Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Muckle Head, cairn 160m north of Scaur

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.326 / 60°19'33"N

Longitude: -1.1331 / 1°7'59"W

OS Eastings: 447978

OS Northings: 1160527

OS Grid: HU479605

Mapcode National: GBR R1KF.TPJ

Mapcode Global: XHF95.NQM9

Entry Name: Muckle Head, cairn 160m N of Scaur

Scheduled Date: 19 August 1974

Last Amended: 12 July 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3463

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 of the Neolithic period or Bronze Age, dating probably to sometime between 4000 and 1000 BC. It is visible as a low, circular turf-covered mound, 10m in diameter and up to 0.75m high, with a shallow depression towards the centre. Several large stones protrude through the turf. The cairn stands at about 25m above sea level on the summit of a low hill some 175m from the tip of Muckle Head on the east coast of Mainland. It offers views along the coast and over the low-lying ground surrounding Lax Firth to the west. 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 circular on plan, measuring 30m in diameter, 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

Excavations elsewhere have demonstrated that round cairns were often used to cover and mark human burials and are normally late Neolithic period or Bronze Age in origin, dating most commonly from the late third millennium BC to the early second millennium BC. Although there has been some disturbance to the centre of this cairn, much of the monument appears intact and archaeological information is highly likely to survive beneath its surface. It is said locally that excavation in the centre of the cairn revealed a stone slab that was too large to move. One or more burials may survive beneath the cairn, positioned centrally or away from the centre. The excavation of similar mounds elsewhere in Scotland shows that cairns often incorporate or overlie 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, while 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 the Shetland Islands, but this example has particular interest because of its location close to other cairns and its landscape position on a headland overlooking the mouth of the Lax Firth. Another low mound lies just 36m east of the cairn and may represent another cairn or the remains of a house. The chambered cairn at Felshun lies 1.8km to the southeast, and another cairn, known as 'Stany Cuml', lies 1.6km to the ESE. Across Scotland, cairns seem to be positioned both to see from (with good views) and to be seen from elsewhere in the surrounding landscape, and they are generally inter-visible. Here, there is no line of sight to the chambered cairn at Felshun, but the cairn is inter-visible with Stany Cuml. 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. Two burnt mounds lie 500m southeast and 2.5km southeast of this cairn and have the potential to contribute to analysis of use of the local landscape in prehistory. 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.

Associative characteristics

The monument is labelled 'Cairn' on the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map.

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 rich archaeological landscape where there are several other prehistoric cairns and burnt mounds. 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 records the site as HU46SE 2. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN2129 (PrefRef 2012).

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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