The site was first excavated when it was discovered in 1869. Subsequently there have been a number of excavations and investigations into the burial cairn and how it was used.
Radiocarbon dating has shown that the tomb was used for a very long period of time – between 300-800 years. Bones belonging to over 40 people were found in the tomb, including men, women, adolescents, children and infants.
There appear to be a number of different approaches to dealing with the bodies, perhaps reflecting the long time span over which the cairn was used. There is evidence that some bodies were cremated – such remains were located in only the south east (front right) chamber. This chamber had the most individuals in it, although no small children or infant remains were found here.
The 1998 excavation of the site led to a theory that some of the bodies had been excarnated – left to decompose – in the limestone cliffs around the long cairn and then moved as skeletal remains into the chambers. The adjacent cat hole cave (where the oldest cave art in Britain was discovered in 2011) and the tooth hole cave have both been identified as likely locations. Some bones showed evidence of animal biting and weathering which would support the theory that the flesh was allowed to decompose off the skeletons before they were buried in the tomb. This may be how the bones of eight dogs, a cat, a red deer, a pig, sheep and cattle came to be found here. It is possible that bones from animals were accidentally picked up when the human skeletons were gathered to be placed in the tomb.
Other finds in the forecourt entrance of the tomb include flint debitage (chips produced during the production of flint stone tools), other lithic cores (debris from the production of stone tools), a small blade, burnt leaf shaped arrowheads, shards of Neolithic pottery and quartz, cremated bone remains and a stalactite.
After the initial excavation most bones were placed in pots and reburied in their original location. Some were removed to the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University, whilst the locations of others remain unrecorded.