Ancient Monuments

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Loch of Houlland, cairn 470m east of Clack

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.2689 / 60°16'8"N

Longitude: -1.1803 / 1°10'49"W

OS Eastings: 445448

OS Northings: 1154137

OS Grid: HU454541

Mapcode National: GBR R1FL.PTB

Mapcode Global: XHF9K.15K1

Entry Name: Loch of Houlland, cairn 470m E of Clack

Scheduled Date: 30 December 1974

Last Amended: 9 July 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3601

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Nesting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument is a cairn dating to the Neolithic or Bronze Age, built probably between 4000 and 1000 BC. It is visible as an almost complete circle of kerb stones, some large and some set on edge, about 10m in diameter. Inside the kerb is a thin layer of stones, with a sub-rectangular stone burial cist or chamber at the centre, measuring 1.8m E-W by 1.2m transversely. The cairn stands around 20m above sea level, on a low rise between the Loch of Houlland to the N and the Loch of Freester to the SW. The head of the Cat Firth lies about 750m to the SW. 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 a circular on plan, measuring 30m in diameter and centred on the centre of the cairn. The scheduling includes 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.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

This cairn survives in good condition. Stones have been removed in the past, but some cairn material still exists within the interior of the cairn and the monument is now stable. The central cist or chamber and the substantial near-complete kerb are clearly visible features. The kerb stones have a high quartz content and may have been selected to make the cairn stand out within the landscape. There are no clear indications of a passage or entrance. Without more research, it is not clear whether the monument is a chambered cairn or a round cairn, perhaps of slightly later date. Excavation suggests that chambered cairns are Neolithic in origin (about 4000-2500 BC), while round cairns date most commonly from about 2500-1500 BC. Chambered cairns were often used to house the remains of a number of people, while round cairns frequently cover and mark one or more individual human burials. The cist or chamber in the centre of this cairn has been opened in the past and it is not known what was found. However, additional archaeological information is likely to survive beneath the ground surface. The excavation of similar monuments 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 help us understand more about the practice and significance of burial and commemorating the dead at specific points 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 the climate, vegetation and agriculture in the area before and during construction and use of the cairn.

Contextual characteristics

Cairns are well represented in Shetland, but this example is particularly interesting because its form is similar to the well-preserved round cairn on Nesbister Hill, 9km to the SW, and to a very similar cairn at Hard Knowe, only 635m to the S. There is potential to compare and study the characteristics of these monuments. This example is also of interest because of its location in a landscape that is very rich in prehistoric monuments, including other cairns and settlement remains. These include a chambered heel-shaped cairn 430m to the WSW, a standing stone 1.4km to the NNE, and homesteads 880m to the NNE, 950m to the ENE and 640m to the ESE.

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 contemporary agricultural land and settlement 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




Calder, C, S, T, 1965 'Cairns, Neolithic houses and burnt mounds in Shetland' in PSAS, 96, 55-6.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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