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Port Charlotte, chambered cairn, 65m ESE of Port Mhor Centre, Islay

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

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Coordinates

Latitude: 55.7335 / 55°44'0"N

Longitude: -6.3849 / 6°23'5"W

OS Eastings: 124831

OS Northings: 657615

OS Grid: NR248576

Mapcode National: GBR BFMK.G6W

Mapcode Global: WGYH4.W4QY

Entry Name: Port Charlotte, chambered cairn, 65m ESE of Port Mhor Centre, Islay

Scheduled Date: 23 February 1977

Last Amended: 10 May 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3937

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn

Location: Kilchoman

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument is the remains of a Neolithic chambered cairn, dating from some time between 3000 BC and 2000 BC, and earlier occupation on the same site. This Clyde-type chambered cairn survives as the remains of a chamber and façade marked by a number of earthfast schist orthostats, surrounded by mounds of cairn debris. The cairn measures approximately 22m E-W by 20m transversely, but the location of its outer edge is uncertain and the cairn has been curtailed on its S side. One of four chamber compartments remains visible, measuring 1.6m in length and 1m in width. The main chamber and entranceway is aligned NNE by SSW with its façade at the NNE end. An earlier occupation horizon identified beneath the cairn has been dated to around the late fourth millennium BC. The monument is situated 220m from the southern outskirts of Port Charlotte in western Islay, in a community playing field. It sits at the edge of a raised beach close to the shore, at about 15m above sea level, overlooking Loch Indaal. The monument was first scheduled in 1977, but the scheduled area did not protect all of the surviving archaeology and the documentation did not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is roughly circular on plan, measuring 40m in diameter, but slightly truncated along the SW boundary where it coincides with an embankment for a football pitch to the SW. 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 specifically excludes a modern interpretation panel and its plinth, the football pitch embankment, and the above-ground elements of the post-and-wire fence to the SE.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic Characteristics:

The Port Charlotte cairn has had some of its cairn material and some of the chamber slabs removed, but sufficient survives to indicate the nature of the monument. Although much reduced in size, the remains of the cairn are in good condition and have been well maintained. Clyde-type cairns are usually long cairns, narrower at one end than the other, with a chamber set lengthwise accessed from the wider end. The chamber is usually created by setting large stone slabs on edge, to create a series of nested compartments set in line. The Port Charlotte cairn retains key elements of its structure, including one compartment and some of the substantial supporting stonework, together with quantities of loose cairn material comprised of rounded beach cobbles. It represents an important example of a Clyde-type multi-compartment chambered cairn.

The cairn was partly excavated in the 1970s by Pierpoint and Harrington, by when it was already much denuded of stone. Its overall form comprised a mound of rubble with a core of parallel drystone walls on each side of the chamber, surviving to a height of 0.7m in places. Excavations confirmed the presence of a concave façade at the entrance on the NNE side of the cairn; a pit some 0.6m deep immediately in front of the entrance; and recovered evidence showing that the chamber had at least four burial compartments originally. The finds included leaf-shaped arrowheads, flint knives, and sherds of five Neolithic pottery vessels. Human bone and oak charcoal was recovered from the second chamber; the charcoal yielded radiocarbon dates in the mid-third millennium BC. An earlier occupation horizon was identified below the chambered cairn, characterised by carbonised hazelnut shells, sheep bones, flint objects and well over a thousand flint flakes; this level has been dated to around 3000 BC or earlier. The radiocarbon dates confirm that the site was in use for a period of at least 500 years, while the cairn itself was certainly in use for at least 200 years. The excavations produced important information about the nature of early settlement and burial practices in Islay during the Neolithic period. For example, the finds from the occupation horizon beneath the cairn provide evidence of the beginning of an economy based on agriculture and stock-rearing in Islay by about 4000 BC.

The cairn was not completely excavated and there is high potential for the survival of additional buried material within and around the visible remains, which could enhance our understanding of the practice and significance of burial and commemorating the dead at specific periods in prehistory. The monument can contribute towards our understanding of the nature and form of 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 help us to understand settlement patterns and social influences during prehistory.

Contextual characteristics

The chambered cairn is a communal burial place for the earliest farmers in this part of Islay. This is one of only seven chambered cairns in the Inner Hebrides, six of which are in Islay and all are of the Clyde type. The greatest concentration of Clyde-type cairns is in the southern half of Arran, although significant groupings are also found on the upper reaches of Loch Fyne, Kilmartin, Kintyre, Bute and N of the Clyde estuary. 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.

They are often found on or close to good arable or pasture land and are sometimes positioned in prominent locations to maximise their visual impact. The Port Charlotte chambered cairn is located on level ground, on a raised beach some 120m from the sea, with good pasture nearby. It would have commanded wide-reaching views to the N, E and S over Loch Indaal, which is likely to have been an important communication and transport route. Similarly, its prominent position would have been easily viewed from route-ways through the landscape and from the sea. A number of other broadly contemporary monuments are located nearby, with which this cairn may have been inter-visible. In particular, there is a another burial cairn at Cnoc a Chuirn, 1km to the SW, also occupying a coastal location, and a chambered cairn on higher ground at Nereabolls, 3.8km to the WSW. Study of this site in comparison with similar and broadly contemporary monuments in the vicinity can tell us about the economy and settlement patterns in prehistory and further our understanding of funerary site location, ritual practice, and the structure and beliefs of early prehistoric society.

Associative characteristics

The site is marked on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map. The interim results of the excavations during the 1970s have been published and the artefacts from the site are preserved in the collections of the Museum of Islay Life, Port Charlotte. The site itself is easily accessible and presented to the public. It is valued by the local community as a physical reminder of the islanders of ancient times.National Importance

This monument is of national importance as an example of a Clyde-type chambered cairn, which has been radiocarbon dated and provides evidence of human activity over a period of 500 years or so during the early prehistoric period in Argyll. Although not especially well-preserved, this monument has demonstrated its 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. This site has also provided insights into the nature of society and economy in the area before the cairn was constructed. Buried evidence from the chambered cairn has already enhanced our understanding of prehistoric society and economy, how people lived, where they came from and who they had contact with. The monument retains sufficient intrinsic characteristics and archaeological potential that its loss would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the placing of such monuments in the landscape and the meaning and importance of death and burial in prehistoric times.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

References

Harrington P and Pierpoint S J 1980, 'Port Charlotte chambered cairn Islay: an interim note', Glasgow Archaeology Journal, vol 7, p 113-115.

Henshall A S 1972, The chambered tombs of Scotland, vol 2, p 431, 433, ILY 1. Edinburgh.

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, p 50-52, no 8. Edinburgh.

Ritchie, J N G and Harman, M 1996, Argyll and the Western Isles, Exploring Scotland's Heritage series, p 45. Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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