The Tomb of the Eagles: White Tail eagle bones in a Neolithic cairn

The so-called Tomb of the Eagles is a 500-year old  Neolithic chambered cairn  on South Ronaldsay containing the remains of 340 people but also the bones of as many as 35 birds, most of which belong to white-tailed eagles.
The tomb was discovered in 1958 by Ronald Simison, an Orkney farmer, when looking for flagstones. It is believed the eagles were totemic or shamanistic animals for the Neolithic people who lived on Orkney. It is likely the human corpses had been left exposed so that they could be stripped of their flesh by these carrion eating eagles in order to free their spirits, a process known as exacerbation as opposed to incarnation.

The tomb is featured in the first chapter of James Macdonald Lockhart’s beautifully written Raptor: A Journey Through Birds (2016).

There is a visitor centre near the cairn.

Pictish stone carving of White-tailed eagle

A Pictish stone carving from from the Knowe of Burrianburrian in Orkney depicts a white tailed eagle. Note the massive beak, vulturine form and unfeathered lower legs characteristic of the sea eagle which distinguish it from the golden eagle. More here

Diving off Scapa Flow

The wrecks created by the scuttering of the German fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919 has created, according to Iolo Williams on Springwatch, one of the best places for watching marine life in Britain. More

The Orkney vole

The Orkney vole is a possible subspecies of the common vole, though twice the size of its mainland cousin. Its high densities allow hen harriers and  Short-eared owls. It is thought to have been introduced to Orkney by Neolithic settlers around 3,500 BC.

Orkney’s seals

Orkney has a resident population of some 25,000 grey seals together with around 7,000 common seals. Pupping is in October.

Last British great auk


A monument stands at Fowl Craig on the island of Papa Westray, Orkney home of the last British great auk. A plaque reads “Here lived one of the World’s last Great Auks It was shot in 1813”. However, one final auk was killed on St Kilda in July 1844. They clearly did not know the species:

Three men from St Kilda caught a single “garefowl”, noticing its little wings and the large white spot on its head. They tied it up and kept it alive for three days, until a large storm arose. Believing that the auk was a witch and the cause of the storm, they then killed it by beating it with a stick. Wikipedia here

Photo of Great auk sculpture by By Bruce McAdam on Wikipedia Commons.

Papa Westray is only one of six known former breeding colonies of the Greak auk, the others being St Kilda (Scotland), Grimsey Island and Eldey Island (Iceland), Funk Island (Newfoundland), and Bird Rocks (Gulf of St. Lawrence). A single  Papa Westray Great Auk was collected in 1813 and now can be seen in the Natural History Museum in London. It is the only known surviving British example of this bird which went globally extinct in the mid-1840s.

Wild cows

The Isle of Swona is the only place in Britain where a herd of beef cattle lives wild. BBC Countryfile