The Knowe of Rowiegar, Rousay, Orkney

description and dating of the human remains and context relative to neighbouring cairns

Margaret Hutchison (Author)

Neil Curtis (Author)

Ray Kidd (Author)

chambered cairn, bone
Knowe of Rowiegar; Rousay; Orkney; Scotland; UK


The Neolithic chambered cairn at Knowe of Rowiegar, Rousay, Orkney, was excavated in 1937 as part of a campaign that also saw excavations at sites such as Midhowe and the Knowe of Lairo. Not fully published at the time, and with only partial studies since, the human bone assemblage has now been largely re-united and investigated. This included an osteological study and AMS dating of selected bones from this site and other Rousay cairns in the care of University of Aberdeen Museums, as well as the use of archival sources to attempt a reconstruction of the site. It is suggested that the human remains were finally deposited as disarticulated bones and that the site was severely damaged at the time the adjacent Iron Age souterrain was constructed. The estimation of the minimum number of individuals represented in the assemblage showed a significant preponderance of crania and mandibles, suggesting the presence of at least 28 heads, along with much smaller numbers of other bones, while age and sex determinations showed a preponderance of adult males. Seven skulls showed evidence of violent trauma, while evidence from both bones and teeth indicates that there were high levels of childhood dietary deficiency. Although detailed analysis of the dates was hampered by the ‘Neolithic plateau’, a Bayesian analysis of the radiocarbon determinations suggests the use of the site during the period 3400 to 2900 cal bc. This is shown to be similar to that of other dated Orcadian Neolithic cairns and may represent different responses to two periods of severe climate deterioration.


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How to Cite
Hutchison, M., Curtis, N., & Kidd, R. (2016). The Knowe of Rowiegar, Rousay, Orkney. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 145, 41-89. Retrieved from