MHG42384 - Graveyard - Hilton of Cadboll


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Type and Period (1)

  • CEMETERY (Undated)

Protected Status

Full Description

NH87NE 6 8731 7687.
Chapel (NR) (Remains of) OS 6"map, Ross-shire, 2nd ed., (1907)

At Hilton of Cadboll, a chapel dedicated to Virgin 'Our Lady's Chapel' is mentioned 1610 (Watson 1904). Within an earthwork enclosure traces of a chapel structure are clearly visible in form of a small rectangular walled building. The direction is due E-W, some 30 athwart its surrounding earthwork. It was from this site that Cadboll Stone (NH87NE 7) was removed (Davidson 1948).
In association with chapel was a well called 'Oure Lady-Well' situated near angle of Kail-yard dyke (Watson 1904).
W J Watson 1904; J M Davidson 1948; Reg Magni Sig Reg Scot 1984.

The site of the chapel, the earthworks around it and including the original site of Cadboll Stone were Scheduled in 1961.

Turf-covered remains of this chapel measure 12m E-W by 6.5m. No entrance is evident. Attached to W gable is a semi-circular enclosure which probably housed "Cadboll Stone" before it was removed. The chapel stands within a sub-rectangular enclosure bounded by a ruinous turf-covered wall, which has at one time been extended to NE and SE. This has presumably been burial ground, but there are no signs of headstones. A broken font lies in burial ground immediately N of chapel. There is no trace of well.
Revised at 1:2500. Visited by OS (I S S) 5 September 1972.

A topographic survey of the earthworks was undertaken by RCAHMS in 1997. <1>

A topographic survey and geophysical surveys (comprising magnetometry and resistivity) were undertaken at the site by Field Archaeology Specialists (FAS) In 1997. These surveys formed part of a wider research evaluation programme being carried out at Hilton of Cadboll by Professor Carver of the University of York. The aim of the survey programme was to map sub-surface archaeological remains both in and around the earthwork site of Hilton of Cadboll. It was hoped that the geophysical surveys would define the focus or foci of the archaeological site allowing any further invasive evaluation work to be well targeted, thereby minimising its destructive impact on the site while maximising its research yield. A further objective of the survey was to identify the original position of the Hilton of Cadboll carved stone which is now in the care of the National Museums of Scotland. It had been proposed that a full-size replica of the stone should be erected on the site and a suitable location for the replica was required. The results of the geophysical surveys indicated that the site of chapel enclosure was more complex than suggested by the surviving earthwork features and seemed to suggest that the site was in use for a long period, being altered and adapted through time rather than being a single phase development which fell into disuse within a relatively short period. The surveys also identified previously unknown areas of potentially significant archaeological activity. <2>

A small excavation was undertaken by Kirkdale Archaeology in 1998 for Historic Scotland outside the earthworks of the west gable of the chapel at Hilton of Cadboll. The purpose was to locate the base of the Pictish cross slab, now in the NMS, prior to the erection of a reproduction on the site. The base was not located, but the excavations revealed that the D-shaped ‘annexe’ against the west gable was probably the result of 19th-century disturbance. Some of the sculpted debitage from the re-dressing of one face of the cross slab in the late 17th century was retrieved. <3>

An open area excavation was carried out at the site by Kirkdale Archaeology in 2001 as part of the ongoing assessment of the archaeological context of the scatter of stone debitage identified as having come from the Hilton of Cadboll Stone in 1998. An area west of the chapel ruins was sampled and all stone fragments retrieved. The area opened (initially 36m²) was gridded into 50 cm squares, with spoil being sieved, and carved fragments being recorded by 50 cm square. In this way, 740 carved fragments, and 122 possibly carved fragments were recovered. A 2 by 2 m. extension was added to the west side of the trench when it was discovered that the stump of the Hilton of Cadboll stone was still in-situ as a slab 140 cm long, by 21 cm wide, orientated north-south with surviving carving visible. Decoration, matching that reconstructed on the bottom panel of the surviving face, was noted on the east side of the stump, with sand built up against this, and carving continuing down. Due to the large number of fragments recovered much of the debitage, along with the stump itself, was left in the ground. This discovery had obvious implications for a clearer understanding of the archaeological context of the stone. The removal of one face of the stone in the 17th century for its recycling as a gravemarker had created the stone scatter, but the discovery of part of the stone in situ prompted a review of the programme of investigation. <4>

Further excavations were undertaken by GUARD in August and September 2001 at the 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; 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.

Excavation of the turf-covered enclosure bank to the west revealed a drystone facing wall constructed of flat slabs and standing up to three courses high (c 0.2 m). The core of the wall consisted of earth, rubble and midden material. What appeared to be tumble lay to the east of the face of the wall, but may have been part of the wall foundation. Two burials were seen to the west of the stump. Skeleton 1 was aligned south-west/north-east and was completely excavated. It lay in a grave cut dug through the surface and the grave fill contained Medieval pottery. To the north the head of another burial (Skeleton 2) was revealed at the same level as Skeleton 1. This was not excavated, but appeared to be lying parallel to Skeleton 1. Two north-south burials, within the same grave, were excavated just west of the chapel (Skeletons 3 and 4). These burials contained pottery and a stone with a curious clear glazed surface (SF195). Two east-west burials were partly revealed in the vicinity of west end of the chapel, but were not excavated. Skeleton 5 was overlain by the rubble thought to represent collapse from the chapel while Skeleton 6 was sealed by layer 007. In the south part of the trench, a skull was found lying upside down with some vertebrae protruding upwards and a jaw lay nearby, indicating the presence of disturbed burials. As layer 007 was excavated, two groups of discarticulated human bones were revealed 1.0 m to the southeast of the stump. None of these individuals were buried in stone cists, suggesting that they were medieval and post-medieval. <5>

Earthworks in GAM, with shed with new stone outwith this. Although rabbit fenced they are now within and causing damage to earthworks. The scrapes on the earthworks supposed to represent the chapel building seem to be turning out a lot of shell waste. The more extensive scrapes close to the outer earthworks show about 15cm of top soil onto sand. These scrapes are turning out bone, some of which may be human - HAW 11/2003

An excavation was carried out by Kirkdale Archaeology in 2007 at the site under the terms of its call‐off contract with Historic Scotland to allow the installation of c.200m of rabbit-proof fencing along the line of the existing fence. A 0.4 m deep, 0.5 m wide trench was dug along the outside of the east and west sides of the perimeter fence. Flooding along the north and south sides prevented excavation. Several possible graves were seen, with disarticulated human remains. Potentially early features were partially revealed, sealed beneath what appeared to be landscaping. On the west side this landscaping contained notably frequent pottery sherds of no later than medieval date. These excavations served to highlight the complex archaeology of the site, and in particular emphasise the presence of features well beyond the outer bank of the monument. The landscaping and possible buried topsoil noted on the west side produced a respectable medieval pottery assemblage, with no later finds, and these both seemed to seal numerous features. Little could be said about an isolated pit at the north end of the trench, beyond noting the large edge set slab within it. The series of four possible graves, if correctly identified, sat on the higher flat terrace of the trench. At thesouthS end of the west side a series of clay‐ and charcoal‐rich soils, described as ‘midden‐enhanced’ in the field occupied the bottom of the trench. Again, interpretation was hampered by the narrow width of the trench, but it could be seen that this end was a focus of activity. <6>

The results of the 2001 investigations were subsequently published in a Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph in 2008. 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 (three were from human bone from the cemetery, which produced Medieval-post-Medieval dates, and six were from charcoal, human bone and animal bone from a wind blown sand layer which produced Pictish dates), plus work on the GUARD database of sculpted fragments. The volume also discusses the issues surrounding the role of the stone in the local and national community. <7>

Human remains from the site are within NMS collections. <8>

Geophysical surveys were undertaken at the site by Rose Geophysical Consultants in 2022 (commissioned by CFA Archaeology), on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland. Gradiometry and Resistance survey were undertaken over available areas within the Properties in Care (PIC) boundary and an area immediately to the northeast of the PIC boundary, with GPR being carried out over targeted areas. The resistance data suggested that the earthwork surrounding the Chapel may have different phases. The GPR survey confirmed that there appeared to be numerous phases or additional enclosures within this area. The GPR data defined responses associated with the enclosure banks in the northeast of the chapel and the Chapel itself. Several additional anomalies, which are suggestive of additional walls or enclosure banks, were detected which do not correspond with clearly defined earthworks. The survey results from the area to the southwest of the Chapel were confused in all data sets. While the responses appeared to be generally elevated in both the resistance and the GPR data, this was mainly in contrast to the very low readings surrounding the area due to the naturally lower lying boggy areas. However, within the GPR survey a possible boundary wall or bank was tentatively identified. <9>

Sources/Archives (20)



Grid reference Centred NH 8732 7686 (70m by 63m)
Map sheet NH87NE
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish FEARN

Finds (1)

  • HUMAN REMAINS (Pictish to 19th Century - 300 AD to 1900 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Investigations/Events (5)

External Links (5)

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