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Achnaba House,cairns 30m, 175m & 305m south west of, & 340m & 530m WSW of

A Scheduled Monument in Oban North and Lorn, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.4726 / 56°28'21"N

Longitude: -5.3387 / 5°20'19"W

OS Eastings: 194455

OS Northings: 736158

OS Grid: NM944361

Mapcode National: GBR FC6M.19Y

Mapcode Global: WH1HC.YKXX

Entry Name: Achnaba House,cairns 30m, 175m & 305m SW of, & 340m & 530m WSW of

Scheduled Date: 4 March 1977

Last Amended: 7 February 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2818

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Ardchattan and Muckairn

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Oban North and Lorn

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument comprises a group of five round cairns dating to the late Neolithic or Bronze Age (probably third or second millennium BC). All are visible as roughly circular grass-covered mounds of stone. They vary in size, form and condition. The cairns lie within arable fields to the SW of Achnaba House at around 30m above sea level on a plateau overlooking Loch Etive. The monument was first scheduled in 1977, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The cairns lie within an overall area measuring 500m W-E by 250 N-S (maximum). Cairn A is the westernmost cairn and is situated on a natural knoll within improved pasture. It survives as an oval bank of stones with a slight hollow at the centre, giving the impression of a horseshoe shape. It measures 18.6m in diameter, although some cairn material spreads beyond this, and stands to a maximum height of 2.4m. Cairn B is situated 190m to the E and lies in an arable field, immediately adjacent to the road. It measures 15.3m in diameter and stands up to 1.7m in height. A possible platform is evident on the NW side and kerbstones are visible for much of the perimeter. Cairn C is the northernmost cairn and lies adjacent to the road at the N edge of another arable field, 320m ENE of Cairn B. Its northern arc has been truncated slightly by the construction of the road and fenceline. It survives as a low circular mound of grass-covered stones measuring 15m in diameter and standing up to 0.9m high. Cairn D lies 150m SSW of Cairn C, in the centre of the same arable field. It measures approximately 23m N-S by 22m W-E and varies in height from 1m to 1.8m. There is a hydro-electricity pole and strainer in the SE quadrant of this cairn. Cairn E is the southernmost cairn and is situated 130m SW of Cairn D on a natural bluff. It survives as an amorphous mound of grass-covered stone. The cairn material is spread up to 40m in diameter and varies in height. Altogether,

The scheduled area comprises five discrete circular areas, centred on each of the cairns. 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. The scheduling excludes all above-ground elements of post-and-wire fences and the hydro-electricity pole and strainers on Cairn D (the cairn 175m SW of Achnaba House) to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

Despite stone robbing and disturbance in the past, the cairns are generally in good condition and are stable. Cairn B, approximately 340m WSW of Achnaba House, is the best preserved and retains much of its original form and cairn material, including a clear kerb of large boulders, particularly visible on the W side. This example in particular has high potential to contribute towards our understanding of the form, construction and development sequence of burial cairns. Cairn E, the southernmost cairn, is the largest of the group and remains impressive despite having been disturbed in the past. It is thought to have stood up to 2.4m high originally, its size emphasised by its location on a bluff overlooking Loch Etive. Despite the disturbance, it retains a considerable amount of cairn material. All of the cairns retain their form and cairn material to a variable but significant degree. There is good potential for the survival of burials and associated artefacts within this cairn field, as well as evidence for the construction and use of the cairns.

Burial cairns of this date may incorporate or overlie several graves or pits containing cist settings, skeletal remains in the form of cremations or inhumations, pottery and stone tools. Excavations of similar cairns in Argyll have revealed jet jewellery and pottery, including beakers and food vessels, as part of the funerary assemblage. There is high potential for the survival of similar archaeological deposits and artefacts within these cairns, as they retain much of their form and matrix and have not been excavated previously. Such finds have the potential to inform us about trade and contacts in prehistory, as well as beliefs surrounding death and burial. Grave goods and animal and human remains found at such sites 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.

Excavations at other round cairns in Argyll have revealed that they often have longer and more complex development sequences than used to be believed. It is likely that these monuments were used and re-used over a long period of time, possibly millennia. Study of the development sequence and chronology of this group of cairns could contribute towards a better understanding of the creation and evolution of a well-defined ritual and funerary landscape. In addition, these cairns are likely to overlie and seal a buried land surface that could provide evidence of the environment when the monument was built. 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

Across Scotland, cairns are often inter-visible and sometimes seem to be positioned specifically to maximise their visual impact. This site is of particular interest as it consists of a group of associated cairns, placed within a presumably significant landscape setting on a fertile plateau overlooking Loch Etive. All of the cairns are inter-visible. The southernmost cairn, probably the largest of the group originally, has a particularly striking position on a natural bluff overlooking Loch Etive, with views towards Ben Cruachan to the east.

There is a large number of burial cairns and other ritual monuments of Neolithic and Bronze Age date in the North Connel area, in particular on the Moss of Achnacree to the south-east. This area seems to have been particularly significant during prehistory as a place of burial and associated with ritual and funerary practices. Argyll cairns are often components of a ritual landscape created over many centuries, often demonstrating re-use and veneration of earlier foci. 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. The position and significance of these cairns in relation to other prehistoric monuments may be significant and merits further analysis. Comparison of each of the cairns, and of the group as a whole with other broadly contemporary monuments nearby could further our understanding of ritual and funerary site location and practice and enhance understanding of the structure of early prehistoric society and economy.

Associative characteristics

The westernmost cairn (Cairn A) is associated with the name 'Leac Mac Mi'os' which translates as 'the flag[stone] of the month old child'. This name and reference to the cist can also be found on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map. It is possible that the recorded excavation of a cist in the 19th century came from this cairn, as a hollow in its centre indicates robbing or quarrying.

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 of particular value as a group of broadly contemporary cairns, and because of their location in a landscape rich in other prehistoric monuments, particularly ritual and funerary sites. 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

RCAHMS records the site as NM93NW 21. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR reference is 1401.

References

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1988, Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 2: Lorn p.45. Edinburgh

Ritchie, G (ed), 1997 The Archaeology of Argyll. Edinburgh

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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