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Grey Cairns of Camster

A Scheduled Monument in Wick and East Caithness, Highland

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Latitude: 58.38 / 58°22'48"N

Longitude: -3.2669 / 3°16'1"W

OS Eastings: 326006

OS Northings: 944209

OS Grid: ND260442

Mapcode National: GBR L69L.25R

Mapcode Global: WH6DR.SMHN

Entry Name: Grey Cairns of Camster

Scheduled Date: 30 September 1934

Last Amended: 2 February 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90056

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: long cairn

Location: Wick

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: Wick and East Caithness

Traditional County: Caithness


The monument is a chambered long cairn and two chambered round cairns dating from the Neolithic period, probably built and in use between 3800 BC and 2500 BC. The long cairn survives as a substantial trapezoidal cairn of exposed stone with two internal chambers and short horns at each end defining forecourts. The chambered round cairns are visible as substantial stone mounds, the northern-most contains a single chamber while the southern cairn is tumbled with evidence for the presence of a chamber. The long cairn and northern round cairn have been excavated and substantially reconstructed. The monument is located on level moorland, around 170m above sea level.

The long cairn measures 60.5m in length including the horns, by 17m wide across the façade at the north end, narrowing to about 9m around half way along. The profile of the cairn rises over two burial chambers in the north end, while the south part is relatively level. The north burial chamber is polygonal in plan and formed of vertical slabs, while the southern chamber is divided into three compartments by upright stone slabs. The cairn has a long history of investigation. Excavations undertaken in 1866, 1971-73 and 1976-80 revealed two round cairns containing the burial chambers within the body of the long cairn, retaining walls, evidence of pre-cairn activity and finds in the form of Early Neolithic pottery, worked stone tools and fragments of human bone. Considerable consolidation and reconstruction of the cairn has taken place. The northern round cairn lies around 170m south-southeast and was excavated in 1865 and 1966-7, though these interventions are poorly documented. It measures around 22m north to south by about 19m east to west, and is 3.7m high. An eastern facing passage leads to a central chamber with corbelled roof. Excavations recovered burnt human bone, flint tools and pottery within the chamber. Parts of two skeletons were found within stone blocking in the passage. The cairn has been restored and consolidated. The second round cairn, situated about 115m south-southwest measures about 9m in diameter and 0.4m in height. The centre of the cairn has been disturbed, exposing the remains of a cist or central chamber.

The scheduled area is in three parts, two of which are circular in plan measuring 50m and 48m in diameter, and the third is irregular, to include 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 scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all modern structures, fittings and fixtures within and around the monuments. The monument was first scheduled in 1934 but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the archaeological remains and the documentation does not meet current standards: the present amendment rectifies this.

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, in particular the design and construction of burial monuments, and the nature of burial practices and their significance in Neolithic society and economy in the north of Scotland. The cairns are visually impressive monuments that retain their field characteristics and demonstrate complex development sequences. Chambered cairns are often our main source of evidence for the Neolithic in Scotland, and can enhance our understanding of Neolithic society and economy, as well as the nature of burial practices and belief systems. They are an important component of the wider prehistoric landscape of settlement, agriculture and ritual. The loss of the monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the meaning and importance of death, burial and ritual in the Neolithic and the placing of cairns within the landscape.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 8686, 8693 and 8694 (accessed on 27/04/2015).

The Highland Council HER references are MHG1809, MHG1816 and MHG1817.

Anderson, J. (1870) On the horned cairns of Caithness, their structural arrangement, contents of chambers, &c. , Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 7, 1866-8.

Armit, I. (1998) Scotland s hidden history. Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Close-Brooks, J. (1995) The Highlands, Exploring Scotland s Heritage series, ed. by Anna Ritchie. 2nd. Edinburgh.

Davidson and Henshall, J L and A S. (1991) The chambered cairns of Caithness: an inventory of the structures and their contents. Edinburgh.

Henshall, A S. (1963) The chambered tombs of Scotland, vol. 1. Edinburgh.

Masters, L. (1997) The excavation and restoration of the Camster Long chambered cairn, Caithness, Highland, 1967-80 , Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 127, 1, 1997.

Ordnance Survey Name Book. Object Name Books of the Ordnance Survey (6 inch and 1/2500 scale). Book No. 13, 234.

RCAHMS. (1911) The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. Edinburgh.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Grey Cairns of Camster
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HER/SMR Reference


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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