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Meishie o' Stanes, two cairns 120m north of Collafirth Pier

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Coordinates

Latitude: 60.5413 / 60°32'28"N

Longitude: -1.3497 / 1°20'58"W

OS Eastings: 435779

OS Northings: 1184366

OS Grid: HU357843

Mapcode National: GBR R00W.B8G

Mapcode Global: XHD1C.T9QR

Entry Name: Meishie o' Stanes, two cairns 120m N of Collafirth Pier

Scheduled Date: 20 December 1974

Last Amended: 7 June 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3568

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Northmaven

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland

Description

The monument comprises two cairns of the Neolithic or Bronze Age, built probably between 4000 and 1000 BC. They are visible as two circular spreads of stones in close proximity to one another. The northernmost is around 14m in diameter, while the other is less well defined and about 12m in diameter. The cairns stand some 20m above sea level on a south-facing hillside, one above the other, with extensive views to the south and east, especially across the Voe of Brig. 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.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The surface remains of both cairns have been disturbed, but their form is still discernible and important archaeological information is likely to survive beneath the surface. The close proximity of the two cairns is of considerable interest as this is rare in the area and may indicate that this particular location was a focal point for burial over a significant period of time.

The excavation of similar cairns elsewhere in Scotland has demonstrated that round cairns were often used to cover and mark human burials and are late Neolithic or Bronze Age in origin, dating most commonly from the late third millennium BC to the early second millennium BC. Burial cairns of this type may incorporate or overlie several graves or pits containing cist settings, skeletal remains in the form of cremations or inhumations, pottery and stone tools. Archaeologists often find additional burials within cairns, away from the central burial and it is possible that one or more additional burials survive here. These deposits can help us understand more about 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. Botanical remains, including pollen or charred plant material, may survive within archaeological deposits deriving from the cairns' 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.

Contextual characteristics

Cairns are well represented in Shetland, but researchers have highlighted the importance of Shetland's circular stone-built cairns. Across Scotland, cairns seem to be positioned for visibility within their landscape setting, often specifically to maximise their visual impact, and they are often inter-visible. The position and significance of these cairns in relation to other prehistoric monuments is likely to be significant and merits future detailed analysis. There is a group of three chambered cairns 1.1km to the NNE and a single chambered cairn 5km to the west. Comparison of these cairns with other prehistoric sites in the area means that this monument has the potential to further our understanding of ritual and funerary site location and practice and to enhance understanding of the structure of early prehistoric society and economy.

Associative characteristics

Like many of Shetland's prehistoric monuments, these two cairns have become the focus of local stories. The word 'meishie' is the name of a traditional Shetland basket used for carrying grain. According to local legend, a giant was carrying a 'meishie' full of stones when the basket broke at this place leaving it strewn with rock. The association of cairns and giants is quite common in NW Shetland: another local cairn is called the 'Giant's grave'.

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. 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

Further information

RCAHMS records the site as HU38SE 1.

References

Feachem, R W, 1963 A Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, 85. London.

RCAHMS 1946 Twelfth Report with an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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