Ancient Monuments

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Geirisclett, chambered cairn 670m north east of Loch Beag nan Eun

A Scheduled Monument in Beinn na Foghla agus Uibhist a Tuath, Na h-Eileanan Siar

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Latitude: 57.6504 / 57°39'1"N

Longitude: -7.4196 / 7°25'10"W

OS Eastings: 76832

OS Northings: 875207

OS Grid: NF768752

Mapcode National: GBR 882H.NCN

Mapcode Global: WGV1S.0Z40

Entry Name: Geirisclett, chambered cairn 670m NE of Loch Beag nan Eun

Scheduled Date: 6 September 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13671

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn

Location: North Uist

County: Na h-Eileanan Siar

Electoral Ward: Beinn na Foghla agus Uibhist a Tuath

Traditional County: Inverness-shire


The monument is the remains of a chambered cairn dating from the Neolithic period and Early Bronze Age. It was constructed and in use between around 4000BC to 1800BC. It survives as a sub-circular grass-covered cairn. The burial chamber, which is built of large upright slabs, is visible on the east-southeast side of the cairn. The monument is located on a low promontory on the eastern shore of the Geirisclett peninsula, immediately above the high water mark.

The cairn measures around 18m in diameter and stands up to 2m high. The remains of a kerb are visible on the north and east sides of the cairn. The chamber is formed by five large upright slabs defining an irregular rectangle around 2.7m long by up to 1.4m wide. The slabs vary in height from 1.15m to 2m high. The interior of the burial chamber is divided into two compartments by a substantial stone slab, laid horizontally. A second slab divides the outer compartment from the remains of the entrance passage. Only the north side of this passage is preserved. It is defined by a line of kerb stones which extend eastwards from the chamber for around 2.1m and meet the outer kerb of the cairn. The south side of the passage cannot be traced. A large prone slab measuring 3.8m long, up to 1.1m wide and 0.3m thick lies outside the chamber entrance.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan, 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 the field wall and breakwater.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is a chambered cairn which survives as a substantial stone-built mound. Although the cairn has been disturbed and reduced in size, the overall plan of the monument and elements of its construction are clear and understandable. The chamber and part of the passage are visible, along with sections of a kerb. Small scale excavation has taken place within the chamber and part of the entrance passage. This uncovered Neolithic and Early Bronze Age remains; cremated human bone, animal bone, Neolithic and Beaker pottery and quartz and flint artefacts. It has demonstrated that there is good potential for the survival of archaeological remains, including human burials, artefacts and environmental remains such as pollen and charcoal, within, beneath and around the upstanding structure of the cairn. The archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monument, ritual and funerary practices, and the structure of Neolithic society. Any artefacts and environmental material would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment.

No radiocarbon dates were obtained during the excavation of the chamber and passage. However, dating evidence from similar sites elsewhere along with artefacts recovered during the excavation of the cairn demonstrate that Geirisclett was constructed and in use between around 4000BC and 2500BC. It was reused during the Early Bronze Age, probably between around 2600BC and 1800BC. Hearth deposits and a posthole within the chamber indicate the cairn was reused again at a later date, though the date of this activity is not known. It likely took place at a time when the chamber was at least partially unroofed. The monument was used, therefore, over a long period of time. Further scientific study of the structure of the cairn has the potential to enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and of chambered cairns in general.

Contextual Characteristics

Chambered cairns are found throughout Scotland, with a concentration in the north and west. The example at Geirisclett is of particular significance as it has been classified as a Clyde cairn, a type of chambered cairn more commonly found in southwest Scotland. Clyde cairns are characterised by slab-built burial chambers, often divided into multiple compartments, and trapezoidal or rectangular cairns. While the burial chamber at Geirisclett conforms to the typical Clyde cairn architecture, the form of the cairn itself, being broadly circular or sub-rectangular, is less typical. This may represent a local adaptation or the enlargement or modification of the cairn in prehistory (Dunwell et al. 2003). Only one other chambered cairn in the Western Isles, Clettraval (SM5879; Canmore ID 10106) located around 4.3km south-southwest, can be identified as a Clyde-type cairn. The monument at Geirisclett is therefore a rare example of a type found more commonly in southwest Scotland.

The more typical form of Neolithic burial monuments in the Western Isles are Hebridean passage graves. Nineteen have been recorded on North Uist, including Hogha Gearraidh (Canmore ID 318416) around 6.8km southwest and Airidhan An T-sruthain Ghairabh (Canmore ID 9979) about 6.4km southeast. The monument, therefore, has the potential to enhance our understanding of the nature and development of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age monumentality and burial, the nature of belief systems, ceremonial and burial practices. It can add to our knowledge of the differing functions of contemporary monuments within societies, as well as providing important insights into the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age landscape and the values of contemporary communities. It has the potential to enhance our understanding of local responses to burial and ceremony, as well as important connections between regions during the Neolithic.

Chambered cairns are often placed in conspicuous locations within the landscape, at the edge of arable land and overlooking or inter-visible with other ritual monuments. The chambered cairn at Geirisclett is positioned at the high water mark on the shore of the Vallay Strand. This location, though, does not reflect the landscape setting within which the cairn was constructed. The Vallay Strand was flooded sometime during the first millennium AD and so the cairn was several kilometres from the shoreline when first built. It was positioned on a low promontory overlooking a level plain to the north and east.

Associative Characteristics

The monument was partially excavated by Erskine Beveridge in the early 1900s. Beveridge was a wealthy industrialist and owner of the Vallay estate. He excavated extensively across the estate. Beveridge's work made an important contribution to the understanding of the archaeology, history, folklore and place-name studies of North Uist.

Statement of National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it makes a significant addition to our understanding of the design and construction of burial monuments, the nature of burial and ritual practices and their significance in Neolithic society. The chambered cairn is an impressive monument which retains its field characteristics. It is one of only two Clyde-type cairns in the Western Isles and therefore can significantly enhance our understanding of Neolithic society and economy, as well as the nature of belief systems, burial and ceremonial practices. It would have been an important component of the wider prehistoric landscape of settlement, agriculture and ritual and would have been a prominent part of the prehistoric landscape. 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 Early Bronze Age and the placing of cairns within the landscape.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 10033 (accessed on 30/05/2017).

Beveridge, E. (1911) North Uist: its archaeology and topography, with notes upon the early history of the Outer Hebrides, Edinburgh, p255-6

Dunwell, Johnson and Armit, A, M and I. (2003) Excavations at Geirisclett chambered cairn, North Uist, Western Isles', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 133, 2003, p1-33.

Henshall, A S. (1972a) The chambered tombs of Scotland, vol. 2, Edinburgh, p515-17.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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