Calf of Eday South-East

Tombs of the Isles - Calf of Eday South-East
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 Calf of Eday South-East cairn is built into a hillside overlooking the narrow channel of water separated the island from Eday. It sits c58m to the south-east (hence the modern name) of the Calf of Eday North-West.

The cairn has a diameter of approximately 10m with a south-western entrance passage c2.9m long and 0.6m wide. Similarities between its chamber and that of the Bookan cairn on the Orkney Mainland led to it being classified “Bookan-type”.

It was “investigated” at least three times in the 19th century – by the landowner, James Farrer in 1855 and the Orcadian antiquarian George Petrie in 1859 – although, in 1989, Davidson and Henshall questioned whether the antiquarian accounts actually refer to a “curious little structure still to be seen beside a quarry higher up the hill” [1].

That said, the plan of the structure following its excavation, by Charles Calder in 1936/37, is almost identical to that made by Petrie in the 19th century (see below).

To Calder, the structure was “presumably the same monument … examined by Farrer in 1855 [2] and again by Petrie in 1859 [3] as no other structure which would correspond with their notes is known”. [4]

He added that the early accounts described the structure as “simply a hole in the ground covered over by a single slab, whereas the chamber has a series of four recesses or cells in its upper part, which was evidently the only portion that had then been exposed.”

Calder found it surprising that Farrer and Petrie “did not mention these recesses since they were at pains to plan and describe in detail a neighbouring cairn, about 70 yards to the north-west, which contained very similar features.”

In the 1930s, Calder discovered that “No mound marks the spot, nor is there any detail left as evidence that a superstructure had ever existed, and the interior is now open to the sky.”

Excavation revealed a c1.9m long central chamber, accessed by a 2.59m long and 0.61m wide entrance passage.

The chamber, which varied in width from c0.61m at the entrance to c0.91m at the inner end, contained four irregularly shaped “recesses” – two on the west side, one on the east, and one in the northern end – separated by orthostats.