Ancient Monuments

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Alltan nam Breac, cairn 250m west of

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

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Latitude: 58.0423 / 58°2'32"N

Longitude: -4.8866 / 4°53'11"W

OS Eastings: 229703

OS Northings: 909547

OS Grid: NC297095

Mapcode National: GBR G79G.QFM

Mapcode Global: WH295.X471

Entry Name: Alltan nam Breac, cairn 250m W of

Scheduled Date: 23 November 2018

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13715

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Kincardine (Highland)

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: North, West and Central Sutherland

Traditional County: Ross-shire


The monument comprises the remains of a prehistoric cairn which probably dates from the Neolithic period. It would have been built and in use between 4000BC and 2500BC. It is visible as a grass and heather covered stony mound measuring around 11.5m in diameter and up to around 1.3m in height. The monument is located on the on a southeast facing hillside, within forestry plantation, around 190m above sea level.                                                                                 

The scheduled area is circular, centred on the cairn, with a diameter of 25m. 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 a cairn which survives as a stone-built mound. There is no record of previous excavations and the overall profile of the monument probably stands close to its original scale and appearance. The cairn appears largely undisturbed and there are no surface indications of internal structures. However, the scale and form suggests that it is a Neolithic chambered cairn. It is therefore likely that features survive within the body of the cairn including a passage and chamber.  Scientific dating from other examples demonstrates that such cairns were constructed and in use between around 4000BC and 2500 BC.

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 prehistoric society. Any artefacts and environmental material would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment. Chambered cairns were used for communal burial and ritual, and excavations often reveal evidence of complex development sequences. Therefore the 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 cairns in general.

Contextual Characteristics

Chambered cairns are found throughout Scotland, with a concentration in the north and west. This cairn is in close vicinity to a group of Neolithic chambered cairns in Glen Oykel located around Loch Ailsh and Cnoc Chaornaidh, including; Strathseasgaich, chambered cairn 700m SW of (SM4044; Canmore ID 4750), Loch Ailsh, chambered cairn 900m SE of Strathseasgaich (SM4043; Canmore ID 4735), Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn, cairn and long mound E of (SM4564; Canmore ID 4741), Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn 570m SW of (SM4022; Canmore ID 4739), Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn 560m WSW of (SM4023; Canmore ID 4738), Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn, cairn and long mound E of (SM4564; Canmore ID 4742) and Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn 180m NNE of, Stratheskie (SM4045; Canmore ID 4606). The close proximity of this cairn to these confirmed examples of chambered cairns, together with the similarity of scale and form, supports the interpretation of this example as a chambered cairn. It is therefore of significance as an upstanding, well-preserved and largely undisturbed example of this monument type.

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, perhaps to be seen on a skyline or otherwise in profile. Others are found in less conspicuous locations, for example on valley floors. Relationships to routeways and/or other ritual sites, locations near to good upland pasture and views over specific areas of land may also have had significance. In contrast, the Bronze Age cairns in this area are often located with higher ground on two or more sides. This means that the cairn is hidden from certain directions and often have more restricted views. The cairn at Alltan nam Breac is positioned on a hillside and would have been a highly prominent feature in the landscape. It no longer occupies an open position, due to recent forestry plantations, but probably would have had extensive views of the landscape to the northeast and southeast. The location of this cairn again supports the interpretation that it is a Neolithic chamber cairn.

The proximity of these burial monuments can give important insights into the prehistoric landscape and add to our understanding of social organisation, land division and land-use. The monument has the potential to enhance our understanding of the nature and development of Neolithic monumentality and burial, the nature of belief systems, ceremonial and burial practices.

Associative Characteristics

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

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. This cairn retains its field characteristics and appears relatively undisturbed. It is comparable in scale and form to other regional examples and the existence of several chambered cairns in close proximity in a comparable topographic setting, supports the view that this is a Neolithic chambered cairn. As such it can significantly enhance our understanding of prehistoric 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. Chambered cairns are one of our main sources of information for the Neolithic in Scotland and so are an important element in our understanding of the nature of Scotland's prehistoric society and landscape. 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 in northern Scotland and further afield.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 87354 (accessed on 09/10/2018).

Highland Historic Environment Record Reference: MHG18032 (accessed on 09/10/2018).


HER/SMR Reference

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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