Ancient Monuments

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Mains of Altries, ring cairn 70m north east of

A Scheduled Monument in North Kincardine, Aberdeenshire

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Latitude: 57.0755 / 57°4'31"N

Longitude: -2.2525 / 2°15'9"W

OS Eastings: 384787

OS Northings: 798302

OS Grid: NO847983

Mapcode National: GBR XH.L70V

Mapcode Global: WH9R1.CFL6

Entry Name: Mains of Altries, ring cairn 70m NE of

Scheduled Date: 31 March 2009

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12566

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: ring cairn

Location: Maryculter

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: North Kincardine

Traditional County: Kincardineshire


The monument comprises the remains of a prehistoric ring cairn surviving as a circular arrangement of partially turf- and grass-covered stones. It is likely to date to the second millennium BC and represents the remains of burial and ceremonial activity. The monument lies in rough pasture on locally high ground that overlooks the S bank of the River Don at about 105m above sea level.

The ring cairn is a maximum of 19m in diameter and encloses a roughly circular space. The ring varies in thickness from 2m to nearly 3.5m and is made from loose stone material that in places is over 0.5m high. Its outer edge is defined by a partially visible kerb of at least 12 recorded stones and there is a break in the E arc of the ring (such breaks can indicate an original entrance although archaeologists think this example is a recent addition). A large boulder, now obscured by vegetation, overlies part of the SE arc of the cairn, its outer edge flush with the outer kerb. The inner circumference of the cairn does not appear from visual inspection to be defined by a kerb. Apart from the localised dumping of stone material there are no visible features within the central space.

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 their 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 survives to a marked degree with the position, shape and extent of its defining feature, a ring of cairn material, visible on the ground. Despite parts of the monument being obscured by vegetation, the monument has high potential for the survival of features and deposits (such as the remains of cremation activity, timber structures, buried artefacts and environmental evidence) in and around the cairn. Such remains can help us understand the design and construction of ring cairns, their specific religious and funerary function and the environment and land cover when it was being built and in use.

Contextual characteristics

Archaeologists consider ring cairns as components of a wider tradition of Bronze-Age burial (particularly cremation burial) that takes various forms. One of the simplest variants at individual sites is the use of a ring of stone material to visibly delineate interior and exterior space. These ring cairns can be elaborated with inner and outer stone kerbing, entrance features, mounding over the central court and, in more complex sites where several structural phases are present, ring cairns can be combined with stone circles, platforms, timber enclosures, pit alignments, rays of stone, the remains of significant burning events and, in a few examples, abstract rock art. We know from the excavation of monuments that include ring cairns just how complicated they can be, but it is the apparent simplicity of form that makes the example at Mains of Altries interesting as a relatively uncommon example. The type is limited in its distribution across Scotland with a notable concentration in NE Scotland, where they can be a component of the geographically and architecturally specific recumbent stone circles and Clava-type cairns. Mains of Altries and five other ring cairns in Strathdon form a local cluster that signifies the exploitation of the area for specific, broadly contemporary religious activity.

The monument's archaeological significance is made all the more interesting by its proximity to at least four small cairns, one of which (although much smaller) also has a kerb-defined edge. Within the wider landscape, and in common with other examples, its position appears to be influenced by the presence of a water course (in this case, the River Dee to the north).

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because of it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular Bronze-Age religion, the architecture of prehistoric burial and the activities, rites and ceremonies associated with commemorating the dead. It is a good, upstanding example of a distinctive form of burial monument and has the high potential to retain buried artefactual and ecofactual evidence that can underpin the wider study of prehistoric communities and society in NE Scotland. It is an important component of the prehistoric landscape of Strathdee and its loss would limit our ability to understand the prehistoric origins and development of Scotland and its people.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record this site as NO89NW 23 and Aberdeenshire SMR as NO89NW 0029.


RCAHMS 1984, THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES OF NORTH KINCARDINESHIRE, KINCARDINE AND DEESIDE DISTRICT, GRAMPIAN, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Scotland Series, No. 21, 10, Edinburgh, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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