The island has evidence from every stage in the history of Orkney, with Neolithic settlement at Rinyo, Bronze Age burnt mounds, Iron Age crannogs and brochs (the highest density anywhere in Scotland: 3 within 500 metres of coastline), Viking boat burials, remains of a medieval church and the stately home at Trumland.
Rousay crofters suffered badly from demanding landlords and excessive rents; most were made homeless. The most spectacular of the island's archaeological sites is the Midhowe complex of broch and chambered tomb. Taversoe Tuick, Blackhammer and Yarso are also important tombs on the island. Rousay is linked to Mainland Orkney by a regular ferry service.