Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Airidh an Taillear, cairn, 890m south west of Gleann Tholastaidh road end

A Scheduled Monument in Loch a Tuath, Na h-Eileanan Siar

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Latitude: 58.3165 / 58°18'59"N

Longitude: -6.2424 / 6°14'32"W

OS Eastings: 151647

OS Northings: 944271

OS Grid: NB516442

Mapcode National: GBR B6ZR.7HM

Mapcode Global: WGY2N.27QB

Entry Name: Airidh an Taillear, cairn, 890m SW of Gleann Tholastaidh road end

Scheduled Date: 12 January 2021

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13740

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Stornoway

County: Na h-Eileanan Siar

Electoral Ward: Loch a Tuath

Traditional County: Ross-shire


The monument comprises an elongated, grass-covered mound measuring 33m by 17m by approximately 2m high likely to be the remains of a prehistoric burial cairn. A later sheiling hut sits atop the mound and a second, similar hut is located to the immediate southeast. The monument is located on peat moorland at approximately 80m above sea level, on the east side of Lewis, some 400m inland from the coast.

The scheduled area is circular, measuring 45m 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

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):

a.  The monument is of national importance as a representative example a prehistoric cairn. As such it makes a significant contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the past by informing us of how prehistoric society dealt with death and commemoration.

b.   The monument retains structural, architectural, decorative or other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past - the circular, mounded remains of a burial monument and its later agricultural reuse.

c.   The monument is an example of a relatively uncommon sub-group of prehistoric burial monument - the Hebridean cairn.

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past, specifically the archaeological character of prehistoric life and death.

f.   The monument makes a contribution to today's landscape and our understanding of the contemporary landscape in prehistory. It is part of a local group of similar Neolithic monuments and so contributes to our understanding and appreciation of the past in this area of Lewis and the Hebridean island chain.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The overall scale and form of the mound, together with its location suggest it is a round, prehistoric burial cairn known as a Hebridean cairn. Hebridean cairns generally date to the later Neolithic period (3000–2500 BC). It has the later addition of post-medieval sheilings built upon and adjacent to it. The mound's dimensions are similar to other known chambered cairns throughout the Western Isles. It's location in an area of upland moor is also consistent with the siting of these types of monument. No other distinguishing features are visible, but there remains considerable archaeological potential for buried features and deposits, sealed by the later overburden of peaty soil and the construction of shielings.

The overall plan form of the mound is elongated and it comprises two conjoined elements – the main, sub-circular structure of the mound approximately 17m in diameter and with a sheiling placed over it, and an adjacent feature on lower ground to the southeast which consists of the remains of a second sheiling, covering an area of approximately 14m northwest to southeast by 11m transversely. This second sheiling has probably reused drystone material from the original cairn.

The substantial size of this cairn and the presence of overlying peat / soil suggest 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 areas of the monument. These archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monument, ritual and funerary practices, and the structure of Neolithic society – these artefacts and ecofacts could also enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

Hebridean cairns can typically be described as passage graves with a central chamber built from large upright slabs of stone, demarcating space where human burials and grave goods were placed. The cairns overlying these structures are generally round in plan, however, long cairn and horned / heeled versions also exist. A circle of upright stones surrounding the cairn, or peristalith, is often associated with them and occasionally, outlying monoliths are also found.  In this example neither are visible, but overlying peat may have obscured any surviving traces of these and other additional features.   

Well over 600 examples of the larger group of chambered cairns are known of in Scotland. This example has been interpreted as part of the regionally distinct sub-group of Hebridean cairns. The group is distributed along the chain of Hebridean islands from Barra in the south to Lewis in the north and with further examples on the Isle of Skye and adjacent parts of the mainland west coast. This example is thought to be the furthest north of the group and one of six Neolithic burial cairns known of, on land surrounding Broad Bay. The local group variously include Hebridean round cairns and Clyde cairns (after Henshall 1972). Across the wider Outer Hebridean island chain over 40 examples of the sub-group have been recorded, with a significant cluster of over 20 examples in North Uist (Henley 2015).

Nearby Hebridean cairns are located approximately 4.5km to the west (Carn a' Mharc, NW of Gress lodge, scheduled monument 1660, Canmore ID 4336), 5.5km to the south, near Upper Coll (Alt An-T-Sniomh, chambered cairn 40m N of, scheduled monument 5330, Canmore ID 4298), similar in size and shape to this example and a third example, 500m further south (Dunan, Chambered Cairn SE of Alt An Smioh, scheduled monument 1663, Canmore ID 4295). All these cairns overlook Broad Bay to the south.

A further three cairns lie on the south side of Broad Bay: Cnoc Nan Dursainean, standing stone 500m NE of, (scheduled monument 5342, Canmore ID 4398), Dursainean, chambered cairn, Garrabost, (scheduled monument 5357, Canmore ID 4393), and Caisteal Mhic Creacail, chambered cairn, Fleisirin, (scheduled monument 5346, Canmore ID 4388) situated on the coast overlooking Airidh an Taillear to the northwest.

These cairns tend to be sited on locally higher ground as is seen at this example and views from their location (as indicated at other chambered cairn sites) seems to hold significance. The arrangement of these cairns can give important insights into the wider organisation of the Neolithic landscape on Lewis 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.

The proximity of cairns on the Eye peninsula and to the southwest of this example may indicate the importance of intervisibility between them. The likely entrance to the inner chamber of these types of cairns tends to favour a southeasterly direction - in this example, views overlooking Broad Bay to the southeast and towards the two cairns on the Eye peninsula may reinforce this significance.

The presence of later shieling remains and a possible enclosure adjacent to the mound, vestiges of later medieval agricultural use, add value to the monument as they  indicate that more recent generations of people living and working on this landscape utilised older remains for different purposes, and understood their local environment in different ways.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The 1st edition 10,560 scale Ordnance Survey map (1849) indicates one square shieling at this location and the name 'Airidh an Taillear' (shieling of the tailor).

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Local Authority HER/SMR Reference MWE 149982 (accessed on 11/11/2020)

Henley, C 2015 'Falling off the edge of the Irish Sea: Clettraval and the two-faced Neolithic of the Outer Hebrides', in Cummings, V & Fowler, C 2015 The Neolithic of the Irish Sea. Oxbow Books.

Henshall, A 1972 The Chambered Tombs of Scotland, Volume 2. Edinburgh University Press. Edinburgh.

RCAHMS, 1928, Ninth report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles. His Majesty's Stationery Office. Edinburgh

HER/SMR Reference

MWE 149982

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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