Ancient Monuments

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Cragabus, chambered cairn 75m south west of Lower Cragabus, Islay

A Scheduled Monument in Kintyre and the Islands, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 55.6267 / 55°37'36"N

Longitude: -6.2443 / 6°14'39"W

OS Eastings: 132926

OS Northings: 645187

OS Grid: NR329451

Mapcode National: GBR BFZV.0MN

Mapcode Global: WGYHM.1TTW

Entry Name: Cragabus, chambered cairn 75m SW of Lower Cragabus, Islay

Scheduled Date: 14 March 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13237

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn

Location: Kildalton

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire


Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic Characteristics

Although little of the original cairn material survives, the overall form of the chamber and façade survive and are clearly visible, while the survivor of the pair of portal stones at the entrance is still an impressive feature that dominates the surrounding landscape. The outline of the horned façade is visible as a number of earthfast stones and further remains of the façade are likely to survive beneath the surface. The monument can contribute towards our understanding of the nature and form of such burial monuments and the techniques used in their construction. Study of the form and construction of this chambered cairn, in comparison with contemporary burial monuments in SW Scotland and beyond may also help us to understand settlement patterns and social influences during prehistory.

Bryce carried out excavations at the site in 1901. Within the chamber, he found disarticulated human bones grouped in the corners of the compartments, and a fill of stones and dark-coloured mould, possibly organic matter. A number of artefacts were also found, including an unusual carinated vessel, sherds of Beaker ware, flint flakes and pebbles. There is no evidence to suggest that the façade area has been disturbed by robbing or previous excavations, and it has the potential to contain important archaeological information relating to the monument's construction and use, in particular evidence for burial rituals. Excavations at similar sites suggest that the entrance area to chambered tombs can be particularly rich in archaeological deposits. Within and around the remains of the chamber there is potential for the survival of further archaeological information, including animal and human remains, charcoal and other organic residues, as well as artefacts.

Chambered cairns were in use around 4000 to 1500 BC, although the Clyde cairn form dates predominantly to the third millennium BC. Excavation elsewhere suggests that such cairns were used over a long period and usually housed the remains of multiple individuals. Buried deposits associated with cairns can help us to understand more about the practice and significance of burial and commemoration of 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 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 to build up a picture of climate, vegetation and agriculture in the area, before and during construction and use of the cairn.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is a fine example of a Clyde-type chambered cairn. It is one of only seven chambered cairns in the Inner Hebrides, six of which are in Islay and all are of the Clyde group. Chambered cairns are one of our only sources of evidence for the Neolithic in this part of Scotland and are consequently very important for what they can contribute towards our understanding of prehistoric society.

Chambered cairns are often found on or close to good arable or pasture land and are sometimes positioned to maximise their visual impact. The chambered cairn at Cragabus is still prominent today, as it stands on the shoulder of a rocky knoll and overlooks the lower lying agricultural ground. At the time of its construction and use, it would have been an impressive monument that dominated the surrounding landscape. Chambered cairns are often situated close to other cairns or ritual and funerary sites. In this case there are two burial cairns situated 665m SSW and 790m SW of Cragabus, and approximately 2.5km to the NW are the remains of another chambered cairn. Further afield, to the N and NW there are a number of broadly contemporary monuments, including a cup- and ring-marked stone and a number of standing stones. It is probable that the monuments here were created over many centuries, reflecting the re-use and veneration of earlier foci. Study of this site in comparison with other monuments in the vicinity can tell us about the economy and settlement patterns in prehistory. The position of this cairn in relation to other prehistoric monuments in this landscape merits future analysis. It has the potential to further our understanding of funerary site location, ritual practice, and the structure and beliefs of early prehistoric society, as well as the movement of peoples and ideas throughout the British Isles.

Associative characteristics

Thomas Bryce, famous physician and archaeologist, excavated the site in 1901. He was prominent in the late 19th and early 20th century for his excavations and research on Clyde cairns in SW Scotland and analysis of their human remains.

The site is marked on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map as 'Creag Mhor, burial ground'.

National Importance

The monument is a Clyde-type chambered cairn of Neolithic date, dating probably to the third millennium BC. It survives as the remains of a chamber and horned façade built of earthfast stone slabs. The chamber is aligned E-W and measures 4.8m long by 1m wide. The façade is to the NE of the chamber and comprises a number of earthfast stones, the most northerly of which stands to an impressive 1.8m in height and is likely to be the survivor of a pair of portal stones marking the original entrance. On the line of the entrance to the chamber, a second stone protrudes some 0.13m through the turf. The adjacent upright to the S appears to have fallen forward and only just protrudes above the grass. The final stone on the line of the façade has also fallen, but is about 2.1m long, at least 0.4m broad and 0.3m thick. The monument is situated within lightly grazed grassland and, apart from the protruding stone slabs forming the chamber and façade, is turf-covered. The cairn lies on the W side of a small rocky outcrop known as Creag Mhor, approximately 70m above sea level and has excellent views to the NE across lower lying agricultural land and towards the sea.

The area to be scheduled is irregular in plan. It 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. On the N side it extends up to but does not include the post-and-wire fence; elsewhere the scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all post-and-wire fences to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

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. Chambered cairns provide the chief material evidence for the Neolithic in this part of Scotland. Buried evidence from chambered cairns can enhance our knowledge of wider prehistoric society and economy, how people lived, where they came from and who they had contact with. 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



RCAHMS records the site as NR34NW 6. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR reference is 2212.


Bryce T H 1902 'On the cairns of Arran: a record of exploration, with an anatomical description of the human remains discovered', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 36, p. 110-1, 172-3.

Henshall A S 1972, The chambered tombs of Scotland, vol. 2 Edinburgh, p. 433-4.

RCAHMS 1984 The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 5: Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay, Edinburgh, p. 9, no. 5.

Ritchie and Harman J N G and M 1996, Argyll and the Western Isles, Exploring Scotland's Heritage series, ed. by Anne Ritchie, Edinburgh, p. 37.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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