Cladh Aindreis is a Neolithic chambered cairn. This means it is a monument constructed almost 6000 years ago, with a stone chamber into which bodies of the dead were placed. Around this chamber stones were piled, making it into a sizeable monument in the local landscape.
Cladh Aindreis was noted on the first Ordnance Survey maps of the area during the 19th century, and was surveyed by Audrey Henshall in the 1960s. She noticed the presence of shells within a rabbit scraping on the mound, and suggested the possibility the tomb was built on an earlier, potentially Mesolithic (i.e. hunter-gatherer) shell midden. This was one of the things that attracted us to the site in the first place, as we hoped it might help us better understand the transition from hunting and gathering to farming in Scotland.
In 2006 we began work on the cairn, hoping to see if there was any evidence for Mesolithic occupation at the site and if there was any sign of reuse of the monument in the Bronze Age, something that is very common in monuments of this type. Between 2006 and 2010 we opened a range of trenches (see map) across the monument and revealed a complex history. Although no evidence of Mesolithic use of the monument has been revealed we have discovered extensive evidence of Bronze Age re-use, and possible Viking intrusion. We returned to try and resolve some further questions in 2014.
The story of Cladh Aindreis
The first action that took place on the site was the deposition into a small natural hollow of an unsorted cremation – a mixture of charcoal and burnt bone. We know from radiocarbon dating this took place around 3700 BC. Immediately on top of this the cairn was constructed, initially in the form of a circular monument. This contained a small circular stone cist with a few bones in it and a more substantial construction towards the front of the monument. This was long, box like chamber, slightly bowed in the centre of the monument. The central part of the chamber was visible on the surface when we arrived (having been exposed by much later antiquarian investigations) but we have been able to show it extended to the edge of the monument, Within the chambers human remains were placed, sometimes as tightly packed bundles of bone. Clearly bodies had been allowed to rot down somewhere else, and then gathered up and placed within the chambers. These were bodies of people that radiocarbon dates suggest probably died in the 3500s, so perhaps 150 years or so after the monument was originally built. At some point a long triangular tail was added to the monument, changing it from a circular to a trapezoidal shape. Whilst this almost certainly took place in the Neolithic we have not been able to show precisely when. We opened up a large trench over the tail in 2014 which suggested it had a complex history of use and reuse, perhaps across many different periods. Further excavation will be needed if we want to say something more detailed about this, however.
The final Neolithic addition to the monument was a ditch dug around the front of the cairn, sometime at the end of the 3500s or in the first part of the 3400s, just as the monument was going out of use perhaps.
Perhaps a thousand or more years later people returned to the site and dug into the front chamber, placing Beaker pottery inside. They then blocked off and sealed the chambers, ending direct access to the monument. Even this was not the end of the Bronze Age story, however, as just nearby, less than 10m away, another monument was built a few hundred years after the original tomb was sealed: Ricky’s Cairn. There was further Iron Age activity at the site as well. A wide but shallow ditch cut the older Neolithic ditch surrounding the monument, and both this feature and the hearth it enclosed date to the Early Iron Age, to perhaps around 600 BC (again we know this from radiocarbon dates).
Excitingly there is also a hint of Viking activity. A single bead, identified as Viking by Dr. Colleen Batey of Glasgow University was recovered in 2010 from the fill of a later intrusion into the Neolithic chamber. This suggested that there may have been Viking activity at the site. Our excavations in 2014 were designed to explore this possibility. Unfortunately it was clear that much of the rest of the parts of the chamber we were allowed to excavate had been robbed out during the Victorian period, and any Viking remains, other than our bead from 2010, had been removed at the same time.
Cladh Aindreis thus has a complex history, a place where people buried their dead in different ways, thousands of years apart, and returned to engage with the site again and again in the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Viking, Victorian and modern eras. A place of myth and memory, a place where architecture was reworked in line with new fashions and designs. A place of ritual and a place of history.
To view the full Data Structure Reports for each year of excavation at Cladh Aindreis, please click on the links below.