Ancient Monuments

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Cnoc Chaornaidh, cairn 930m north west of

A Scheduled Monument in North, West and Central Sutherland, Highland

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Latitude: 58.0387 / 58°2'19"N

Longitude: -4.879 / 4°52'44"W

OS Eastings: 230134

OS Northings: 909128

OS Grid: NC301091

Mapcode National: GBR G7BG.V7G

Mapcode Global: WH296.06YT

Entry Name: Cnoc Chaornaidh, cairn 930m NW of

Scheduled Date: 23 December 1977

Last Amended: 23 November 2018

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM4042

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Kincardine (Highland)

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: North, West and Central Sutherland

Traditional County: Ross-shire


The monument comprises a prehistoric cairn probably dating from the Neolithic period. It would have been built and in use between around 4000BC and 2500BC. It is visible as a substantial stony mound measuring around 14.5m in diameter and up to around 2.5m in height. The monument is located on the summit of a steep sided natural hillock and ridge around 180m above sea level.                                                                                 

The size and shape of the mound indicates that it is probably a chambered cairn from the Neolithic period. However, the evidence for a passage or chamber is unclear. Surface depressions visible within the body of the cairn may indicate the presence of a passage and a chamber but could also represent unrecorded excavations. The siting of the cairn on the steep hillock enhances the visibility of the monument. On the eastern side of the cairn, the natural ridge on which it stands may have been modified, to create a ramp-like feature.

The scheduled area is circular with a diameter of 35m. It includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is probably a chambered cairn, which survives as a substantial stone-built mound on the summit of steep sided natural hillock. The evidence for a passage and chamber is slight but this may indicated that they survive within the body of the cairn in a relatively undisturbed condition. Although some disturbance and collapse is evident, this has not greatly altered the overall profile of the cairn and it is likely to stand close to its original scale. Much of the cairn appears largely undisturbed and it is highly likely that other features survive within the body of the cairn.

The location of the cairn is of significance; it takes advantage of the summit of a natural steep-sided hillock and ridge to enhance the visibility and scale of the monument. Most of the exposed stones visible in the mound are a grey, igneous stone but a number of pink granite stones are also visible. This could be evidence for a deliberate choice of colour variation in construction materials. Such colour variation has been identified in other cairns in the area (Barber 2011).

There is good potential for the survival of archaeological deposits, including human burials, artefacts and environmental remains such as pollen and charcoal, within, beneath and around the upstanding structure of the cairn. The archaeological remains have the potential to provide information about the date of the monument, ritual and funerary practices, and the structure of Neolithic society. Any artefacts and environmental material would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment.

It is likely this cairn was chambered and dating evidence from such cairns elsewhere demonstrates that they were constructed and in use between around 4000BC and 2500 BC. Cairns without a chamber are usually later in date, from the Bronze Age, between 2500 BC and 800BC. Chambered cairns were used for communal burial and ritual, and excavations often reveal evidence of complex development sequences. Therefore the cairn may have been in use for a long period of time. Scientific study of the cairn's form and construction techniques compared with other chambered cairns would enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and of chambered cairns in general.

Contextual Characteristics

Chambered cairns are found throughout Scotland, with a concentration in the north and west. The  cairn at Cnoc Chaornaidh is in close vicinity to a group of chambered cairns in Glen Oykel located around Cnoc Chaornaidh, including Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn, cairn and long mound E of (SM4564; Canmore ID 4741), Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn 570m SW of (SM4022; Canmore ID 4739), Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn 560m WSW of (SM4023; Canmore ID 4738), Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn, cairn and long mound E of (SM4564; Canmore ID 4742) and Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn 180m NNE of, Stratheskie (SM4045; Canmore ID 4606). The close proximity of the cairn at Cnoc Chaornaidh to these confirmed examples of chambered cairns, supports the interpretation of this example as a chambered cairn. It is therefore of significance as an upstanding, well-preserved and largely undisturbed example of this monument type.

The proximity of these burial monuments can give important insights into the prehistoric landscape and add to our understanding of social organisation, land division and land-use. The monument has the potential to enhance our understanding of the nature and development of Neolithic monumentality and burial, the nature of belief systems, ceremonial and burial practices.

Chambered cairns are found in a variety of locations. Some are placed in conspicuous locations within the landscape, such as on the summits of hills or on the shoulders of hills, perhaps to be seen on a skyline or otherwise in profile. Others are found in less conspicuous locations, for example on valley floors. Relationships to routeways and/or other ritual sites, locations near to good upland pasture and views over specific areas of land may also have had significance. The cairn at Cnoc Chaornaidh is positioned on a clearly defined hillock and ridge and would have been a highly prominent feature in the landscape. It occupies a dominating position and would have had extensive views of the surrounding landscape. The location of this cairn again supports the interpretation that it is a Neolithic chamber cairn.

Associative Characteristics

There are no known associative characteristics that contribute to this site's national importance.

Statement of National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it makes a significant addition to our understanding of the design and construction of burial monuments, the nature of burial and ritual practices and their significance in prehistoric society. The cairn retains its field characteristics and appears relatively undisturbed. Its scale and form is comparable to other chambered cairns identified in the vicinity and the evidence for a possible entrance passage and central chamber supports the interpretation that this is chambered cairn. As such it can significantly enhance our understanding of prehistoric society and economy, as well as the nature of belief systems, burial and ceremonial practices. It would have been an important component of the wider prehistoric landscape of settlement, agriculture and ritual and would have been a prominent part of the prehistoric landscape. Chambered cairns are one of our main sources of information for the Neolithic in Scotland and so are an important element in our understanding of the nature of Scotland's prehistoric society and landscape. The loss of the monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the meaning and importance of death and burial, and the placing of cairns within the landscape in the Neolithic period in northern Scotland and further afield.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 4724 (accessed on 13/09/2018).

Highland Historic Environment Record Reference: MHG7410 (accessed on 13/09/2018).

Barber, J., 2011, Loch Borralan East Chambered Cairn – Life and Death in Assynt's Past Project, Highland (Assynt Parish), Excavation , Discovery Excavation Scotland, New Vol. 12, 2011, Cathedral Communications Limited: Wiltshire, 97-98

Mercer, R J. (1980). Archaeological field survey in northern Scotland, 1976-1979, University of Edinburgh, Department of Archaeology, Occasional Paper No. 4. Edinburgh. p. 154.


HER/SMR Reference

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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