Tomb of Eagles artefacts displayed as Orkney Museum reopens

16 February 2023
piece of pottery from Isbister Chambered Cairn; Nick Hewitt OIC Culture Team Manager
‘Hugely significant and much-loved’ artefacts from the Tomb of the Eagles in South Ronaldsay have been transferred to the care of Orkney Islands Council’s Museums Service whilst a long term plan for the site continues to be investigated.

Some of those artefacts can now be seen at the Orkney Museum, which has just reopened following a month-long closure to carry out important behind-the-scenes work at the Museum and stores.

Tomb of the Eagles

Perched above the South Ronaldsay cliffs the ‘Tomb of the Eagles’  - or the Isbister Chambered Cairn - is one of Orkney’s most important archaeological sites. 

Discovered by chance by local farmer Ronnie Simison in the 1950s, the Neolithic tomb revealed a remarkable collection of human remains and artefacts, placed there some 5,000 years ago.

The site - which had been operated privately as an attraction for several decades - closed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and has not reopened. 

But in recognition of the importance of the artefacts within, the site owners worked with the Council to transfer responsibility for the collection to the Council’s Museum’s team, in consultation with the Treasure Trove Unit at National Museums Scotland, for the long-term benefit of the Orkney community.

Selection of pottery recovered from Isbister chambered cairn

Nick Hewitt, Team Manager for the Council’s Museums Service, said “Our experienced curatorial team are very aware of the importance of this site and its story to both the people of South Ronaldsay and visitors to Orkney. 

“We’ve been working hard to make sure that elements of the collection are available to the public again. Over the longer term we’ll continue working with the Simison family and other key stakeholders to try and identify a sustainable future for this much-loved site.”

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Bones and talons of White-tailed Eagle, or sea eagle

“Meanwhile we I want to express huge gratitude to the Simison family for their support and encouragement in building on the collection of Neolithic artefacts held by the Museum on behalf of the Orkney community - and indeed enthusiasts worldwide.”

Visiting Orkney Museum

The Orkney Museum is located in the heart of Kirkwall, and is open Monday-Saturday 10:30am to 5pm all year round (closes between 12:30-1:30pm in the winter months Oct-March). Admission is free.

Address: The Orkney Museum, Tankerness House, Broad Street, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1DH; website.

Telephone: 01856 873535 (extension 2523) or 01856 873191.

Images © Orkney Islands Museums Service