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Poltalloch, three cists 320m south of Cnoc-an-teallaidh

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Argyll, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.1171 / 56°7'1"N

Longitude: -5.5076 / 5°30'27"W

OS Eastings: 182042

OS Northings: 697137

OS Grid: NR820971

Mapcode National: GBR DDSK.20G

Mapcode Global: WH0HX.CHKX

Entry Name: Poltalloch, three cists 320m S of Cnoc-an-teallaidh

Scheduled Date: 16 November 1933

Last Amended: 19 March 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM225

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cist

Location: Kilmartin

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Mid Argyll

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of three prehistoric burial cists (stone-lined graves) likely to date from the Bronze Age, sometime between about 2000 BC and 800 BC. This group of three cists survives in rough pasture at 20m above sea level on the W flank of Kilmartin Glen. They overlook the funerary and ceremonial complex of prehistoric monuments that survives on the lower-lying ground of the glen. The monument was last scheduled in 1933, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

Only the westernmost cist can be seen above ground today, with its cover-stone and part of the side- and end-slabs visible. This grave is aligned NE-SW and measures 0.94m long by 0.51m wide by 0.41m deep. It is referred to as Cist A in the antiquarian accounts of survey and excavation of the group. The northernmost cist (Cist C) was aligned NNE-SSW and measured 1.02m long by 0.64m wide by 0.56m deep, while the southernmost cist (Cist B), also aligned NNE-SSW, measured 1.14m long by 0.69m wide by 0.48m deep.

The area to be scheduled is circular on plan, measuring 20m 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

Despite the effects of antiquarian excavation and the encroachment of gravel extraction works in the immediate area, the three cists survive in relatively good condition with parts of their structural form intact. Cist A (the westernmost cist) is clearly visible as a partly exposed, stone-lined grave which retains its architectural form. In both Cists A and B, shallow grooves were observed on the internal faces of the side-slabs, but the end-slabs were not fitted into them. Researchers have suggested these might have been locating slots for an internal lining, such as wood, that has since decayed.

The cists were investigated by Bryce in 1910 and by Craw in 1929, and they produced a rich assemblage of artefacts. All three cists contained bone fragments or cremated bone. An exquisite jet necklace and worked flint was also recovered from Cist A, while a pottery food vessel, teeth and a fragment of bronze were recovered from a paved surface in Cist B.

Despite their partial excavation, there is potential for the survival and recovery of other archaeological material, and the cists themselves are likely to retain important information that can add to our understanding of the architecture and practice of prehistoric burial. Excavation at similar sites has revealed that important archaeological remains may also survive in the area around and between cists. The buried land surface could also preserve botanical remains, such as pollen or charred plant material, which can help us to reconstruct the climate, vegetation and agriculture at the time the burial cists were constructed. Overall, this group of cists has the potential to enhance our understanding of the practice and significance of burial and commemoration of the dead, and of the changing environmental conditions, during specific periods in prehistory.

Contextual characteristics

The cist represents a form of burial practice which developed during the second millennium BC in Scotland. The distribution of cists and burial cairns is relatively widespread, but the presence of grooved grave-slabs is less common. These cists are part of a group of eight recorded in this vicinity, which suggests that the gravel terrace was used as a cemetery during this period. This group of cists is part of a very rich complex of broadly contemporary, ritual and funerary monuments located along Kilmartin Glen and neighbouring glens. The three cists contribute to the exceptionally high value of the overall group of archaeological sites in this area. Interestingly, these cists are the southernmost group of a much larger complex of burials recorded along the gravel terrace above Kilmartin Glen. Researchers believe that burial cists and cairns were often positioned in the landscape so as to be highly visible along route-ways or above fertile land, and to be intervisible with other burial and ceremonial monuments, as in this case. This group of cists overlooks the glen and has good views to other significant burial monuments, such as the cairn at Ri Cruin, only 500m to the E.

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 design and construction of burial monuments in the Bronze Age and their significance in prehistoric society. Buried evidence from cists can enhance our knowledge about material culture, the treatment of the dead, ceremony and commemoration, and the environmental conditions at the time. This monument is also of national importance as part of the exceptionally rich prehistoric landscape around Kilmartin, reflecting life and death in the Bronze Age. Its loss would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand ritual and funerary practice in Argyll and further afield.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

Campbell and Sandeman, M and M, 1964, 'Mid Argyll: an archaeological survey', in Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 95, 19.

Craw, J H, 1929, 'On a jet necklace from a cist at Poltalloch, Argyll', in Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 63, 154-89.

Creegen E R, & Harrington P, 1981, 'Excavations on the cist cemetery at Poltalloch, Argyll: 1960-62', in Glasgow Archaeological Journal, 8, 19-28.

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.

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.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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