MHG51530 - Short cist and burial west of Langwell House, Strath Oykel


A rare example of a probable Early Bronze Age cist burial with exceptional organic preservation.

Type and Period (2)

  • SHORT CIST (Early Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 1501 BC)
  • CROUCHED INHUMATION (Early Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 1501 BC)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Information was received from Historic Scotland about an Early Bronze Age short cist burial which had been uncovered by the farmer during works to clear up field clearance stones. The works were halted as soon as the presence of the cist became apparent. The capstone, unfortunately broken, was moved to one side to reveal a fairly well-preserved crouched burial. It is reported that an apparent basket was placed close to the head, with another close to the feet. At this point the police were called and Historic Scotland were notified. The police attended and the remains were removed for analysis.

The site was subsequently visited and photographed by HCAU archaeologists. The cist lies beneath approximately half a metre of peat, overlain by an orange-brown sandy deposit. It is likely that this was a high point on the land, which is generally very low lying and in the flood plain of the River Oykel. The farmer reports a large number of stones in this part of the field. Although he has used the area to pile a large number of stones cleared from the field, it does seem probable that there was formerly a cairn covering the cist. There is apparently another circular stony area within the field between this point and the river, possibly another cairn or a hut circle. Other hut circles are known locally in the area, and this would have been a favourable location for early settlement.

It was confirmed that the majority of the bones had been removed from the cist, although some of the smaller bones remained along with some fragments of the possible baskets. Some of the overburden had fallen into the cist when it was opened and this does not appear to have been disturbed, so further remains may be preserved beneath this in the bottom left corner of the cist.

A second cist also appears to have been disturbed by machinery to the south-east of the first. The farmer pointed out a number of stone slabs, one of which was broken, which had been moved by the JCB before the first cist was discovered. It is highly probable that the rest of the cist still survives in this area, with the potential for others. It is planned that the site will be investigated under Historic Scotland's call off contract with GUARD. <1>-<3>

Photographs taken by Mr Hampton, the landowner, and his employee John White shortly after the removal of the capstone show the presence of a crouched burial and a white powdery substance. <4>

This find, the circumstances of its discovery and alleged later treatment were featured in two local newspapers in March 2009. <5><6>

The remaining parts of the burial were recovered by GUARD under the Human Remains Call-off Contract and the cist was recorded. The cut for the cist was found to be an elongated oval measuring 2.6m by 1.18m. Around the cut lay a mineralised old ground surface. The cist proved to be a very substantial structure, slightly trapezoidal on plan and formed of four massive slabs set vertically in the cut with redeposited subsoil backfilled around them. Redeposited subsoil had also been laid over and around the capstone to seal the cist.

The interior of the cist was covered in disturbed archaeological deposits. These proved to seal substantial remains of the skeleton in positions which confirm the flexed body position, along with fragments of organic material including wood, wicker and a material that is probably fur. The probable fur was concentrated around the pelvis and lower leg area suggesting that the body was wrapped in animal hide or wearing a fur garment. White crumbly deposits may derive from adipocere (a substance formed by decomposing soft tissue in a damp environment), decayed bone and/or another material deposited with the burial. Other sediments may result from the decay of soft tissue and other organic materials.
The bones retrieved from Dornoch police station included parts of the skull, some long bones and most of the upper teeth but there was little organic material amongst the remains and no evidence of the reported basket. In the initial photographs the basket material appears to be enclosing the skull. A possible parallel for this may exist at Cairnpapple, West Lothian, where the inhumation in question was dated to the mid to late 3rd millennium BC.

The Langwell Farm cist is an extremely rare and valuable find with the potential to reveal a great deal about contemporary life and burial practice. It is recommended that a programme of post-excavation analysis is undertaken, including specialist analysis of the excavated materials, radiocarbon dating, contextual research and publication. <7>

See link below for published final report, available online. <8>

Sources/Archives (8)



Grid reference NC 41302 01054 (point) Approximate
Map sheet NC40SW
Geographical Area SUTHERLAND

Finds (1)

  • ORGANIC MATERIAL (Early Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 1501 BC)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (1)

External Links (2)

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