Taversoe Tuick – the upper chamber
By Sigurd Towrie
Although there had been suggestions it was a later addition, Grant’s excavation confirmed the presence of an upper chamber that was part of the Taversoe Tuick’s original design:
Built directly on top, the walls of the upper storey partially rested on the lintels of the lower chamber’s roof, which also formed part of the upper floor.
Access was by a north-facing, paved passage, 3.4 metres long, 0.9m wide and 0.9m high, which led into the eastern end of a sub-rectangular chamber c2.8m long by 2m wide.
Directly opposite the entrance was a rectangular recess (0.6m wide by 1.4 metres and roofed to c0.7m) while a small, horseshoe-shaped cell lay at the east end.
Measuring just 1.3m by 1.2m, and with corbelled walls, the eastern cell was defined by two projecting masonry piers that created a very small passage leading to an entrance flanked by a pair of stone slabs. The floor of the eastern compartment was 18cm lower than the main chamber.
As you will see from the plan, there are distinct differences between the layout of the Taversoe chamber and its stalled neighbours.
Like the more common Orkney-Cromarty stalled cairns, the upper chamber did feature orthostats. But while those in stalled cairns divided the interiors into distinct compartments, at the Taversoe Tuick they protruded a mere 20cm from the walls at one end of the chamber.
Because of this, the excavators dismissed the possibility they represented dividers:
The floor, which also served as the roof of the lower chamber, was made up of five massive stone lintels, which had been levelled off using clay. Today, access to the lower chamber is via a ladder through a gap left between lintels during the consolidation work.
The upper chamber was contained within a stone cairn bounded by a retaining wall. Tracing the path of this wall, the evidence suggested there was once a stepped recess on the western side of the outer entrance passage.
The only artefacts the excavators considered to relate to the Neolithic use of the ruinous chamber were two pieces of worked flint – an arrowhead and a “leaf-shaped” point – found on the floor.
The denuded condition of the upper chamber suggests it had been, like some other Neolithic structures, partially dismantled after use. The question here, though, is when?
As we saw last time, the portion of the chamber exposed in 1898 contained three cists, within which were deposits of cremated bone.
Clearly the chamber was still accessible, and rubble free, at that point and the 30cm of earth on the floor suggests it was not completely open to the elements – or if it was it hadn’t been for long.
The 1937 excavation also found that the inner end of the upper entrance passage had been blocked with masonry. Again, this is not uncommon in Neolithic chambered cairns (e.g., Midhowe) but at the Taversoe Tuick the evidence clearly pointed to the chamber being sealed in the Bronze Age.
Beneath the blocking material, but c30cm above the passage floor, were the remains of a necklace – 35 stone disc beads and a perforated pumice “pendant”. This was recognised as Bronze Age, prompting the Grant to propose that the necklace, and its deposition, was contemporary with the cists found by the Burroughs almost four decades before. 
The fact the necklace lay on top of material, but beneath the blocking, is proof the passage was sealed in the Bronze Age. This, and other recorded finds, strongly suggests the structure remained a focus long after the Neolithic and, it appears, was also extensively modified in the Bronze Age.
Also in the passage were two cattle shoulder-blades. It’s impossible to tell where from the excavation report, which did not record their stratigraphy, but it seems likely these were also deposited/left during the operation to seal the chamber.
In 1937, fragments from a steatite bowl were also found in a “dump of material [that had been] presumably removed by General Burroughs”. We know steatite, or soapstone, was imported into Orkney from the Early Bronze Age, the nearest source being Shetland. The same deposit contained two flint scrapers. 
From the few words in the excavation report it is difficult to comment on this. While Grant was confident of a Bronze Age date, the sherds belonged to a coil-built, flat-bottomed vessel, which also nicely fits the description of Neolithic Grooved Ware.
The Rinyo settlement site was discovered mere months after the Taversoe Tuick excavation. While there is no doubt it was a Neolithic settlement, its excavation did produce Bronze Age pottery. But how it fitted into the life of the site remains unclear.
After excavation, the Taversoe Tuick was consolidated for public viewing and a concrete dome placed over the top of the remains.
-  Grant, W. (1939) Excavations on behalf of HM Office of works at Taiverso Tuick, Trumland, Rousay. In Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Volume 73, 1938-39, pp. 155-166).
-  Sheridan, A. (2003) The NMS Dating Cremated Bones Project. In Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, Volume Four.