Ancient Monuments

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Carnasserie Castle, cairn 550m WSW of

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Argyll, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 56.1494 / 56°8'57"N

Longitude: -5.489 / 5°29'20"W

OS Eastings: 183382

OS Northings: 700675

OS Grid: NM833006

Mapcode National: GBR DDTG.JJQ

Mapcode Global: WH0HQ.NPDN

Entry Name: Carnasserie Castle, cairn 550m WSW of

Scheduled Date: 16 November 1933

Last Amended: 7 February 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM186

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Kilmartin

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Mid Argyll

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument is a prehistoric cairn of the Neolithic or Bronze Age, built probably between 4000 and 1000 BC. It is visible as a roughly circular mound of stones, approximately 30m in diameter and standing up to 1.5m high. The cairn is of particular interest because partial excavation has revealed significant structural, artefactual and environmental remains. It is situated at the north end of the Kilmartin Glen on its western shoulder, overlooking land to the south and east, at 120m above sea level. The cairn survives in rough grazing land and has spectacular views to the south. The monument was first scheduled in 1933, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is circular on plan, measuring 40m in diameter centred on 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

The excavation of similar cairns elsewhere in Scotland has demonstrated that they were often used to cover and mark human burials. They are normally late Neolithic or Bronze Age in origin, dating most commonly from the late third millennium BC to the early second millennium BC.

The Carnasserie cairn has seen some limited archaeological investigation, which revealed an arc of boulders suggesting the line of a kerb and a paved surface, both sealed by the mound of stones. A burial cist was located SSE of the centre of the cairn; it was aligned NW-SE and measured 1.2m by 0.6m by 0.45m deep. Removal of the capstone revealed a carefully paved area on which a range of significant artefacts was found, including a food vessel and charcoal. Flint artefacts were found outside the cist. On the basis of the finds, archaeologists have ascribed a Bronze Age date to this cairn. Cairns often display a long development sequence and, at Carnasserie, the structural evidence of a possible kerb and earlier paved surface suggest that this site may have been re-used and provided a focus for burial and commemoration over a long period.

Despite the earlier investigations, the structural integrity of the cairn is reasonably intact and it is in good overall condition, suggesting that important archaeological information is highly likely to survive. One or more additional burials may be present, as burials are often located away from the centres of cairns (as in this case). The cairn may incorporate or overlie other graves or pits containing cist settings, skeletal remains in the form of cremations or inhumations, and artefacts including pottery and stone tools. 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. The cairn is likely to seal a buried land surface that could provide evidence of the immediate environment before the monument was constructed. Botanical remains, including pollen and charred plant material, may also survive. This evidence can help us build up a picture of the climate, vegetation and the nature of agriculture in the area before and during construction and use of the cairn.

Contextual characteristics

The Carnasserie Castle cairn is part of the archaeologically rich, prehistoric landscape of Kilmartin. It lies close to an alignment of Early Bronze Age cairns along the floor of Kilmartin Glen, focused on a re-used chambered cairn. It is sited on the higher west shoulder of the upper glen of this natural north-south routeway, with long-distance views to the south and east. The cairn is located in an area rich in broadly contemporary monuments, notably a similar burial monument some 1100m to the northeast, a pair of standing stones 150m to the northeast, and an outcrop bearing rock art 125m to the northwest.

Argyll cairns are often components of a ritual landscape created over many centuries, often demonstrating re-use and veneration of earlier foci. The group at Kilmartin includes cairns sited close to at least one stone circle. Clusters of cairns may point to areas of the landscape where power and wealth was concentrated, perhaps generated in part through control of trade and exchange. Cairns have additional importance as they are the most prominent remains of early societies, whose domestic houses, farms and field systems have proved difficult to identify in the archaeological record. The distributions of chambered cairns and other types of cairn appear broadly similar, the known examples clustering on relatively low ground in valleys or close to the coast and on the edges of higher ground. The distribution partly reflects the activities of researchers, but some concentrations appear to lie on better land and close to important routeways, as in Kilmartin.

Although cairns are well represented in Argyll, researchers have singled out this example because of the confirmed survival of significant structural elements and its rich artefactual and ecofactual assemblage. Its position and significance in relation to other prehistoric monuments in the vicinity merit future detailed analysis. This could further our understanding of ritual and funerary site location and practice, and the structure of 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, in particular the nature of burial practice, the design and construction of burial monuments, and their significance in prehistoric and later society. Buried evidence from cairns can also enhance our knowledge about wider society: how people lived, where they came from and who they had contact with. This monument is particularly valuable because of its location and links to broadly contemporary monuments elsewhere in Kilmartin Glen. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand burial monuments, their position in the landscape and the wider meaning and importance of death and burial to prehistoric communities.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as CANMORE 22837. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR reference is WOSASPIN 1027.


Campbell, M and Sandeman, M, 1964. 'Mid Argyll: an archaeological survey', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 95, 12, 114.

Craw, J H, 1931, 'Further excavations of cairns at Poltalloch, Argyll', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 65, 275-8.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1988, Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, prehistoric and early historic monuments, Edinburgh.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1999, Kilmartin. Prehistoric and early historic monuments: an inventory of the monuments extracted from Argyll, volume 6. Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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