MHG29161 - Round cairn, Balblair Wood 1


A Bronze Age burial cairn with a single cist. The site has been fully excavated in advance of mineral extraction.

Type and Period (2)

  • ROUND CAIRN (Early Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 1501 BC)
  • SHORT CIST (Early Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 1501 BC)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

A probable chambered cairn was found during a DBA and walkover survey by CFA Archaeology in 1999 in advance of a proposed quarry extension at Balblair Quarry. The feature had a diameter of c. 12m and survived to over 0.5m high in parts. The cairn was roughly horse-shoe shaped, with the open end pointing east. Some large stones were visible through the vegetation covering the cairn. It sat at the western edge of a roughly circular area of irregular ground, which may have represented associated features. The cairn was located on the northern edge of the plateau at 27m O.D. A region of irregular ground to the east of the cairn may have represented associated features. <1>

A measured survey of the feature was carried out by Headland Archaeology in April 2004 following clearance of obscuring vegetation. The results of the survey revealed that the form of the mound was not typical of a prehistoric burial cairn although structural elements were identified within its makeup. It was considered more likely that the cairn comprised the much disturbed remains of one or more sub-rectangular structures that may have had a more recent domestic origin. <2>

Trial excavation of the south-west corner of the monument by Headland Archaeology in July 2004 revealed considerable and complex structural evidence within the rubble spread in the form of a number of superimposed but inter-related wall-lines. Also revealed was the probable surviving south west edge of the original cairn, possible compartments and the disturbed remains of a substantial slab-lined cist that may be a later insertion. The cist was not excavated at this time but was re-covered. The presence of the cist strongly suggests that the mound represents the remains of a larger, possibly chambered cairn - potentially of Neolithic date - but of presently indeterminate plan, type or extent. The cist itself was likely to be early Bronze Age, based on comparison with other similar finds in the area. It was considered that there was considerable potential for survival of archaeological deposits both within and beneath the body of the mound. <3>

The cairn was fully excavated by Headland Archaeology in Nov-Dec 2004 in advance of mineral extraction. The excavations showed the cairn to have been a round cairn, rougly 14m in diameter, without internal divisions and with no evidence for a kerb. It was constructed directly on the pre-existing ground surface. The radiocarbon dates obtained from samples from excavations showed that the cairn had been mostly dismantled at some time during the later C18 or early C19. It was most likely used as a source of stone for the nearby C18 plantation dyke. The cist was contemporary with the cairn, but upon excavation was found to be disturbed and filled with yellow sand with only a few conjoining rim sherds of Food Vessel present. The complete absence of any cremated human bone in the backfill suggested that it originally contained a crouched inhumation which had not survived. The three surviving sandstone slabs of the cist were all found to bear rock art. In two cases this comprised small cup marks and a perforation but the third slab bore a large cup mark and perforation, and complex carved design without obvious parallel in Scottish prehistoric rock art. However, although the main slab was exceptional in its design, the site as a whole conformed to the current understanding of ‘single grave art’ and the use/re-use of rock art in the early Bronze Age. <4>

The excavation assemblage was submitted to Treasure Trove (TT 75/06) and allocated to Inverness Museum (Acc. No. 2007.025). Note that the GR on the TT fieldwork report is in error. <5> <6> <7>

See MHG63197/8 for cup marked slab/rock carving discovered in excavation and now in Inverness Museum)

Sources/Archives (7)



Grid reference Centred NH 5009 4434 (22m by 21m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH54SW
Civil Parish KILMORACK
Geographical Area INVERNESS

Finds (2)

  • Carved Stone (Neolithic to Early Bronze Age - 4000 BC to 1501 BC)
  • VESSEL (Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 551 BC)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (4)

External Links (2)

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