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Publication Account

Date 1995

Event ID 1016776

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Three impressive round cairns, each surrounded by a ring of standing stones, are now fenced off within a wooded enclosure. They have given their name to a whole group of similar burial cairns found only in Inverness and Nairn Districts and in the Black Isle. The three cairns at Clava are set in a line, the central cairn being a ring cairn while the other two, known as the NE and SW cairns, are passage graves. All have been dug out at different times without proper record. The ring cairn at Clava was dug by modern methods in 1953, but owing to previous distu rbances little was found except some scraps of cremated human bone. As seen today, the cairns are open in the centre, but they would not have been like this originally. The chamber walls of the passage-graves would have been corbel led inwards until the gap could be covered with one large capstone, the passages roofed with flat slabs and then the whole structure covered with more stones, so the cairns would have been 3.10m high or more, while the ring cairn, which has no passage, and has a larger central space, is thought to have been filled, after burial, with earth and stones up to the top of the surrounding walls.

All the cairns have a graduated kerb with larger boulders near the entrance on the southwest side. The passages and chambers are lined with slabs, graduated in the chambers, and carrying upper courses of drystone walling. Round the cairns are set circles of standing stones, varying in number, but having taller or more impressive stones on the south or southwestern side. The modern road curs between the SW cairn and part of its circle of stones.

Unique features of the three cairns at Clava are the low stone platforms surrounding the cairns, and the cobbled 'causeways' linking the platform round the ring cairn to three of the standing stones. Excavation in 1994 showed the causeways to be contemporary with the ring cairn and its stone circle. Several stones in the cairns have cup-marks made before the stones were set in place; the clearest are those in the NE cairn (nearest to the car park) which has cup-mark s on the innermost lefth and slab in the passage, while a fin e cupmarked boulder with a ring round one cup is set in the kerb on the north of the same cairn.

Just west of the central cairn, against the fence, is a smallring of stones 3.7m in diameter. This may be the surviving kerb of a late type of bronze-age cairn known as a kerb cairn, where a low cairn generally covered a cremation burial within the kerb.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Highlands’, (1995).

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