Ancient Monuments

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Chapel o' Sink Cairn, cairn

A Scheduled Monument in West Garioch, Aberdeenshire

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Latitude: 57.2603 / 57°15'37"N

Longitude: -2.4889 / 2°29'20"W

OS Eastings: 370605

OS Northings: 818954

OS Grid: NJ706189

Mapcode National: GBR X3.W6MT

Mapcode Global: WH8NT.RS01

Entry Name: Chapel o' Sink Cairn, cairn

Scheduled Date: 4 March 2008

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12178

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cairn (type uncertain)

Location: Chapel Of Garioch

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: West Garioch

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire


The monument comprises the remains of a stone-built burial cairn, possibly the central component of a recumbent stone circle, dating from the third millennium BC. Recumbent stone circles are the ceremonial and ritual activity centres of people who recognised the alignment of celestial bodies (such as the moon) and who deliberately built these substantial monuments at specific points in the landscape. This example is located in mature conifer woodland at the northern end of a distinctive part of the Strathdon landscape formed by the U-shaped course of the River Don (some 4km to the south) and a series of low summits forming a roughly E-W axis immediately to the north. The monument sits on a S-facing slope, in the centre of the E-W line of the low summits, at approximately 160m above sea level.

The circular setting of kerbstones that define the outer edge of the cairn vary in size and appear to be graded so that the larger individuals are in the S and SW arcs and the smaller ones are in the N and NE arcs. Some of these are now missing but the outline of the kerb is clear and measures approximately 15m in diameter. The kerb is no more than 0.6m high today and the larger stones measure roughly 0.5m wide by 0.5m deep. The inner space contained by the kerb is uneven but it rises to the centre, formed by a low mound of small, loose stones. This central low mound suggests this was not a ring cairn as was thought by some researchers.

There is a large monolith forming part of a dyke running N-S 60m to the west of the cairn. This is possibly the relocated remains of one of the standing stones of a stone circle that once enclosed this cairn.

The area to be scheduled is circular on plan, centred on the cairn, to include the remains described and an area around within which evidence relating to its construction and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument retains a good proportion of its key structural elements including a circular, perimeter kerb of sorted stones and the loose remains of a central stone mound. It is likely to retain buried deposits inside, outside and beneath the perimeter, which can help us understand more about the monument's construction, use and specifically, the nature of any burial practice that took place here. The monument is also likely to seal evidence that can tell us more about the environment at the time of its construction.

Contextual characteristics

This cairn is a good representative of a large, general and widespread class of prehistoric burial monument. What makes it less common are two key features: the presence of a kerb containing the stone mound and, secondly, one that displays the graded positioning by size of individual stones. The layout represents specific and deliberate decisions that were made during its construction and suggests that it may have been contained by a larger, recumbent stone circle which we think would have been deliberately orientated towards the south west. These recumbent monuments are unique to NE Scotland and the cairn is probably part of this regional cluster of about 100 examples that were built for ceremonial and ritual events. It has a very distinctive position in the local landscape that includes the view of Bennachie, as with so many other prehistoric monuments here. Its proximity to the River Don reinforces what archaeologists already think is a key factor in choosing a site for these types of monument. Although views from the monument are obscured today by modern forestry, it is likely that it was intervisible with other contemporary monuments, this too being a common factor in choosing a suitable site. Excavated examples of these stone circles suggest that the cairn was a later addition and post-dates the outer stone circle. The apparent coincidence of graded stones in its perimeter (tending to the SW) and the general SW orientation of recumbent stone circles tend to support the connection between the two. It has the potential to tell us much about the wider organisation and significance of prehistoric ceremonial activity in this part of Scotland.

Associative characteristics

The monument has been the focus of antiquarian research dating back to the 1890s and these investigations have concentrated on the likelihood of the site being part of a recumbent stone circle.

The place-name evidence 'Chapel o'Sink' has its possible origins in folklore attached to the site: attempts to convert the site for Christian worship resulted in the stones periodically sinking and re-appearing, and that this was the work of the Devil.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular the nature and significance of prehistoric ceremonial events, the relationship between burial and ceremony at these types of sites and the wider connections monuments such as this had with the landscape and other contemporary monuments. It can be compared with nearby funerary monuments and others outside the region to create an understanding of regional identity and society during the late Neolithic and Bronze Age. Its loss would affect our ability to understand the wider connections between landscape, monuments and prehistoric society in this part of Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the monument as NJ71NW 4. Aberdeenshire SMR record this site as NJ71NW0004.


Burl H A W 1973, 'The recumbent stone circles of North-East Scotland', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 102, 79.

Coles F R 1902, 'Report on stone circles in Aberdeenshire (Inverurie, Eastern Parishes and Insch Districts), with measured plans and drawings, obtained under the Gunning Fellowship', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 35, 196-7.

Ritchie J 1917, 'Notes on some stone circles in the south of Aberdeenshire and the north of Kincardineshire', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 51, 40-1.

RCAHMS 2007, IN THE SHADOW OF BENNACHIE: THE FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY OF DONSIDE, ABERDEENSHIRE, Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

Thom A, Thom A S and Burl H A W 1980, MEGALITHIC RINGS: PLANS AND DATA FOR 229 MONUMENTS IN BRITAIN, Brit Archaeol Rep Brit Ser 81, 180-1.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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