Knowe of Yarso, Rousay

Tombs of the Isles - Knowe of Yarso, Rousay
(Callander & Grant. 1935. A long stalled cairn, the Knowe of Yarso, in Rousay, Orkney.)
Rectangular cairn.
Stalled chamber
Notes:Before its excavation in 1934, by Callander and Grant, the cairn was a grass-covered mound measurirg 19m by 9.7m.

Aligned north-west to south-east, the sub-rectangular cairn now measures 15.2m long and 7.8m wide.

Access is by a passage from the south-east, 4.1m long, 0.6 to 0.7m wide, and 1.05m high. The chamber is 7.1m long and 1.6 to 1.8m wide and divided into three compartments by upright slabs. The outer compartment is 2.05m long, the central compartment 1.6m long and the inner measures 3.5m long, with 0.9m high backslab.

This large end compartment is subdivided by a pair of 0.6m high slabs across the middle. The inner subdivision has a narrow scarcement one metre above the ground, which together with a stone projecting above the north-eastern subdivisional slab seems likely to have been the support for a shelf/bench.

The walls, which showed evidence of burning, stand up to 1.8 m high at the end and up to 1 .6 m high along the sides of the chamber. Charred wood and ashes were noted on the floor, and many of the finds, including the bones, were scorched.

The remains of at least 29 human skeletons were on the floor of the passage and chamber, mostly in the two parts of the inner compartment, where the skulls were arranged along the base of the walls. The bones were mostly broken, none were articulated, and were mixed with animal bones in a similar condition.

There were flints and bone tools on the floor or immediately above it.

The chamber had been filled with rubble and earth after it went out of use. The lower filling contained animal bones and some flints, with sherds of pottery near the top. A few human bones were found in the inner compartment on a level with the scarcement.
Early excavation notice (1934)
“Mr. Walter G. Grant, F.S.A.Scot., during the summer of 1933 and 1934 excavated on his ground in Rousay two Neolithic burial monuments of a type quite new to Scottish archaeology. The name cairn, a heap of stones, is not quite appropriate, because they are really mausoleums, with carefully built walls on the outside as well as on the inside.

The first, which is situated near the broch of Midhowe, to the excavation of which Mr. Grant has devoted five summers, shows a large narrow gallery resembling a byre for calves, with stalls on both sides, the travises consisting of tall narrow slabs set on end.

This gallery was divided into twelve cells and yielded remains of twenty-six Neolithic skeletons, fragments of seven vessels of pottery, several of the well-known Unstan type, and one flint knife.

The second cairn, the Knowe of Yarso, was much shorter and contained only three compartments with stalls on each side. In the matter of relics, it was disappointing that no fragments of Neolithic pottery were recovered, but the skeletal remains of at least a dozen individuals and more than forty flint implements were found.

Fragments of a food-vessel, the first recorded from Orkney, doubtless an intrusive burial, were also discovered.

This cairn displayed unique structural features. As in the case of some Caithness and Orkney neolithic cairns, it had a face of walling within the mound in addition to the outer one, but in this monument the outer wall had been built with stones laid obliquely, not on the flat.

Both cairns yielded evidence that the inner ends had originally two stories.

There are two more monuments of this type on the island, and we hope to excavate them in the not distant future.”

Dr J. Graham Callander. Mausoleums in the Island of Rousay, Orkney.
The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. 14, Issue 4 (1934)
Working Stone – Knowe of Yarso
References:Davidson, J. L. & Henshall, A. S. (1989). The Chambered Cairns of Orkney. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Callander, J. G. and Grant, W. G. (1935) A long stalled cairn, the Knowe of Yarso, in Rousay, Orkney. In Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Volume 69 (1934-5)
Rousay map
Chambered cairns on the south/south-western coast of Rousay.
(Hutchison et al. 2015. The Knowe of Rowiegar, Rousay, Orkney: description and dating of the human remains and context relative to neighbouring cairns)
Knowe of Yarso sections and plan. (Callander & Grant. 1935. A long stalled cairn, the Knowe of Yarso, in Rousay, Orkney.)