Maeshowe research project
1999/2000 report

Internet broadcast and capturing winter solstice sunset

Author: Victor Reijs
Version: 1.1
Status: Final
Date: Feb. 8, 2000


This years project has resulted in more information on the possible megalithic use of Maeshowe and its environment. Reappearing sun light inside Maeshowe has been seen on Jan 12th, 2000 and from the entrance of Maeshowe it has almost been witnessed on Feb. 1st, 2000. Calculating back to 2800 BC, these reappearings are around 23 resp. 44 days before/after winter solstice. This could be related to the possible megalithic calendar which is proposed by A. Thom. Beside these reappearings at Maeshowe, reappearing sun at winter solstice itself has also been witnessed near Brodgar Farm. Measurements predict that this would also happen around the settlement at Breckness. The questions if buildings on Orkney are build around this reappearing sun is still open. More study will be done in the coming time.
This year three cameras (for grabbing a) the light on the back wall, b) the light in the passage and c) the sun on the horizon) were daily providing pictures on the Internet. Stills and videos are produced on the above events. Furthermore experience has been gained with streaming of video broadcasting using the QuickTime Streaming Server and Player.
The initiators of the project (Victor Reijs, Charles Tait and Historic Scotland) appreciated the sponsoring from HEAnet Ltd, Orkney Tourist Board, V.J.T.M. Reijs and SURFnet bv very highly.


The goals of project

The goals of the project are taken from the project plan:
  1. Enhancing the present information of Maeshowe
  2. Broadcasting the sunset from Maeshowe chamber
  3. Effects of the broadcasting with relation to Orkney/Maeshowe visits

The history of project

The history of this project concerning the broadcasting of the sunset and researching the alignments around winter solstice at Maeshowe is straight forward, and rather unusual:

In December 1996 Lowell McFarland posted a message on the Internet about a question if somebody was thinking about putting a camera at Newgrange. His interest is the pagan relation with winter solstice sunsets/sunrises. Because Victor Reijs's  interest is in archaeoastronomy, he got the idea of putting a web camera in Maeshowe for finalizing the modeling of and measurements on Maeshowe, which he had been doing since beginning of 1996.

Whilst looking at Neolithic sites on the Internet in early 1997, Charles Tait who is a photographer and publisher from Orkney with a particular interest in archaeology and local history, found Victor's Maeshowe site.  He has been interested in the Maeshowe alignments for many years, and was at once interested in Victor's proposals.   This resulted ultimately in the present collaboration, particularly in  providing the necessary local backing on public relations (radio and television stations, Orkney Tourist Board and Orkney Islands Council) and local customs. Charles Tait has long been interested in Maes Howe, having first introduced to the winter solstice sunset by his grandfather, Charles William Tait, as a small boy in the early 1950's. C.W. Tait actually wrote a magazine article about the alignment before World War 2.  In fact it is something of a family tradition to visit Maeshowe each winter.

Aerial view of Maeshowe

Victor Reijs started by negotiations with Historic Scotland  for permission to place cameras within Maeshowe around winter solstice 1997. The fact that the research results are now able to be presented, is due to Historic Scotland's willing provision of permission. This pilot project has been a great success for already three years now and proved for the first time in the world that this kind of broadcast from a megalithic building is possible!
More history on the steps from the beginning to the present status of this project, can be found on the diary page.

The results of the project

  1. Enhancing the present information/model of Maeshowe

  2. The major investigations have been on several issues around winter solstice (this year on Dec. 22nd, 1999):
  3. Broadcasting the sunset from Maeshowe chamber
  4. Period
    hits during period
    hits during Dec. and Jan.
    hits on Dec. 21st
    hits on Dec. 22nd
    Dec. 1997/Nov. 1998
    Dec. 1998/Nov. 1999
    Dec. 1999/Nov. 2000
    Dec. 2000/Nov. 2001
  5. Effects of the broadcasting with relation to Orkney/Maeshowe visits
  6. This is under investigation by Orkney Tourist Board and Historic Scotland. Orkney Tourist Board will do a survey in May 2000 and the effects for the tourism due to the Internet will be part of this survey. Historic Scotland has heard that people visiting Maeshowe, first checked the web site before coming. They were not only Orcadians, but also people from USA and England.


The pilot project was a private initiative by Victor Reijs and Charles Tait, with some very welcome help from sponsors. This project has costed around £ 2,400 (excluding man power of: Victor Reijs, Charles Tait and Historic Scotland). With the help of the initiators and the sponsors this has not always been real money (around £ 1,950 coming from: Historic Scotland, HEAnet Ltd., SURFnet bv, OTB/OE and V.J.T.M. Reijs), a considerable amount of money has been received from Historic Scotland, because of the provisioning of a link from the Maeshowe site towards their web site.

The costs of over the  years:
Man power
Support by sponsors


The Maeshowe  research project 1999/2000 was on the following issues successful: The amount of sun light in the period of broadcasting (Dec. 1st, 1999 until Feb. 6th, 2000) was terrible low, but we are glad we were not able to change that by means of technology;-).

It is hoped that this successful project will continue in the coming years with the same level of support from sponsors! We still have issues to learn, and that is an important goal for the continuation of a project like this.


Organizations that helped this project

We would like to thank the following organizations for helping this project with their sponsoring support:

People that helped this project

The list of people that have worked to reached the above goals has become quite long, but without them, one way or the other, the results of this project would have been less. So here are all the participants (between brackets, the organization they are part of):
Patrick Ashmore (Historic Scotland), Ivana Belgers (SURFnet Expertise Centrum), Wim Biemolt (SURFnet Expertise Centrum), John Boland (HEAnet Ltd), Gareth Crichton (OTB), Sally Foster (Historic Scotland), Derry Gilmour (Historic Scotland), Joke Jansman, Alan Jones (Historic Scotland), Maureen Kinsey (Historic Scotland), Moira Moncrieff (Historic Scotland), Charles Tait (Charles Tait photographic), Erlend Tait (J&W Tait Ltd), Magnus Tait, Sandra Tait, Colin Reid (Historic Scotland), Victor Reijs (Geniet), Victor Reijs (senior), Egon Verharen (SURFnet bv) and Andrew Wilson.


Maeshowe, Ashmore P., HMSO, Historic Scotland, ISBN 1 900168 06 5, 1995, Edinburgh
Maeshowe, Childe, V.G., Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 88, 1956, page 155-171
Antiquities of Stenness parish, Frazer, J. Proceedings of the Orkney Antiquarian Society, 4, 1925, page 18-22
The chambered cairns of Orkney, Davidson J.L., Henshall A.S., Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0 85224 547 5, 1989.
Maeshowe and the winter solstice ceremonial aspects of the Orkney Grooved Ware culture, MacKie E.W., Antiquity 71 (1997): 338-59.
Notice of the opening of a tumulus in the parish of Stenness on the mainland of Orkney, Petrie, G., Archaeological Journal, 18, page 353-358, 1861
Maeshowe's Megalithic Month alignment, Reijs, V.M.M., 3rd Stone, 32, page18-20, 1998.
Maeshowe research project 1997/1998 report, Reijs, V.M.M., Tait C.,, April 2, 1998.
Astronomy in prehistoric Britain and Ireland, Ruggles, C., Yale University Press, London, 1999, ISBN 0-300-07814-5
Notice of excavations in the chambered mound of Maeshowe in Orkney, Stuart, J., Proceedings of the society of Antiquity of Scotland, 5, page 248-278, 1965
The Orkney Guide Book, Charles Tait photographic, Orkney, 1999, ISBN 0 9517859 15
Megalithic sites in Britain, Thom A., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1967

Last major content related changes: Feb 8th, 2000