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Altnacealgach Inn, chambered cairn 180m NNW of

A Scheduled Monument in North, West and Central Sutherland, Highland

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Coordinates

Latitude: 58.0544 / 58°3'15"N

Longitude: -4.9414 / 4°56'28"W

OS Eastings: 226528

OS Northings: 911040

OS Grid: NC265110

Mapcode National: GBR G75F.PBC

Mapcode Global: WH28Z.2T78

Entry Name: Altnacealgach Inn, chambered cairn 180m NNW of

Scheduled Date: 17 September 2018

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13708

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn

Location: Assynt

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: North, West and Central Sutherland

Traditional County: Sutherland

Description

The monument is the remains of a chambered cairn dating from the Neolithic period, probably built between 4000 BC and 2500 BC. It is visible as a round, heather covered mound measuring approximately 17m by 15m and approximately 1.5 to 2m high. The cairn is broadly aligned northeast-southwest, with an entrance passage facing towards the southeast. The site is located on the southern slope of Cnoc na Sroine at around 175m above sea level, overlooking Loch Borrolan, to the south.

The cairn comprises gathered stones. Some irregular depressions are visible on the top of the cairn and this is suggestive of areas of collapse possibly from antiquarian investigation above what is likely to be the remains of the chamber and passage.

The area to be scheduled is circular in plan with a diameter of 35m. It 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.

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 an upstanding and well-preserved example of a chambered cairn close to its original scale and form. The cairn is interpreted as an Orkney-Cromarty type, belonging to an extensive group of cairns generally characterised by a single long chamber divided into stall-like "compartments" by stone uprights. The cairn was first recorded by Curle (1911) and then by Henshall and Ritchie (1995), who describe the monument as a cairn covered by heather with disturbance on the eastern side. The south-eastern quadrant of the cairn is currently visible while the remainder of the cairn is heather-covered. A number of flat slabs on and in the cairn  have been interpreted as evidence of the chamber and passage. Although some of these features are difficult to identify today, excavations by Barber (2011) at Altnacealgach Hotel, chambered cairn 460m NW of, Ledmore (SM 1765) give an indication of what features might be expected to be survive.

The monument is broadly aligned northeast-southwest, with the entrance passage facing southeast. This corresponds with other examples of Orkney-Cromarty chambered cairns studied by Henshall and Ritchie (1995) where there appears to be an overall preference for the entrance to face between the east and the south.

Dating evidence from similar chambered cairns elsewhere demonstrates that they were constructed and in use between around 4000 BC and 2500 BC, with some re-used in the later Bronze Age. These monuments were used for communal burial and ritual and archaeological investigations have reveal evidence of complex development sequences at similar sites. This cairn may, thererfore, have been in use for a long period of time. Scientific study of the cairn's form and construction techniques compared with other chambered cairns would enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and of chambered cairns in general.

Excavations at similar sites have established that there is good potential for the survival of archaeological deposits, including human burials, artefacts and environmental remains such as pollen and charcoal, within, beneath and around the visible elements of the monument.  Such deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monument, ritual and funerary practice, and the structure of Neolithic society, while surviving artefacts and ecofacts would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment when the monument was built and when it was in use.

Contextual Characteristics

Around 600 chambered cairns are known of in Scotland. This example has been interpreted as an architecturally-distinct subgroup known as the Orkney-Cromarty, dating to the Neolithic period in Scotland. They have a widespread distribution across the north and west, in Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney. They can typically be described as passage graves with their chambers often defined by upright slabs of stones (sometimes described as 'stalls'),  demarcating burial spaces into separate compartments. The plan form of Orkney-Cromarty cairns are mainly round, but some are short horned or long cairns and others heel-shaped -  it is the form of the chamber that defines this group (Richards 1992, 65).

Chambered cairns are found in a variety of locations. Some are placed in conspicuous locations within the landscape, such as on the summits of hills or on the shoulders of hills, so as to be deliberately seen on a skyline, or otherwise seen in profile. Their relationship to routeways across and between different terrestrial and marine landscapes, location near to good upland pasture and views over specific areas of land (perhaps relating to different communities) also seems to hold significance.

This example is situated on the southern slope of Cnoc na Sroine at around 175m above sea level. This elevated position affords views over Loch Borralan and the modern Lochinver to Lairg road to the south – both of which are likely to have been natural routeways at the time of the cairn's use.  The monument is also a prominent feature in the landscape against the shoulder of the hill when looking north from the loch and road. More long distance views are available from the monument looking to the south, west and east and onwards towards Cul Mor, a prominent topographical feature in the Assynt landscape. Views to the north are restricted by topography.

There are two similar burial cairns in the vicinity of the monument:  Altnacealgach Hotel, chambered cairn 460m NW of, Ledmore (SM 1765) which is located approximately 330m to the west and is not visible from it, and Loch Borralan, chambered cairn on E bank of, WNW of Altnacealgach Hotel (SM 1766) which is just about visible. There is a further concentration of chambered cairns near the Ledmore Junction to the west. This example is therefore part of a wider group of burial cairns found in this area with other examples in close proximity. The spatial arrangement of these examples can give important insights into the wider organisation of the Neolithic landscape and the placing and meaning of such sites in specific locations. This can help us understand more about social organisation, land division and land-use at the time of their construction and use.

Associative Characteristics

There are no known associative characteristics that contribute to this site's national importance.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the past, in particular the design and construction of prehistoric burial monuments. It is an impressive monument that retains its field characteristics and can be compared with other chambered cairns surviving in the vicinity. In particular, it retains important structural evidence which can inform us of how such monuments were constructed. Chambered cairns are one of the main source of evidence for the Neolithic in Scotland and so are an important element in our understanding of the nature of Scotland's prehistoric society and landscape. They can enhance our understanding of Neolithic society and economy, as well as the nature of burial and ceremonial practices and belief systems and are an important component of the wider prehistoric landscape of settlement, agriculture and ritual activity. As a well-preserved example of an Orkney-Cromarty chambered cairn, the loss of the monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the meaning and importance of death and burial and the placing of cairns within the landscape in the Neolithic period.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk

CANMORE ID 4627 (accessed on 29.05.18). Site number: NC21SE 3

Local Authority HER Reference MHG13047 (accessed on 29.05.18).

Barber, J., 2011, Loch Borralan East Chambered Cairn – Life and Death in Assynt's Past Project, Highland (Assynt Parish), Excavation , Discovery Excavation Scotland, New Vol. 12, 2011, Cathedral Communications Limited: Wiltshire, 97-98

Burl, A. 1981, 'By the Light of the Cinerary Moon': Chambered Tombs and the Astronomy of Death' in C. Ruggles and A. Whittle (eds.) Astronomy and Society in Britain During the Period 4000 – 1500 BC, British Archaeological Reports, 88

Cavers, G. and Hudson, G. 2010, Assynt's Hidden Lives: An Archaeological Survey of the Parish, AOC/Historic Assynt

Curle, A.O. 1909, Five Field Notebooks, Ms/36/4-8, unpaginated, housed in the National Monuments Records of Scotland

Curle, A.O. 1909, Diary of Fieldwork in Sutherland, 2 Vols, Ms/36/9-10, housed in the National Monuments Records of Scotland

Henshall, A S. 1963a, The Chambered Tombs of Scotland, Vol. 1. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh

Henshall, A.S. and Ritchie, J.N.G., 1995, The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland: An Inventory of their Structures and their Contents, Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh

RCAHMS, 1911a, 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, page(s): 5, No. 14 RCAHMS Shelf Number: A.1.1.INV(2)

Canmore

https://canmore.org.uk/site/4627/


HER/SMR Reference

https://her.highland.gov.uk/Monument/MHG13047

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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