy, simple surveying instruments or calculation tools, as well as landmarks to stay constantly abreast of true North. The students on Mainland would have been told in advance the distance and angle to each, assigned target location out from the centre of Ring o' Brodgar, but having once arrived at the first objective, they then had to calculate the distance and angle to the next target on the list. Accuracy was of utmost importance, especially with the onset of darkness. Many of the targets were bracketed between two close-proximity coded vectors and, as long as the students stayed within the centre limit and didn't stray off-line, the objective could be achieved.

Ancient, incised labyrinth designs adorn this cliff-face at Rocky Valley, North Cornwall, England. At much later epochs in history these designs began to be attributed to the Greeks, although there were these much earlier precedents in Britain.

When one considers all of the elements in the late-era story of the labyrinth and dreaded Minotaur from Greek mythology, then it becomes very clear where and how the myth or concept of the labyrinth developed:

The labyrinth designs, which most people attribute to the late-era Greeks, existed in Britain for thousands of years before there were any "Greeks". The same holds true of the "Greek" or "Roman" measurement standards, like the mile of 5250' (so-called Greek) or 4860' (so-called Roman), which were indelibly marked into British landscapes by 3000 BC or earlier ... along with the ancient Scottish mile (5940'), Irish mile (6720') or English mile (5280'). The British standard inch or foot (12") measurements are incredibly old, as is the 360-degree angle system, which was used in Britain long before the epoch of the Sumerians or Babylonians. All measurements that will be mentioned as we proceed are well-known to have been in use for thousands of years and all are based upon the selfsame "inch". Moreover, although the numbers discussed herein will be predominently shown with decimal tails, it is important for the reader to realise that the values are highly-factorable and break down into simple fractions, easily manipulated and calculated by ancient mathematicians.

Labyrinth designs, as opposed to maze designs, merely chart the circuitous path or successful outcome of one's journey through a maze. Labyrinths are easy to negotiate, as one just follows the path inwards and out again. Mazes, on the other hand, require that one follows a map carefully in and out and stays meticulously aware of where one is at all times. The Orkney open-air-university, built & maintained by inter cooperating, cousin nations who desperately needed trained-up navigators capable of trans-Atlantic voyages, was an original location for the "maze & labyrinth" concepts that are so much a part of enduring British culture.