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"Mummies" in Maeshowe?

The antiquarian James Farrer was excavating Maeshowe in 1861, The Orcadian newspaper, dated Saturday, July 20, 1861, reported that:

"two female mummies had been discovered, and also the skeleton of a gentleman over ten feet long."

The source of this story remains unknown, but the reporter was obviously sceptical, because he went on to say:

"no-one so far as I have heard, has been favoured with a sight of the lady mummies, or the long gentleman."

I suspect these reports owed more to a local tradition than to actual fact.

Allegedly written in 1529, Jo Ben's Descriptio Insularum Orchadiarum recounts a similar tale, in which the bones of a 14-feet tall man were found in a tomb "on a little hill near to the lake".

Rather than take these stories literally, it is more likely that they reflect a local tradition that a powerful individual was once interred within the chamber. This individual was prehaps a Norse settler - something corroborated by the evidence that the chamber seems to have been reused in Viking times.

The later belief that the cairn housed a Hogboon, adds weight to this theory. The Orkney hogboon developed from the Norse pre-Christian belief in the haugbonde or "howe-farmer".

After death they believed a person's spirit continued to live on the family farm or near it. This applied in particular to the pioneer or founding-father of the estate, whose spirit was believed to remain within this mound, becoming the family's - or farm's - guardian.

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