MHG681 - Chambered Cairn, Halmie


No summary available.

Type and Period (2)

  • CHAMBERED CAIRN? (Neolithic - 4000 BC to 2401 BC)
  • CAIRN (Bronze Age - 2400 BC? to 551 BC?)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Excavations here have revealed a cairn 15m to 16m in diameter, with a series of stone-built banks or revetments round its outer edge covered by cairn material. Underlying this and running about two-thirds of the way around the circumference of the cairn is a hollow ditch-like channel roofed by stone slabs. A sub-circular area at the centre of the cairn is delimited by large orthostatic stones which do not, however, reach below 'floor' level. This 'chamber' area had an infill of broken stone slabs and the 'floor' was of the same material. A large quantity of quartz and flint-working debris and pottery fragments has been recovered, with a particular concentration on a spread of small stones on the SE edge of the cairn. A section of jet/lignite armlet was recovered from beneath the slab 'flooring' in the central area. Excavation will continue to ascertain the full dimensions of the site, to lift part of the cairn and to recovere suitable dating and environmental material.
Sponsors: Mr R S Avery, Dunbeath Preservation Trust.
A Morrison 1992.

Investigation and removal of the wide scatter of smaller stones/blocking material at the eastern side of the cairn was continued. This area has yielded the greatest concentration of small finds on the site - mainly small sherds of pottery and quartz-working debitage which includes a few small finished edged tools. The quantity and small size of the pottery sherds suggest that some complete vessels might have been smashed in situ. A number of large stone-slab features under the layers of smaller stones in this area appear to delimit hearth areas, from which large amounts of charcoal have been recovered. This area of small stones appears to be an integral part of the structure, with revetments joining it to the cairn. The occurrence of hearths, however, shows that it is quite complex and the possible deliberate braking of pottery over the area suggests some ritual practice. Clearance of the 'chamber' area was completed and the orthostats, which formed the apparently U-shaped arc of stones noted in the early stages of the excavation and which could later be seen to form the greater part of an oval arrangement, are now fully visible. It now seems unlikely that they could have supported any massive walling or corbelling that might have covered the central area, although there is no doubt whatsoever that they were used to delimit that area. Some of the lower slabs in the 'chamber' appear to represent a floor and some are set beneath the large orthostatic side slabs. Various features have now been recorded in the area where the bottom slabs were lifted, including (last season) a large pit from the top of which part of a jet/lignite armlet was recovered. Charcoal deposits, a stone spindle whorl and pottery sherds have also been recovered. Work on the northern side of the cairn uncovered more of the slab-covered trench that at first sight looked like the roofing of a souterrain. The trench underneath the slabs was much too shallow for storage/souterrain functions, so it has been labelled a 'drain'. It lies beneath cairn material and the cairn/revetment kerbs run across the top of it in places. It appears to run under the smaller-stone scatter and slab hearths at the eastern side of the cairn, and on the southern side it terminates in the south-western quadrant. It is interesting that it is most imposing, with large heavy covering slabs, around the northern periphery, where the supporting kerbs/revetmemts of the cairn are not strongly marked, whereas on the southern side where the kerbs/revetments are massive and prominent the 'drain' narrows down to about 30cm to 40cm width, covered with small slabs, and then peters out. The word 'drain' has been used, but it seems a very elaborate structure for that interpretation, which would imply that the drainage (or perhaps impeded drainage) of the site in the prehistoric past, perhaps even before the build-up of peat, was similar to that of today.
One of the most interesting discoveries of this season has been the uncovering of what appear to be a number of ard-marks running out from under the remains of the cairn in the south eastern segement. There are two small patches, with furrows crossing at right angles. Attempts will be made to trace their full extent when that area of the cairn is lifted next season. This adds further to the complexity of this site, with its combination of domestic, ritual and possibly agrarian evidence.
A Morrison, I Banks and T Pollard 1993.

Excavations of this site continued in 1994. Cairn and chamber now seem to belong to one phase, and probably a late phase of the site. The massive revetment or kerb can now be traced for most of the circumference of the site and probably existed separate from, and earlier than, the central cairn and 'chamber'. The area between this massive kerb and the inner cairn and'chamber' had been packed with brown soil, clay, ash and charcoal, dumped there from another source, possibly a domestic area. Apart from the many small patches of charcoal, there are large concentrations of burnt wood in and under this area of dumped-in material, suggesting quite large fires in situ.
Under this filled-in material a number of stake holes have been uncovered. These penetrate down into the old land surface under the site. They were first recorded on the northern, slightly uphill, side of the site, but they have now been traced elsewhere around the area between the massive kerb and the inner cairn. They appear to form a pattern of lines, like spokes of a wheel, radiating out from the inner cairn to the edge of the massive kerb. They did not have to be dug out, as they had no infill. This suggests that the posts or stakes had been withdrawn from their sockets before the soil, clay, etc was dumped in and that this infill was already so compacted that it did not trickle into the holes.
The ard marks previously noted to the SE of the entrance have also been discovered on the other, NE, side of the entrance and in the area between the kerb and the inner cairn, This suggests either that the land in this area had been tilled before any structures were built or that turf had been stripped to prepare the site for building. Large samples of all materials including most of the charcoal have been taken for processing, environmental analysis and dating.
Pottery includes an undistinguished poorly-made form with flat rim resembling late Bronze Age types, and a much shallower, bowl-like form with heavy, thick rim and a great deal of mica-schist in its backing. Lithics include large quantities of quartz flakes and partly-worked pieces, but also a few flint artefacts including a finely-worked knife and a scraper which both appear to be of a much earlier period than some of the pottery and the lignite armlet found in a previous season.
Sponsors:Mr R S Avery/Dunbeath Preservation Trust.
Morrison and Pollard 1994.

ND 1171 3345 Excavations of the prehistoric site at 'Halmie' (DB18/22g) continued. Much of the area between the central 'chamber' area and the massive kerb around the outer kerb has now been cleared of its infill of brown soil, clay, ash and charcoal, some of it dumped there from another source. More lines of stake-holes were uncovered, radiating from the central area towards the outer massive kerb.
The area between the boulder infill around the central ?chamber? and the massive kerb which was packed mainly with the brown soil infill had many pits, stone-lined slots and sockets, some having contained what appear to be small monolithic upstanding stones (one fine example was still in situ), and at least one small pit had a deposit of broken pottery. These features and the stake-holes appear to respect the massive surrounding kerb. Further ard marks have been uncovered on the N side of the site.
Sponsors: Mr R S Avery, Dunbeath Preservation Trust.
A Morrison, I Banks and T Pollard 1996

ND 1171 3345 The clearance of the old land surface continued with the removal of cairn and kerb material (Morrison, Banks and Pollard 1996). Further stake-hole lines and an increasingly complex arrangement of stone-lined sockets are now known to cover most of the site under the cairn material. Finds include further quartz flakes with a few artefacts, plus sherds of probable Late Bronze Age pots.
Sponsors: Mr R S Avery (Durfee Foundation), Dunbeath Preservation Trust, Dunbeath Estate.
A Morrison, I Banks and T Pollard 1997

Sources/Archives (7)



Grid reference Centred ND 1170 3345 (80m by 80m) (Buffered by site type)
Map sheet ND13SW
Civil Parish LATHERON
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (9)

  • ARMLET (Undated)
  • DEBITAGE (Undated)
  • SCRAPER (TOOL) (Undated)
  • KNIFE (Undated)
  • SPINDLE WHORL (Undated)
  • DEBITAGE (Undated)
  • VESSEL (Undated)
  • BOWL (Undated)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

External Links (1)

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