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Hard Knowe, cairn 330m north of Muness

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Coordinates

Latitude: 60.2632 / 60°15'47"N

Longitude: -1.1818 / 1°10'54"W

OS Eastings: 445373

OS Northings: 1153502

OS Grid: HU453535

Mapcode National: GBR R1FM.33N

Mapcode Global: XHF9K.09YD

Entry Name: Hard Knowe, cairn 330m N of Muness

Scheduled Date: 30 December 1974

Last Amended: 9 August 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3598

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Nesting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland

Description

The monument is a cairn dating from the Neolithic or Bronze Age, built probably between 4000 and 1000 BC. It is visible as low, almost circular, partly turf-covered mound of stones, about 12m in diameter. The remains of a well-preserved stone kerb are visible on the S and E edges of the cairn. Near the centre, two earth-fast stone slabs and two fallen slabs indicate the position of a burial cist or chamber, measuring 1.5m E-W by 0.8m transversely. The cairn is in the centre of an oval-shaped prehistoric field, defined by a boundary of evenly-spaced stones. The cairn stands 20m above sea level, positioned between two prominent rocky outcrops that lie immediately to the NW and SE. It overlooks the head of the Cat Firth, the shore of which lies about 0.5km to the S and W. The monument was first scheduled in 1974, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling excludes the above-ground elements of the square planticrub and telegraph pole that lie within the scheduled area, to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The cairn survives in good condition overall. Although stones have been removed in the past, the cairn retains a covering of stone and is now stable. The central cist or chamber and the kerb stones to the S and E are clearly visible and significant features. One researcher has suggested that two of the kerb stones on the E side of the cairn may be evidence for a flat fa├žade on this side. Without more research, it is not yet clear whether the monument is a chambered cairn or a round cairn. Excavations elsewhere have shown that chambered cairns are normally Neolithic in origin (about 4000-2500 BC), while round cairns commonly date from about 2500-1500 BC. Chambered cairns were often used to house the bones of a number of people, while round cairns frequently cover and mark one or more individual human burials. The cist in the centre of this cairn has been opened in the past and it is not known what was found. However, the covering of stones over this monument appears intact, suggesting that additional archaeological information is likely to survive beneath its surface. The excavation of similar mounds elsewhere in Scotland shows that cairns may incorporate or overlie several graves or pits containing cist settings, skeletal remains in the form of cremations or inhumations, pottery and stone tools. These deposits can further our understanding of the practice and significance of burial and commemoration of the dead at specific times in prehistory. They may also help us to understand the changing structure of society in the area. In addition, the cairn is likely to overlie and seal a buried land surface that could provide evidence of the immediate environment before the monument was constructed; and botanical remains including pollen or charred plant material may survive within archaeological deposits deriving from the cairn's construction and use. This evidence can help us build up a picture of climate, vegetation and agriculture in the area before and during construction and use of the cairn.

The cairn is surrounded by a single line of stones that forms an oval-shaped enclosure with a diameter of about 43m. The stones are mostly earth-fast, though some are now missing. The enclosure could be contemporary with this monument, or may represent a later prehistoric field laid out with reference to the cairn. There is high potential to examine the construction, dating and function of the enclosure and to study its relationship with the cairn.

Contextual characteristics

Cairns are well represented in Shetland, but this example is of particular interest because its form is similar to the well-preserved round cairn on Nesbister Hill, 9km to the SW, and there is potential to compare and study the characteristics of the two monuments. This example is also of particular interest because of its location in a landscape that is very rich in prehistoric monuments, including other cairns and settlement remains. These include a cairn 650m to the N and a chambered cairn 560m to the NW, a standing stone 2km to the NNE, and prehistoric homesteads 2.2km to the W, 730m to the ENE and 1.3km to the NE. Across Scotland, cairns are commonly positioned to see from and to be seen and are often inter-visible. The position and significance of this cairn in relation to prehistoric settlement and agricultural land is likely to be significant and merits future detailed analysis. Given the many comparable sites in the area, this monument has the potential to further our understanding not just of funerary site location and practice, but also of the structure of early prehistoric society and economy.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, particularly the design and construction of burial monuments, the nature of burial practices and their significance in prehistoric and later society. Buried evidence from cairns can also enhance our knowledge about wider prehistoric society, how people lived, where they came from and who they had contact with. This monument is particularly valuable because it lies in a landscape rich in prehistoric monuments of various types, including other cairns, a standing stone and settlement remains. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the placing of such monuments within the landscape and the meaning and importance of death and burial in prehistoric life.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

References

Calder, C, S, T, 1965 'Cairns, Neolithic houses and burnt mounds in Shetland' in PSAS, 96, 50-52.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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