MHG44025 - Human remains, Bronze Age Beaker Burial - Craig-na-Feich, Achavanich


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Type and Period (1)

  • HUMAN REMAINS (Early Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 1501 BC) + Sci.Date

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Thumbnail Photo - shows cist during 1987 excavation.

Cist reported 2.1987 to Bob Gourlay HC archaeologist and subsequently part excavated, photos etc within SMR records.
Gourlay int rep: during the extraction of rock for road improvements skull identified… remains of cist of early BA type containing human & other remains.
The beaker: desc see sketch " decoration applied with various instruments - this one using the teeth of a bone comb with teeth marks clearly visible. The contents of the beaker were analysed, preliminary results suggest that it contained prepared cereal a coarse mixture of barley & oats (a thin porridge or gruel?), honey, added flowers & fruit, including meadowsweet, bramble & wood sage, the sap of birch & alder trees.
Also found were three small pieces of flint, 2 are simple flakes the third is a tiny thumb nail scraper.
Bones identified as young woman 18-20 yrs. C 5'5" in height. Her skull was exceptionally broad & short. An exceptionally tight crouched burial - HAW 3/2004

The discovery of a cist during rock extraction for road improvement works at Craig-na-Feich in Achavanich was reported to Highland Regional Council in February 1987. On the 19th of February the cist was subject to a rescue excavation by the Highland Council Archaeology Unit led by Mr Robert B Gourlay. The cist consisted of a single, exceptionally tight crouched burial of a young woman. Accompanying grave goods included a short-necked Beaker, a bovine scapula, two flint flakes and a tiny thumb-nail scraper. The beaker decoration was created by a bone comb; the teeth marks are clearly visible. <1> <2>

The human remains were examined by Mary Harman who summarised that this was the skeleton of a young woman aged between 18 and 22 years of age who was approximately 5’ 5½” (1.67m) tall. The surviving cranium was noted as exceptionally short and broad with a very high cranial index. <3>

The contents of the beaker were analysed by Dr Brian Moffat of SHARP who, from a preliminary examination, suggested that it contained: prepared cereal grain, honey, added flowers and fruit (including meadowsweet, bramble & wood sage), and the sap of birch and alder trees. <4>

In 1989 the skeleton was radiocarbon dated to 3700±50 BP (collagen from femur: BM-2590, 2200-2020 cal BC at 68.2%, 2280-1940 cal BC at 95.4% probability), as part of the British Museum Beaker dating project.

In 2014, a project was set up to carry out new research on the burial found at Achavanich to learn more about the individual buried here, including their life, death and their community. Numerous new pieces of research were carried out between 2015-2017 including:
- Radiocarbon dating of a sample of human bone and animal bone (carried out by SUERC and funded by the Natural History Museum, London and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
- Isotopic analysis of a second molar and a fragment of rib bone (carried out by Dr Jane Evans and team at the NERC Isotope Geoscience facilities and funded by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
- Pollen analysis from the inside and outside of the beaker (carried out by Dr Scott Timpany, University of the Highlands and Islands and funded by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
- Ancient DNA analysis of a sample taken from the cranium (funded and carried out by the Natural History Museum, London as a part of a larger research project)
- Bone histology (carried out by Dr Tom Booth)
- Facial reconstruction (carried out by Mr Hew Morrison)
- Osteological anaylsis of the skeletal assemblage (carried out by Angela Boyle, osteologist and burial archaeologist)
- Pottery analysis of the beaker (carried out by Dr Alison Sheridan and Dr Owain Mason)
- Archaeozoological analysis of the cattle scapula (carried out by Sheena Fraser)
- Laser scanning of the beaker, cattle scapula and majority of the human skeletal remains (cranium and beaker carried out by Adeola Fabola from St Andrews University, and human and animal remains by Josie Wallace and Xiangjun Liu, from the University of Edinburgh)
Information from Ms Maya Hoole (21/06/2017) project manager of the Achavanich Beaker burial project. <5>

Two radiocarbon dating samples were taken and processed by SUERC in 2017. The first sample (funded by The Natural History Museum, London) was taken from a fragment of human bone (right tibia). The second sample (funded by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland) was taken from the bovine (cattle) scapula.
The results of the first sample were as follows:
SUERC-71005 3827+-33 BP, 2460-2140 cal BC at 95.4% probability.
The results of the second sample were as follows:
SUERC-73443 3829+-32 BP, 2460 - 2150 cal BC at 95.4% probability.
Information from Ms Maya Hoole (21/06/2017) project manager, the Achavanich Beaker Burial project. <5>

See link below to HES Canmore record for more photographs of site and finds. <5>

See link below to view published PSAS article: ‘Ava’: a Beaker-associated woman from a cist at Achavanich, Highland, and the story of her (re-)discovery and subsequent study. <6>

Sources/Archives (34)



Grid reference Centred ND 1783 4333 (3m by 2m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND14SE
Civil Parish LATHERON
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

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