The Dwarfie Stane lies in one of the most desolate and beautiful places in the Orkney islands.
It is a 5,000-year-old megalithic chambered tomb carved out of a titanic block located in a steep-sided glaciated valley between the settlements of Quoys and Rackwick on Hoy, an island in Orkney, Scotland, and looking over to Ward Hill, the island’s tallest hill.
It’s the only such tomb in all of Northern Europe as usually tombs from this period are constructed from piles of smaller rocks and this represents a rather more laborious undertaking.
There are similair tombs in the mediterranean which it may be based on but no direct any link is known.
A huge block of hollowed-out red sandstone measuring about 8.5 metres long which was dropped by the glaciers that cut the valley during the last ice age, it is thought to be Britain’s only example of a rock-cut tomb, altough not all archaeologists share this opinion.
It is thought the chamber was carved out sometime between the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age. Basing their dates on similar tombs found in the Mediterranean, archaeologists have settled on a date of around 3,000 BC. What makes the Dwarfie Stane remarkable is the fact that the massive stone was hollowed out using nothing but stone, or antler, other tools, muscle power and lot of patience.
An opening is cut into the middle of the stone’s west face and leads into the inner chamber, that contains two rock-cut spaces resembling bed-places, both of which are too short for anyone of a normal stature. These were undoubtedly responsible for the origin of the dwarf folklore that surrounds the site.
In fact, its name is derived from local legend that a dwarf lived there, whose origins were shrouded in mystery, although, ironically, the tomb has also been claimed as the work of giants.
All that locals knew was that the oldest woman alive on the island could remember her long dead grandparents telling her that the dwarf that been there at least since their grandparents time.
And he had a good raven friend who accompanied him on all his wanderings about the Islands, where people would come to consult him for their various magical needs.
The people were also said to mistrust him because, you know, people.
The Dwarfie Stane was known as ‘Dvergasteinn’ by the Viking raiders who settled on Hoy – the home of dwarfs. The bed spaces – too short for anyone of normal stature – support this folklore.
And, curious enough, until the beginning of the 20th century visitors to the Dwarfie Stane used to leave offerings by the door.
And what about the giant’s residence?
According to Orcadian tradition, the Dwarfie Stane was said to be the residence of a giant and his wife.
A third giant, who wanted to make himself the master of Hoy, imprisoned the gargantuan couple inside the stone. But his evil plans were thwarted, when the imprisoned giant gnawed his way out through the roof of the chamber.
This piece of folklore neatly explains the now-repaired hole in the roof.
Another tale tells of a dwarf who was trapped inside by a giant when he was working inside his home. The giant could hear the dwarf muttering inside so he turned his head closer to the rock to listen. However, the dwarf stuck his thumb through the roof and the shattered rock struck the giant, who fell down dead nearby. His body becoming the Partick Stane.
Either way, Dwarfie Stane’s existence was popularised in Walter Scott’s novel “The Pirate” published in 1821, who recorded its legend. In the tale Trolld, a dwarf famous in the northern Sagas regarded the Dwarfie Stane as his favourite residence.
The story may have originated from the island’s contact with Vikings, whose myths of dvergar (dwarfs) and trolls may have confused the island’s ancient inhabitants. There have also been claims that giants themselves created the megalith.
There is a variety of 18th- and 19th-century graffiti on the rock-cut tomb and one is an inscription in Persian calligraphy that states “I have sat two nights and so learnt patience” left by Captain William Mounsey, who camped here in 1850. Above is Captain’s name written backwards in Latin.
Images from web – Google Research