Calf of Eday North-West

Tombs of the Isles - Calf of Eday North West
Ground plan of Calf of Eday South-East (Petrie, G. 1863. The Picts-Houses in the Orkneys)
Ground plan of Calf of Eday North-West (Petrie, G. 1863. The Picts-Houses in the Orkneys)
Round cairn.
Bookan-type chamber.
Notes:Calf of EdayOne of three known chambered cairns on the Calf of Eday, an uninhabited island lying to the north-east of Eday.

The cairn is located uphill c58m to the north-west (hence the modern name) of the Calf of Eday South-East and south of the Calf of Eday Long.

The subterranean chamber had been partially cut into rock and was examined by Farrer in 1855 [1], who described “a circular hillock” that was “first supposed to have been merely an accumulation of rubbish in digging for stone”.

According to Davidson and Henshall, the structure was still almost intact in 1983 [2], the cairn surviving to c0.7m high and with a diameter of c7m.

The entrance is in the south-western side, looking towards the sea and the island of Eday. Measuring c1.3 m long, 0.7m wide and c0.8m high, the passage leads to an irregularly shaped chamber (c3.4m by 1m and 1.22m high [3]) divided by orthostats to create four cells around a central area.

The layout of the cairn prompted the Orcadian antiquarian George Petrie to compare it to the Bookan chambered cairn in Sandwick, Orkney, which Farrer had hastily opened in July 1861.

Two of the Calf of Eday North-West’s cells are on the south-eastern side, one at the rear facing the entrance, and one on the north-western side. The side compartments are separated from each other by upright slabs. Orthostats also separate the cells from the central area, the large slabs arranged to create narrow entrances (c0.4-0.5m wide).

The entrance to the rear compartment – the largest – was found to have been “partially blocked up with large stones laid horizontally, and over which the occupant of this dark abode must have climbed” [1].

That the side cells had bench-like features is suggested by Farrer’s observation that “large flat stones resting upon portions of the natural rock that protruded into the chambers, or, artificially supported, formed the rude beds of the occupants” [1]. Farrer’s repeated use of “occupants” was because he considered the structure to be a dwelling.

Despite being sealed for millennia, the Calf of Eday North-West contained no artefacts or evidence of human remains.
Calf of Eday NW interior.
Interior sketch by George Petrie looking south-east from the north-western compartment.
Longitudinal section of Calf of Eday South-East.  (Petrie, G. 1863. The Picts-Houses in the Orkneys)
Longitudinal section of Calf of Eday North-West. (Petrie, G. 1863. The Picts-Houses in the Orkneys)
Petrie Sketch Plan
George Petrie’s sketch plan and elevations.
Calder plan and section
Charles Calder’s 1936 plan and section of the Calf of Eday North-West.