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Clach Chairidh, symbol stone

A Scheduled Monument in East Sutherland and Edderton, Highland

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.8365 / 57°50'11"N

Longitude: -4.1771 / 4°10'37"W

OS Eastings: 270833

OS Northings: 885075

OS Grid: NH708850

Mapcode National: GBR J810.KBF

Mapcode Global: WH4DR.T929

Entry Name: Clach Chairidh, symbol stone

Scheduled Date: 29 December 1970

Last Amended: 2 November 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM1673

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Crosses and carved stones: symbol stone; Prehistoric ritual and funerary: standing stone

Location: Edderton

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: East Sutherland and Edderton

Description

The monument is a standing stone, decorated with Pictish symbols, situated on a natural eminence in a pasture field on the N edge of Edderton village. The stone stands within a small fenced enclosure approximately 135m SSW of the Ardmore Lodge Hotel (also known as the Edderton Inn). The standing stone itself was erected probably in the Neolithic or Bronze Age period, between about 4000 BC and 1500 BC. It was re-used probably some time between 500 AD and 700 AD when Pictish symbols were carved on it. The monument was first scheduled in 1970, but the documentation did not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The stone stands to a height of approximately 3m and, at its base, measures around 1m by 0.5m NW-SE. The stone tapers to a natural point on its top, which accounts for its alternative name of Clach Biorach, meaning 'the Pointed Stone'. The stone bears three Pictish symbols: a large and well-defined leaping salmon; a double disc; and a Z-rod. Around the base of the stone is a spread of apparent cairn material comprised of small and medium-sized rounded stones.

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

Clach Chairidh is a well-preserved prehistoric standing stone, later inscribed with three large Pictish symbols. Apparently undisturbed and in its original situation, the stone occupies a prominent place in the landscape. Clach Chairidh belongs to the early Class 1 type of Pictish carvings, which are usually found on unshaped boulders or large monoliths. The Picts often seem to have preferred to re-use much older standing stones, and it may be that these were thought to have special significance because of their perceived antiquity.

Given the apparent lack of disturbance to the stone and its immediate surroundings, Clach Chairidh offers high potential for the survival of buried evidence relating to the original erection of the stone, together with traces of the activities and rituals that would have occurred at and around the stone in prehistoric and early medieval times. The role of standing stones in prehistoric society and belief is presently not well understood. Well-preserved sites such as this offer excellent potential to enhance our understanding of these monuments. Equally, the later carvings represent an important element in our understanding of the meaning and function of Pictish art and symbols and may underline the importance of the Edderton area in the early medieval period.

Contextual characteristics

Carvings such as those found on the Clach Chairidh stone are the predominant legacy of the Pictish people, who have left no substantial written records. Pictish art, as seen on carved stones and artefacts, is characterised by depictions of people, animals (both natural and fantastic) and everyday objects, as well as abstract elements. The enigmatic symbols have fascinated antiquarians and archaeologists for many years and numerous potential meanings have been proposed for them.

Clach Chairidh stands in a well-preserved archaeological landscape. A Class III Pictish cross slab, the Edderton Stone, stands about 800m to the south-east in the graveyard at Edderton Free Church. Approximately 80m to the north-east lies a stone circle and possible cairn, probably of Bronze Age date. What may be a second cairn lies approximately 150m to the east. Given that there would have been a clear line of sight between these sites and the standing stone, it is likely that the Bronze Age inhabitants of the area invested this place with some particular significance. To the north there is a hill fort on Creag an Fthithich, which is probably of Iron Age date.

There is an association between Clach Chairidh and the Winter Solstice, which aligns with a prominent gap in the hills to the north. Various theories have been put forward to explain the purpose of standing stones. They include the suggestions that they were markers for astrological phenomena, defined territorial boundaries, or commemorated significant events or individuals. Clach Chairidh may have been an outlier associated with the nearby stone circle and may have played a part in the beliefs or ceremonies attached to that site. These types of monument are found over much of Britain, which suggests that elements of the ritual practices of Neolithic and Bronze Age communities were also widespread.

Associative characteristics

Local tradition asserts that Clach Chairidh marks the grave of Carius, a Danish prince killed at this spot in a skirmish with the Pictish inhabitants of the area.

The stone is first recorded by antiquarians in 1788, who associated it with the stone circle and cist burial some 80m to the north-east. Further descriptions appear in the New Statistical Account and in Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson's 'Early Christian Monuments of Scotland'.

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, in particular the ritual life of the late Neolithic or Bronze Age period, and the re-use of these monuments in the early historic period for the display of Pictish symbols. Apparently undisturbed, the stone and its immediate surroundings offer excellent potential for the preservation of archaeological deposits relating to its erection and any activities that may have been focussed on this site and the nearby stone circle. In addition, the Pictish carvings are fine examples of their type and add to our overall understanding of these enigmatic symbols. Together with the nearby (later) Edderton Stone, these carvings suggest that this place was important to the Picts over a long period of time. The loss of this monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the beliefs of Neolithic and Bronze Age communities, and Pictish symbols.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

The site is recorded by the RCAHMS as NH78NW 2 and by the Highland Council Archaeological Service SMR as MHG 8591.

References

Allen J R and Anderson J, 1903, Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 2, 448

Mack A, 1997, A field guide to the Pictish Stones, Balgavies, Angus, Pinkfoot, 115

NSA, 1845, The New Statistical Account of Scotland, vol 14, Ross-shire, 448

Thom, A , 1970, Megalithic lunar observatories, Oxford

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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