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Cromalt, chambered cairn 1150m NNW of

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

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Latitude: 58.0273 / 58°1'38"N

Longitude: -4.9831 / 4°58'59"W

OS Eastings: 223932

OS Northings: 908131

OS Grid: NC239081

Mapcode National: GBR G72H.VKD

Mapcode Global: WH294.FH9J

Entry Name: Cromalt, chambered cairn 1150m NNW of

Scheduled Date: 24 October 2018

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13707

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn

Location: Assynt

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: North, West and Central Sutherland

Traditional County: Sutherland


The monument comprises 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 mound measuring approximately 18m in diameter and 2m high. The cairn material has been removed leaving the large orthostats of the chamber visible. The cairn appears to be broadly aligned southeast-northwest, with the probable entrance passage facing towards the northwest. It is located within boggy moorland south of Loch Urigill and just west of the Allt an Achaidh river at around 174m above sea level. 

The scheduled area is circular, measuring 35m in diameter. It includes the remains described above, and an area around 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 example of a chambered cairn.  Although subject to substantial removal of the cairn material, it survives as a substantial monument, suggestive of its original scale and form. It is likely to be an Orkney-Cromarty chambered cairn, characterised by a single long chamber divided into stall-like "compartments" by stone uprights.

This example is a large, circular mound situated on a natural hillock within boggy moorland. Most of the cairn material has been removed from the cairn, and this material may have been re-used to build the nearby farmstead at An Car (Canmore Site Number NC20NW 2) located approximately 4m to the north. Five large orthostats which likely formed the chamber are visible. The largest of these is located in the east and faces the probable entrance passage in the west. It is now at a 45 degree angle.

The monument is broadly aligned southeast-northwest with its entrance passage facing towards the northwest. This is different from 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. However, this is a generalised preference and there are at least 4 other recorded examples by Henshall and Ritchie (1995) of Orkney-Cromarty chambered cairns facing more to the west than the east. 

Investigations at a similar site, Altnacealgach Hotel, chambered cairn 460m NW of, Ledmore (SM1765) by Barber (2011) give an indication of what features might be expected to be survive and the likely geological provenance of the stones used. In this case, it appears that the slabs used to build the chamber are made from the local limestone rocky outcrops and these stones have a grey/white appearance.  

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. They were used for communal burial and ritual, and excavation has revealed evidence of complex development sequences. Therefore this cairn may 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.

Although the cairn material has largely been removed, 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 unexcavated or partially excavated examples. These deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monuments, ritual and funerary practices, and the structure of Neolithic society, while surviving artefacts and ecofacts would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment.

Contextual Characteristics           

Around 600 chambered cairns are know of in Scotland. This example is likely to be part of an architecturally-distinct subgroup known as the Orkney-Cromarty group, dating to the Neolithic period in Scotland. These cairns have a widespread distribution across the north and west of Scotland 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 space into separate compartments. The enclosing stone cairns of Orkney-Cromarty cairns are mainly round in plan, but some are short horned or long cairns and others heel-shaped - it is the form of the chamber that defines the 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 within a large area of low-lying bog and moorland, to the south of Loch Urigill and just west of the Allt an Achaidh at around 174m AOD. It appears to have been placed on a natural hillock within the moor and is close to a large natural rocky outcrop.  There are long, panoramic views out over the moorland to the surrounding landscape from the cairn and towards the hills, and these appear to form a topographic bowl around the cairn. The probably entrance passage in the west of the cairn appears to be aligned Cul Mor which is a prominent topographical feature in the Assynt landscape. The cairn is also a prominent feature within its landscape. Although presently situated in what might be called a 'remote' location today and in challenging boggy and rocky terrain, its location close to water and in relation to natural topographic features may have been significant in the past.  

There is a similar burial cairn in the vicinity of the monument (Cromalt chambered cairn 630m NNE of, scheduled monument SM13709) which is located approximately 1km to the east. The two are not inter-visible with one another. Both examples are part of a wider group of burial cairns found in Sutherland with other examples in the Assynt area. 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 to a marked degree. It can be compared with other chambered cairns that survive 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 part 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 an upstanding 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



Historic Assynt Archaeological Sites Record 15/03/2015

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)

Richards, C, 1992, 'Doorways into Another World: The Orkney-Cromarty Chambered Tombs, in N. Sharples and A. Sheridan (eds.) Vessels for the Ancestors: Neolithic of Britain and Ireland, Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 62-76

Scott, D. (2016) Watchers of the Dawn: Solar and Lunar – Orkney, Cromarty and Clava Passage Cairns:

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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