Ancient Monuments

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Ronas Hill, chambered cairn

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.5333 / 60°31'59"N

Longitude: -1.445 / 1°26'41"W

OS Eastings: 430558

OS Northings: 1183432

OS Grid: HU305834

Mapcode National: GBR Q0SW.W2F

Mapcode Global: XHD1B.LH3V

Entry Name: Ronas Hill, chambered cairn

Scheduled Date: 26 February 1955

Last Amended: 17 August 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2043

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn

Location: Northmaven

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises a heel-shaped chambered cairn of the Neolithic period, built probably between 4000 and 2500 BC. It is visible as a mound of stones standing about 3.5m high and is situated at an altitude of 450m above sea level on the very summit of Ronas Hill, Shetland's highest point, with views far afield. The monument was first scheduled in 1955, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The near circular footprint of the cairn is reputed to have had an original diameter of 13.8m although its outer edge is now poorly defined. The mound is composed of large stones, some of which may have been placed on the cairn relatively recently. An entrance on the ESE side of the mound leads into a passage about 2.4m in length, which provides access to a rectangular chamber, measuring 1.7m by 0.9m. The roof of this chamber consists of a single capstone, 1.2m above floor level.

The area to be scheduled is circular in shape, 30m in diameter, 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 monument is in a stable condition and retains its form to a very significant degree, despite some evidence of removal of stone overburden to the west and re-deposition on top of the capstone and in front of the entrance way. Nothing is known of the original contents. The monument retains several interesting features, including the capstone, the internal construction details of the chamber, and an impressive lintel at the inner end of the entrance passageway.

Chambered cairns are Neolithic in origin, dating most commonly from the third and fourth millennia BC and Ronas Hill represents a particularly well-preserved Shetland example. Excavation elsewhere suggests that they were used over a lengthy period and housed the remains of multiple individuals. Despite the removal and re-deposition of stone from this cairn, significant archaeological information is likely to survive beneath its surface. The excavation of similar mounds elsewhere in Scotland shows that cairns might be adapted over time and might also form a focus for burial in later periods. Buried deposits associated with cairns can help us to understand more about the practice and significance of burial and commemorating the dead at specific periods 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 ground 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 cairn's 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

Heel-shaped cairns are a rare and distinctive form of chambered cairn found in the Shetland Islands. This example also has particular interest because of its location in a landscape rich in prehistoric monuments, including other cairns and settlement remains. There is a smaller cairn only 60m to the southwest and a platform 60m to the northwest. A further chambered cairn is situated on the opposite hillside across Ronas Voe, at a distance of some 4km to the southwest. Across Scotland, cairns are commonly positioned to be highly visible 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 prehistoric 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 is well preserved and lies in a landscape where there is a variety of prehistoric monuments, including settlements. 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 times.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Henshall, A S, 1963 The Chambered Tombs of Scotland, vol 1. Edinburgh, p.172-3

RCAHMS, 1946 The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Twelfth report with an inventory of the ancient monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v Edinburgh, p. 94-5, No. 1364

Ritchie, A, 1997 Shetland, Exploring Scotland's Heritage Series, Edinburgh, p.12, 135

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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