1 mile West of Brinian, Rousay, Orkney, Scotland.
Taversoe Tuick is situated a mile to the West of Brinian on the island of Rousay, along a stretch of the B9064 which is teeming with ancient monuments, including the Broch of Midhowe, and the cairns of Midhowe, Blackhammer, and the Knowe of Yarso. It was discovered in 1898, when the owner of the Trumland Estate ordered the construction of a sheltered seat on this favourable platform overlooking Wyre; his wife was distressed to think of the many times she had unknowingly sat on top of this Neolithic graveyard.
Of all the wonderful chambered cairns to be found across the Orkney islands, Taversoe Tuick is one of the most special because it consists of not one but three chambers; one built on top of another with a third 20 feet to the South of the encompassing grassy mound. This highly unusual layout is unique to Orkney with only one other example; Huntersquoy on Eday. It is difficult to say what inspired this arrangement but the accompanying Historic Scotland information board supplies three guesses which are as valid as any other; that the cairn was shared by separate communities, that a single community segregated its dead, or perhaps the architect simply wished to make a statement! What can be discounted is the early belief that the upper chamber was added at a later date, as the evidence suggests all three were constructed at the same time, circa 3,000 B.C.
The mound measures 30 feet in diameter, but extending a further 5 to 20 feet all around it is a sort of platform of loose stones which have been set flat into the ground, although little of this is obvious today due to encroaching vegetation. A channel was formed on the western side of this platform to allow access to the cairn, with another connecting the entrances of the lower and outside chambers. The builders made use of the slope of the hill to provide the upper and lower chambers with independent entrances; the upper cutting into the mound from the North with the lower coming in from the South. The entrance to the upper chamber is quite spacious by Orkney standards, a stoop being all that is necessary. Inside it is immediately apparent that the original roof has been replaced by a concrete dome, which not only protects the interior from the elements but also lets in light through a glass panel. The main area of the chamber is of a vaguely circular design, with three upright slabs amongst the dry stone walling in the northern and western areas, whilst the southern and eastern ends each have a compartment which bulges out of the circle. The southern is easily the smaller of the two and is roofed by a slab, whilst the eastern one is open. Cremated human remains from at least one adult and one child were found in the centre of the main part of the chamber.
The passageway leading into the lower chamber is 19 feet long, and despite widening into the interior it is exceptionally narrow at the entrance and would have to be negotiated in a prone position. For safety reasons this has been fenced off and so access is now via a ladder through a hole in the floor of the upper chamber. It is a much tighter, rectangular-shaped chamber of four compartments, each with a raised floor to give them a bench-like appearance. Those at the East and West ends are the largest with the doorway to each flanked by two uprights, while a further upright divides the two central compartments on the northern face. A crouched skeleton was discovered on the western-most of these, with fragments of bone on the other and in the far western compartment. Three heaps of cremated bone were also found along the passageway. Altogether the remains throughout the lower chamber come from at least three people.
The entrance to the outside chamber has been covered with a metal lid. It is difficult to enter due to a horizontal lintel which sits above the passageway, beyond which is a circular chamber with four uprights spaced almost equidistantly around. Its purpose is quite unknown, as just three well-preserved pottery vessels were found within, and there is no evidence that it was ever used for burials.
The bones in the upper and lower chambers are believed to represent the use of the cairn during its final years, with any earlier remains that were present before this time being removed. Large amounts of pottery, flint and stone tools were also found in the cairn, although no animal bone as is common in Orkney. All three chambers were carefully blocked once they had fallen out of use.