EHG670 - Excavation - Hilton of Cadboll



Glasgow University (GUARD)


Aug-Sept 2001


Further excavations were undertaken by GUARD in August and September 2001 at Hilton of Cadboll site. The excavations aimed to retrieve all the remaining carved fragments from the 9th-century Pictish slab which was thought to have been defaced in the 17th century; to reveal the extent of the stump which was found earlier in the year by Kirkdale Archaeology (see EHG6075); and to relate the stump with the chapel and the outer enclosure. The original plan was to excavate an area 100m², centred on the stone stump and using the Kirkdale site grid, but in the event the final trench measured 88.5m². The extent of the excavation area was to extend in plan at least 1m beyond the piece of carved fragment retrieved furthest from the stump and in depth to the bottom of the deposit containing the carved debris. In addition a 1m wide trench was excavated in order to examine the relationships between the debris horizon, the chapel wall, the stump and the enclosure bank. Initially an area about 8m by 8m was stripped of topsoil, as it was not certain in which direction the debris would extend. After de-turfing and removal of the packing around the stump, the surface was cleaned so that the areas of earlier excavations, which were deeper in the vicinity of the stump, could be identified. All excavation was done by hand and all soil from the debris layer and above was sieved. The trench was then extended to the north, west and south as carved fragments were retrieved. The technique used by Kirkdale, of excavating within 0.5m squares, was modified to excavating within 1m squares, but the positions of the carved pieces were still recorded within the 0.5m squares. This was because it quickly became apparent that the archaeology was more complex than had been originally thought and it was hoped that a slightly more `open plan' technique would enable the deposits to be excavated stratigraphically. Despite the previous work, the complexity of the site proved to have been underestimated, as numerous structures, including an earlier setting for the stone and a Medieval graveyard, were revealed. In order to allow the maximum time to evaluate whether or not the stump should be lifted, excavation around the stump proceeded out of stratigraphic sequence. The excavations revealed that there were at least two settings for the Hilton stone about 6m outside the west gable of the chapel. The discovery of broken collar slabs and other flat slabs were indicative of some complexity in the setting and possible associated burials. The stump was excavated and taken for temporary storage locally. The newly revealed west face depicted a cross base and interlaced beasts and the east face completed the bottom panel of the Hilton of Cadboll stone, with a gap of about 0.2m. The slab had broken at the top and the bottom and there was still a fragment of the tenon in one of the settings. The bottom of the designed panels were not level on either side, and there were rough marking out lines below the panel on the east face suggesting some redesigning of the east face. The chapel wall was constructed of massive sandstone blocks, bonded with shell mortar, with a rubble core. No direct dating evidence was found but it was thought to be a medieval chapel, which perhaps went out of use at the Reformation. The outer enclosure bank consisted of a drystone wall with an earthen bank probably of post-medieval date. Three skeletons were excavated and another two were partly revealed. These had different alignments, from southwest-notheast to north-south, indicating a range of dates. These individuals were not buried in stone cists, suggesting that they were medieval and post-medieval. About 500 carved fragments were retrieved from the excavations, thought to be derived from the lost cross face and from the damaged east face. These included figurative pieces as well as interlacing, bosses and key patterning. <1> An art-historical analysis of the stone and sculpture found during the GUARD excavations was undertaken by I Henderson in 2001. This examined in detail the symbolism of the carvings which was thought to convey a Christian message of Salvation. The female rider is an idealised vision of female authority and Christian integrity. The reconstructed figures on the cross-face are thought to represent Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. The similarities between this cross and other Pictish art suggested that the Hilton of Cadboll cross was carved in the late 8th century. <2> The results of all of the investigations were subsequently published in a Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph. The monograph includes the results of a program of post-excavation work which included analysis of the artefacts and other materials retrieved from the excavation. This involved analysis of the samples taken to measure the Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), soil chemistry, radiocarbon dating of charcoal and skeletons, plus work on the GUARD database of sculpted fragments. <3>

Sources/Archives (3)



Location Hilton of Cadboll
Grid reference Centred NH 8730 7686 (13m by 12m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH87NE
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish FEARN

Related Monuments/Buildings (3)

  • Chapel - Hilton of Cadboll (Monument)
  • Graveyard - Hilton of Cadboll (Monument)
  • Symbol Stone - Hilton of Cadboll (Monument)

External Links (2)

Record last edited

Aug 1 2023 2:39PM

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