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Kilmelford, cairn 70m north of & enclosure 95m NNW of Hall

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

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Latitude: 56.258 / 56°15'28"N

Longitude: -5.4826 / 5°28'57"W

OS Eastings: 184392

OS Northings: 712736

OS Grid: NM843127

Mapcode National: GBR DDV5.FH5

Mapcode Global: WH0H4.RYGW

Entry Name: Kilmelford, cairn 70m N of & enclosure 95m NNW of Hall

Scheduled Date: 19 December 1975

Last Amended: 15 March 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3778

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Kilninver and Kilmelfort

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Oban North and Lorn

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument comprises a prehistoric cairn dating from the late Neolithic or Bronze Age (probably third or second millennium BC) and an adjacent enclosure of later date. The cairn and enclosure are located on pasture at 10m above sea level, on the N side of Loch Melfort, with good views towards the S and W. The monument was first scheduled in 1975, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The cairn survives as a substantial, circular turf-covered mound of stones, approximately 20m in diameter and standing 1.2m high. On the SE side of the cairn are the remains of a possible cist measuring 0.7m by 0.9m. The enclosure is located 15m WNW of the cairn. It is roughly square in shape, 21m across, and its bank stands up to 0.5m high. The enclosed area is 16m across, with a possible entrance in the SE. A modern fence runs across the northern section of the enclosure.

The area to be scheduled consists of two separate polygons: the first is circular on plan, measuring 32m in diameter centred on the cairn; and the second is square on plan, with sides 30m long, centred on the enclosure. 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. Specifically excluded from the scheduling are the above-ground elements of a post-and-wire fence which crosses the N side of the enclosure and the telegraph pole on the cairn 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

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. Despite some evidence of localised disturbance, the structural integrity of the cairn appears intact and it is in good overall condition, suggesting that important archaeological information is likely to survive beneath its surface. The cairn may incorporate or overlie one or more 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 early society in the area. The cairn is likely to overlie and seal a buried land surface that could provide evidence of the immediate environment when the monument was constructed. Botanical remains, including pollen and charred plant material, may also survive within archaeological deposits deriving from the cairn's construction and use. This evidence can help us to 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.

The function of the enclosure is less clear. It may contain the remains of a later prehistoric (Iron Age) settlement, dating from some time between 500 BC and AD 500. Alternatively it could represent the remains of a later burial ground. It was reported that about six large stone slabs lay within the enclosure up until the 1950s which, together with its size and shape, could indicate an ecclesiastical association. The river to the E of the field containing the enclosure is called 'Abhainn na Cille', which means 'river of the church / burial ground', and the loch inlet to the immediate SW of the site is called 'Loch na Cille', but it is possible that these refer to the church in Kilmelford. While almost certainly later in date than the cairn, the close proximity of these two significant monuments could help inform our understanding of changes in land use and the changing associations of this vicinity between two main episodes of activity.

Contextual characteristics

Across Scotland, prehistoric burial cairns are often positioned to maximise their visual impact, as in this case. The Kilmelford cairn is a prominent feature of this coastal landscape and has commanding views W and SW towards Loch Melfort. The location of this cairn was selected almost certainly to maximise its visibility along an established and important route-way, connecting the sea loch and a N-S aligned land route.

Many cairns are known in Argyll, with particular clusters in South Kintyre, mid Argyll, Lorne, and in the west and south of Islay. Argyll cairns are often components of a ritual landscape created over many centuries, demonstrating the re-use and veneration of earlier foci. Cairns have additional importance as the most prominent remains of early societies whose domestic houses, farms and field systems have proved difficult to identify in the archaeological record. This cairn's position in relation to other prehistoric monuments in the area merits further analysis, and could further our understanding of ritual and funerary site location and practice and the structure of prehistoric society and economy.

The enclosure dates from the pre-Improvement period, but is of unknown origin and function. It may represent the remains of a later prehistoric settlement, in which case it would be a relatively unusual type to find in an area where the Iron Age presence is characterised mainly by duns and forts. Alternatively, it may be a medieval or later chapel site and burial ground, in which case it may be earlier than the church in Kilmelford, some 600m to the NE, which was dedicated to St Maelrubha and first comes on record in the 15th century.

In 2007 archaeological evaluation took place less than 200m to the W of the cairn and enclosure, within the same field. Several clearance cairns and a 'stone-built pediment of unknown function and date' were recorded, indicating that this general vicinity has the potential to contain other interesting archaeological remains.

Associative characteristics

Both the cairn and the enclosure are shown on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey map, but they are not labelled.

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 the significance of these monuments to prehistoric and later societies. Buried evidence from cairns can also enhance our knowledge about the communities living here, where they came from and who they had contact with. The enclosure has the potential to enhance our understanding of the range of monument types in this vicinity and the changes in land use during prehistory. 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 NM81SW 08. West of Scotland Archaeology Service records the site as WOSASPIN 1071.


The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1974, Argyll: an inventory of the monuments, volume 2: Lorn, p 52, no 56. Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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