The Stone of Dwarves is a colossal mountain, expanding from the land at an equal altitude of three miles. The Dwarfie Stone is a megalithic chambered tomb carved out of a titanic block of Devonian Old Red Sandstone which is located in a steep-sided glaciated valley between the settlements of Quoys and Rackwick on Hoy, an island in Orkney, Scotland. The Dwarfie stone is a glacial erratic stone located in desolate peatland.
Know about the “Descriptions of Orkney“, 1529.
As we continue our tour of the delightful wonders of what we know of as the Orkney Islands, we come across the most enigmatic of the group, the isle of Hoy. Covering just 55 square miles, not even half the size of many large cities, the island is the second largest archipelago, only after Orkney Island itself.
The skerry is also known for having the most northern forests in Britain. And, being one of the most southerly of the group, it is also nearest to mainland Scotland. Astonishingly, though, on the surface, its name, derived from “Haey”, old Norse for “High Island”, appears to be the only indication that it had any historical significance before World War II. But, of course, once one chip away at the rocky surface of erroneous notion, one discovers impish morsels of delight that defies illusion.
The Stone of the Dwarves, better known as the Dwarfie Stane, is located in the wet peatlands of the Valley of the South Burn between two of the island’s northern settlements, Rackwick and Quoys. Flanked by the highest mountain in the archipelago, Ward Hill and the imposing cliffs of Dwarfie Hamars, it is likely that the stone itself was among the countless boulders, strewn across the landscape, that were dropped onto the surface by glacial melt millions of years ago. But what distinguishes the 28-foot-long Dwarfie Stane from the others that dot the moorland is that, at some point, it was at least partially hollowed out inside.
The red sandstone stane is rectangular and slightly more embedded into the peat on its northern end than on its south. It measures about 28 feet in length and 14 feet in width. Over 6 feet high as well, it has an estimated weight of 150 tons. About 9 feet from its southern end, an entrance with rounded edges from removing a sealing stone was carved out of the stone.
The sealing stone, 4 1\2′ x 2′ x 1 1\2′, initially served as a 1-and-a-half-ton plug to the entrance and now sits just a few feet away. The aperture, measuring less than 3 feet wide and 3 feet high, is the entrance to a central passageway of similar height but 7-8 feet long. The small tunnel leads to two carve-out niches, one to the north and one to the south.
Both interior cells have rounded walls. The Southern cell is slightly larger, measuring about 4 1\2 feet long and less than 3 feet in width and height.
The roof is lower than the central space, while the floor is higher. What distinguishes this cell from its northern neighbour is that across the east end, a stone “pillow” was carved from wall to wall across the east end. The smaller north cell did not have a raised floor or lowered ceiling but a small kerb separating the cell from the central passageway.
The kerb sits directly below a small opening in the roof, plugged with concrete in the 20th century. Indications are that the kerb was used to assist individuals in climbing through the hole in the ceiling. Cut marks are found throughout the cavity, leaving no doubt that it was not a natural formation. It’s believed that stone and antler tools were used to sculpt the hollow, and comparative analysis dates the work to 3000 BC.
“In what state will the world than exist, or what sort of ideas will fill the head of the man who, when the rock has well-nigh yielded up its charge…”
Hugh Miller, “Rambles of a Geologist”, 1889.
While it’s puzzling why there’s been a shortage of archaeological research on the Orkney Isles so close to the Scottish mainland, as opposed to mainland Orkney itself, the Dwarfie Stane is an exception to this paradox.
The site was first documented by a mysterious traveller, Jo Ben, in 1529, who suggested that the stone was home to a husband-and-wife pair of giants, and the secondary cells were their beds. It was said that a third giant, possibly a neighbour, coveted the dwelling but was denied its possession. The enraged giant then o climbed the Dwarfie Hamars and threw a large stone that sealed the entrance to the Stane. The couple trapped inside the domicile was forced to bore through the roof to escape and chase the envious neighbour away. According to Jo Ben, the sealing rock was still obstructing the entrance.