MHG13048 - Chambered Cairn - Loch Borralan East


An Orkney-Cromarty type chambered cairn to the east of Loch Borralan.

Type and Period (1)

  • CHAMBERED CAIRN (Neolithic - 4000 BC to 2401 BC)

Protected Status

Full Description

An Orkney-Cromarty type chambered cairn to the east of Loch Borralan.

(NC 2624 1118) Chambered Cairn (NR) OS 6"map, (1966)

Chambered cairn, Orkney-Cromarty group with a polygonal chamber. It is situated on steep moorland hillside at over 550 ft OD, now heather-covered. It has diameter of c40 ft and a height of c8 ft. SE side of mound projects slightly on plan and a spur seems to run to SW for about 14 ft, both features suggesting the presence of horns. However, on N (uphill) side edge is well-defined, without horns although there is enough space between cairn and rise of hillside for them to have been built. The entrance has been from ESE side where two large lintel stones are visible at cairn edge. From chamber it can be seen that passage (and possibly an antechamber) are choked with stones. The passage is c11 ft long. The lintel at its inner end is in place and exposed, resting on a pair of transverse portal stones set 1 ft 9 ins apart, 3 ft 6 ins high above present floor level. The chamber is fully exposed due to removal of roof. It is polygonal, 9 ft long by 5 ft 9 ins wide, and built of four upright stones with neatly laid walling of horizontal slabs between. There is an end-stone facing entrance, and two stones on SW which together with obliquely set portal stones form most the chamber wall on this side. On NE side there is only one stone. Between it and the end-stone is a shallow recess, 4 ft 6 ins wide and 2 ft 6 ins deep, entirely built of masonry and roofed by oversailing slabs at a height of 3 ft 6 ins.
Finds: In Dunrobin Castle Museum, Golspie. 'Several small fragments of unornamented pottery, parts of a single vessel with walls about 1/4 in thick were recovered on excavation. They are coarse in quality, the clay being inmixed with numerous small pieces of quartz and stone. The interior surface is blackened and smooth. (Not found in 1957).'
A S Henshall 1963; RCAHMS 1911. <1> <2>

The cairn was Scheduled in 1935.

A chambered cairn, as described by Miss Henshall.
Visited by OS (G H P) 5 June 1962 and (N K B) 23 June 1980.

Surveyed by the Assynt's Hidden Lives project in November 2009. This chambered cairn is situated on a sloping hillside under heather moorland with good views to Cul Mhur to the north-west and over Loch Borralan to the south. The cairn is oval in plan, measuring 18m by 12m, aligned NW-SE, and standing up to 3m in height. There are suggestions of possible horns protruding from south and west edges. The main cairn fabric consists of gathered, rounded rubble averaging 0.35m across, although the major structural elements are built from angular stone up to 1.5m in length. Several of the larger stones around the SE edge are displaced. A 3-4m long passage is entered from the south-east leading into a chamber measuring approximately 3m by 2m by 1.5m. The collapse of the chamber roof suggests robbing. A very vestigial mound of material extends to the N, suggesting the possibility of an extended ‘tail’. Detailed survey, including terrain survey, was conducted as phase 2 of fieldwork across this site. <3>

Historic Assynt proposes a targeted excavation of this chambered cairn as part of the Assynt Hidden Lives project. The work would aim to characterise the form of the moument, investigate the material culture and obtain dating material. The excavation would leave the cairn presentable to the visiting public. <4>

NC 26243 11189 Loch Borralan East Chambered Cairn was excavated by volunteers led by AOC’s John Barber between 29 August–17 September 2011. The chamber had previously been cleared by Alexander Curle in 1909; Audrey Henshall (1963) categorises it as being in the Orkney-Cromarty group, and suggests that it may have had horns protruding on the SE and SW sides. This monument had been selected for investigation as it is a type site for the area and because we believed that its soft deposits had been removed by Curle, allowing us to concentrate on its architecture and engineering. Our excavations revealed that the polygonal chamber had been built onto the top of a small crag and tail bedrock feature. The top of the crag had been quarried roughly level and the tail, to the W of the chamber had been quarried away to allow for a roughly symmetrical sweep of the cairn around this side of the monument. The extension westwards is what Ms Henshall, and this writer, had imagined might be evidence for a hornwork. Entrance was from the E with a passageway believed to extend somewhat to the SE. No archaeological deposits were found within the chamber and it seems probable that these were removed by Curle's excavations. The chamber itself had been constructed from large quarried slabs of Syenite, a granite-like rock type (but with no quartz) and a pink to red appearance (from the Feldspar) when fresh. The surfaces of these large slabs had been dressed to rough planarity and flake scars can be seen on three in particular. Examination of the spoil tips revealed the presence of quartzite or a crypto crystalline quartz-like stone of great density and hardness. A simple on site experiment showed that this was easily capable of working the surface of Syenite blocks. Some of this material was found in pencil-shaped prismatic fragments, one end of which had been brought to a rough point and the tips of which were broken. The entrance area was stripped of peat and small stones in and over the peat, the latter being attributed to Curle’s excavation work in 1909. Under these lay an entanglement of very large stones, weighing 300–500kg. These could not be removed by hand without damaging the monument, and were left in place. It was nonetheless clear that this monument has an antechamber, a possibility recognised by Henshall. Excavations into the cairn material beyond the ante chamber revealed the slightly concave, frontal façade of this D-shaped cairn. A low extension beyond the main façade wall was divided by a narrow entrance passage, which terminates at two low but relatively massive entrance portals of Salterella gritstone. Between them the entrance to the antechamber is choked with densely packed stones in a soil matrix which is peat-free. It is clear that Neolithic deposits survive within the antechamber. It is possible, indeed probable that some of the very large slabs now choking the ante-chamber formed part of an ornate, polycope façade and the others are roofing slabs of the antechamber. Two long cuttings were dug from the chamber out past the cairn edge on the S and W sides of the monument. These revealed the expected polycope walls, three full walls and a plinth wall on the outermost circuit. The innermost wall face is in fact the outer face of the core cairn within which the chamber was built; it is 1.6m wide at the revealed height, near the top of the chamber. <5> Full report awaited.

Douglas Scott posted photographs of this cairn on the Highland HER Facebook page. They show the sun rising in line with the blocked passage of the cairn at 7:50am on 30 September 2011. He comments that measurements of the cairn showed that the sunlight would have entered the chamber for about a week around the spring and autumn equinoxes. <6>

The cairn was reassessed by Historic Environment Scotland in 2018 as part of their Assynt 2018 Scheduling Enhancement Project. The assessment against criteria demonstrated that the monument continued to be of national importance. The decision was to update the entry in the Schedule. The amendments to the schedule came into effect on 17/09/2018. <7>

GIS spatial data amended in 2019 according to location of site as seen on 2009 vertical APs. <8>

Sources/Archives (8)



Grid reference Centred NC 2624 1118 (20m by 20m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NC21SE
Geographical Area SUTHERLAND
Civil Parish ASSYNT

Finds (1)

  • VESSEL (Undated)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (1)

External Links (2)

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