Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Houston South Mound, cairn 155m west of Gryffe High School

A Scheduled Monument in Houston, Crosslee and Linwood, Renfrewshire

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Latitude: 55.865 / 55°51'53"N

Longitude: -4.5567 / 4°33'24"W

OS Eastings: 240100

OS Northings: 666486

OS Grid: NS401664

Mapcode National: GBR 3D.3H66

Mapcode Global: WH3NX.ZV97

Entry Name: Houston South Mound, cairn 155m W of Gryffe High School

Scheduled Date: 11 February 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12853

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Houston and Killellan

County: Renfrewshire

Electoral Ward: Houston, Crosslee and Linwood

Traditional County: Renfrewshire


The monument comprises the remains of a cairn built probably between 3000 and 1000 BC, in the late Neolithic or Bronze Age. It is visible as a low mound of turf and scrub-covered stones and lies in moorland at about 50m above sea level. The cairn lies on the SW edge of Houston and is sited on a low crest some 155m to the west of Gryffe High School. There are good views to the south and west.

The upstanding remains of the cairn measure around 34m in diameter and stand up to 1.5m high on the E side. The cairn is generally well preserved but there are two small hollows in its surface, one on top of the cairn and a second to the south; further hollows exist in the area around the cairn. These probably mark the sites of some of the previous excavations on the site.

The area to be scheduled is circular 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.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

Excavations elsewhere have suggested that many round cairns were used to cover and mark human burials. They date most commonly from the late third millennium BC to the early second millennium BC, in the late Neolithic or Bronze Age. This cairn, despite previous excavation of some areas, appears to be mainly undisturbed suggesting that important archaeological information is likely to survive beneath its surface. The excavation of similar mounds elsewhere in SW Scotland has shown that cairns often incorporate or overlie graves or pits containing cist settings, skeletal remains in the form of cremations or inhumations, pottery and flint artefacts. Similarly, excavations of this cairn have uncovered a cist grave containing cremated human bone, a flint knife and a Bronze Age food vessel. Excavation also revealed a series of Neolithic pits on the site. 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 when the monument was constructed. Botanical remains, including pollen or charred plant material, may also survive within archaeological deposits deriving from the construction and use of the cairn. This evidence can help us to build up a picture of climate, vegetation and agriculture in the area.

Contextual characteristics

This monument belongs to a diverse group of up to 86 known or possible cairns in the former county of Renfrewshire, including some that have been destroyed by modern land use since they were recorded. The majority lie between 200m and 300m above sea level on the NE fringe of the uplands that define the southern edge of the Clyde Valley. Unusually, Houston South Mound lies at only 50m above sea level. The intensive use of the lowlands for agriculture, housing and industry, as well as the activities of archaeological researchers, have influenced the distribution pattern we see today and make this example a very rare survival of a lowland cairn. Cairns seem to be positioned for visibility both to and from the site, tending to be located on hill tops, false crests and ridges, and are generally inter-visible. In this area, their position and significance in relation to contemporary agricultural land and settlement merits future detailed analysis.

This monument can also be compared to Houston North Mound, which lies less than 1km north of the South Mound, and with three cairns that lie to the north-west, around the neighbouring village of Kilmacolm. One of these, at East Green Farm, has also been excavated and revealed two Bronze Age funerary urns. Cairns were often long-lived foci of religious or funerary activity and have the potential to contain secondary burials. This longevity is demonstrated at this site, where the cairn re-used the location of a group of Neolithic pits and lies close to a probable cist cemetery. Cairns have 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. This cairn is smaller than most of other excavated examples in the vicinity and may represent a slightly different monument type.

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. Skeletal remains and artefacts 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 is reasonably undisturbed and lies close to several other cairns and settlement sites. 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



RCAHMS record the site as NS46NW 9. The WoSAS SMR records the site as WoSASPIN 7682. Copies of these short reports are appended.


Alexander, D (ed) 1996, Prehistoric Renfrewshire; Papers in Honour of Frank Newall, Renfrewshire Local History Forum.

Newall, F 1962, 'Early open settlement in Renfrewshire', Proc Soc Antiq Scot 95 (1961-2), 159-70.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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