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Nether Largie North, cairn 480m NNE of Nether Largie

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Argyll, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 56.1295 / 56°7'46"N

Longitude: -5.4918 / 5°29'30"W

OS Eastings: 183095

OS Northings: 698471

OS Grid: NR830984

Mapcode National: GBR DDTJ.381

Mapcode Global: WH0HX.M62C

Entry Name: Nether Largie North, cairn 480m NNE of Nether Largie

Scheduled Date: 16 July 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13294

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Kilmartin

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Mid Argyll

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument is a round burial cairn covering a Bronze Age cist, built sometime between around 2500 and 1000 BC. It is visible as a substantial mound of boulders measuring approximately 21m N-S by 20m transversely and standing up to 3m in height. The cairn was excavated in the late 1920s and its present appearance is largely a reinstatement. The central cist, which can be accessed via a modern hatch in the top of the cairn, is aligned N-S and measures 1.6m by 0.6m. The internal face of the N terminal stone is decorated with two axe-heads. The cist was found during excavation and had been inserted into a pit dug into the natural gravel; it was covered with a capstone and a further 18 slabs. The cist contained soil in which was found a human molar (tooth), ochre and fragments of charcoal. The capstone, which is now located on the E wall of the internal chamber, measures 2m by 1m with a thickness of about 0.35m and is decorated with at least 40 cup-marks and 10 axe-head symbols. An arrangement of stones found S of the central cist included two uprights, one of which was decorated with two circles. A second grave, also dug into the natural gravel, was found in the NE quadrant of the cairn. The cairn is located within a fenced enclosure on flat pasture land close to the valley floor of the Kilmartin Glen.

The scheduled area is circular on plan, measuring 41m in diameter, centred on the cairn. The scheduling includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area specifically excludes the above-ground elements of the boundary fence enclosing the monument and the above-ground elements of the interpretation panel 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 this and similar cairns elsewhere in Scotland has demonstrated that round cairns were often used to mark human burials in the late Neolithic or Bronze Age and date most commonly from the late third millennium BC to the early second millennium BC. This cairn has been excavated and much of its fabric has been reinstated. However, it still retains important features and there is high potential for further archaeological remains to survive below ground.

The inward-looking face of the capstone is of particular interest as it bears carvings of at least 10 axe-heads, similar in form to flat bronze axe-heads. These carvings overlie a substantial spread of around 40 cup-marks, suggesting that this massive slab was either a re-used Neolithic or Bronze Age standing stone or was perhaps specifically cut from a rock outcrop to be used in this cairn. In either case, it is likely to pre-date the construction of the cist. A further two axe-heads appear on the inner face of the N slab of the cist. Depictions of axeheads like this are relatively uncommon, but there is a marked cluster within the Kilmartin area: they also occur at Ri Cruin and Nether Largie Mid cairns, both of which date to the Bronze Age. Further rock art in the form of a pair of pecked circles measuring around 18cm in diameter was found on one of the uprights within the arrangement of large stones situated to the S of the central cist. It is possible that this stone arrangement represents a secondary cist that may have been robbed or dismantled in antiquity. Overall, the monument has an inherent potential to inform our understanding of the creation of rock art in prehistory and the relationship between broadly contemporary ritual monuments and burial structures.

In addition, although the monument was subjected to scientific excavation in the late 1920s, advances in archaeological techniques mean that the cairn retains high potential for the survival of further buried remains. As well as additional and as yet undiscovered burials, undisturbed archaeological layers offer excellent potential for the preservation of ancient botanical remains, which can help us to ascertain the nature of the climate, vegetation and agriculture in the area when the cairn was in use.

Contextual characteristics

Across Scotland, burial cairns are often inter-visible and sometimes seem to have been positioned specifically to maximise their visual impact. They are usually located on low ground in valleys and on the edges of higher ground, close to important route ways and agricultural land. Argyll cairns are often components of a ritual landscape created over many centuries, demonstrating the re-use and veneration of earlier foci of ritual activity. Clusters of cairns may point to areas of the landscape where power and wealth was concentrated, perhaps generated in part through the control of trade and exchange. Cairns have additional importance because they are the most prominent remains of early societies, whose domestic houses, farms and field systems have so far proved difficult to identify in the archaeological record.

This cairn is situated in Kilmartin Glen, which contains one of the densest concentrations of prehistoric ceremonial and burial monuments in Scotland and is world-renowned for its extensive and unparalleled collection of rock art. This cairn is one of a series of burial monuments aligned along the valley floor, which are not only inter-visible with each other, but also have clear lines of sight to standing stones or stone circles and rock art. A cup-marked rock is located only some 30m to the E of the cairn. Cup-marked stones rarely exist in isolation, and it has been suggested that each individual group of rock carvings forms a small part of a wider coherent system distributed along or near to the tops of valley systems, where they mark out route ways through the landscape. It is possible that this particular example was relocated close to the cairn or that the cairn was positioned in relation to the cup-marked stone. As such, the monument has the capacity to further our understanding of the enduring importance of such sites over a long period of time, their distribution within the landscape, and how they related to one another.

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 society. This monument is particularly valuable because of its potential to inform our understanding of rock art and its re-use, specifically the cup-marks and the relatively rare axe-head carvings, their ritual significance and the potential relationships between sites such as standing stones, carved rock outcrops and other cairns where such motifs appear. In addition, the cairn is of particular interest due to its place within the Kilmartin Valley, which contains one of the densest concentrations of prehistoric ceremonial and ritual monuments in Scotland. 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 ritual, death and burial in prehistoric life.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Campbell and Sandeman, M and M (1964) 'Mid Argyll: an archaeological survey', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 95, p. 34, no. 244.

Craw, J H (1931a) 'Further excavations of cairns at Poltalloch, Argyll', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 65, p. 274-5.

RCAHMS (1988a) The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the monuments, vol. 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, prehistoric and early historic monuments. Edinburgh.

Stevenson, J B (1997) 'The prehistoric rock carvings of Argyll', in Ritchie, J The archaeology of Argyll, p. 103. Edinburgh.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Nether Largie North Cairn
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Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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