Functioning Portal To The Otherworld Discovered at Maeshowe
Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave situated on mainland Orkney, the world-renowned, ancient monument-peppered archipelago located off the north east coast of Scotland. Constructed by Neolithic engineers around 2800 BC, this famous astronomically-aligned scheduled monument is a part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a group of sites, including the Neolithic village Skara Brae , that were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
According to archaeologist Stuart Piggott in his 1954 book Neolithic Cultures of the British Isles, Maeshowe is “a superlative monument”. One of the earliest examples of a monument being orientated so that the last light of the setting winter solstice sun shines along its passage, it has been described as the “height of Neolithic engineering”. But now, a new research paper by Jay van der Reijden, a Masters by Research student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute , has made a topsy-turvy discovery within the architecture of the 5000-year-old Maeshowe burial chamber which would make it a truly unique monument.
Measuring Up Otherworldly Sacred Geometry
The archaeology student has studied the geometry, shape and design of the 5000-year-old structure and demonstrates how the side chambers inside Maeshowe were designed “upside-down” compared to the stylization featured in the main, or central, chamber. According to the student, this suggests that the side chambers were built as “inverted netherworlds,” specifically designed as conduits for the souls or spirits of the dead to journey to the afterlife.
The new findings have been published today (4 September 2020) in the journal Archaeological Review . The paper includes a detailed study of the ancient death chamber’s orientation, revealing the design differences between the central and side chambers. The student suggests visitors to this world class ancient monument on Orkney try to visualize the wall-stones as being like wallpaper: When you repeatedly hang them “upside down”, in certain locations, patterns emerge from the chamber and themes become discernible.
On the left: Cross-sections of the Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave known as Maeshowe on Orkney. ( Fantoman400 / CC BY-SA 3.0). On the right: Maeshowe on Orkney, soon after opening in 1861. (Fantoman400 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
A Vessel of the Topsy-Turvy Nether Regions
Accounting for these design reversals observed in the side chambers at Maeshowe, the archaeology student explains that they were “built to be within the netherworld,” and that the thick slabs forming the main chamber walls “acted as membranes, separating this life and the next.” Furthermore, the internal walling material is conceived to “physically represent the underworld.”
The researcher concludes that these design “swaps” include the reversal of multiple architectural features which are normally placed on the right-hand side. Meanwhile, in the side chambers of Maeshowe they are situated on the left. She goes on to explain that this was because Neolithic people in Orkney perceived the underworld as a reversed projection of the here and now: just as they saw when looking at their own reflections in rock pools.
Maeshowe from the air. ( Scotswiki)
Neolithic and Viking Otherworlds Unite
This discovery comes only two days after I wrote a news article for Ancient Origins about the discovery of a left-handed Viking warrior and his sword in Norway. Dr. Raymond Sauvage, an archaeologist at the NTNU University Museum and project manager for the Viking warrior’s excavation, told Science Norway that the swords were laid contrary to the side they were worn in everyday life, because early Norse cultures also believed everything in the afterlife “was reversed,” in comparison to the here and now.
Returning to Maeshowe, while this burial chamber was built in the Neolithic, in the Viking era it was raided by Norse treasure hunters who left graffiti, including a carefully carved dragon. Perhaps the Viking looters, like the student Jay van der Reijden, also noticed the upside down geometric arrangement in the side chambers. If so, this would account for why they used the structure for rituals and Nordic rites concerning the soul’s voyage to the netherworlds.
- Orcadian Genesis: The Origins of the Orkney Isles’ Unique Megalithic Culture and its Roots in Britain’s Own Lost Atlantis – Part One
- Orcadian Genesis: The Origins of the Orkney Isles’ Unique Megalithic Culture and its Roots in Britain’s Own Lost Atlantis - Part Two
- The Ring of Brodgar, the Neolithic Henge of Orkney Island
Maeshowe Chambered Cairn - Maeshowe is the finest chambered tomb in north-west Europe and more than 5000 years old. (© Russel Wills / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Almost a century has passed since Professor Gordon Van Childe explored the ancient stone monuments of Orkney. Hundreds of archaeology professionals have been working on the islands since the 2003 discovery of a “Neolithic Cathedral” at the Ness of Brodgar , between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness. This considered, isn’t it just fantastic, and so encouraging for the future of archaeology on this unique island group, that it was a student who saw what no-one else had noticed?
Van der Reijden has discovered is that Maeshowe was not just a stage, or backdrop, for ancient death rituals, but it was a functional portal to the otherworld where the scales, ratios and proportions of ancient architecture didn’t just represent, but “were” the underworld.
Top image: An archaeology student has made an incredible discovery within the architecture of the 5000-year-old Maeshowe burial chamber on mainland Orkney. Source: Mo_Ali / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie