Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

All our staffed properties, sites and offices, including the HES Archives and Library, are currently closed, but we’re working on plans to gradually reopen. In the meantime, you can access our services online. Find out more.

Scheduled Website Maintenance 14/07/20 00:00 – 04:00GMT – There will be periods of time during this window when this website will be unavailable.

Archaeology Notes

Event ID 694638

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Archaeology Notes


NO99NW 4 9071 9733 removed to NO c. 906 975

A ring-cairn surrounded by a stone circle is situated in low-lying pasture 580m NE of Cairnwell farmhouse. The ring-cairn measures 4.8m in diameter with in a band of cairn material which varies from 0.8m in thickness around the N to over 1m on the S. Fifteen inner kerbstones are visible, most of them leaning inwards and some of the apparently twisted out of position; they measure up to 0.5m in height, although there is possibly one taller slab on the SSW. There are eleven outer kerbstones and most of these are also leaning; the largest, a slab measuring 1.7m by 0.2m and 0.9m in height, is on the SSE. Although thirteen stones of the surrounding circle were visible in 1858, only three remain; they are about 0.9m high and stand on the ENE, ESE and S respectively. In 1858 excavation revealed five deposits of pottery within the interior as well as 'black mould.. with fragments of bone and wood charcoal,

Name Book 1864; A Thomson 1865; F R Coles 1900; A S Henshall 1963; RCAHMS 1984, visited March 1983.

NO 9071 9733 Total excavation of the scheduled Cairnwell ring-cairn (NMRS no NO99NW 4) within Badentoy park, Portlethen, Grampian was commisioned by G & J Investments Ltd in advance of future development. After excavation the monument was relocated and accurately reconstructed within a landscaped site, accessible to the public, 175m to the NW. Fieldwork and reconstruction supervision was conducted by AOC (Scotland) Ltd in January and February 1995, Scheduled monument consent was granted for the excavation of an area around the cairn, the cairn itself, the cairn mound, post-excavation analysis and publication of the project.

The ring-cairn was found to have three main structural elements: the ring-cairn composed of an inner and outer kerb with rubble between; a stone circle, enclosing the ring-cairn, of which three orthostats were still in situ, one fallen orthostat was revealed and three possible stone sockets identified; and a later deposit of rubble, with an outer revetment. Beneath the ring-cairn an earlier timber enclosure with and entrance to the SE was identified. Within the interior of the site five possible cremation pits were located. Twelve pits or post holes, either underneath the ring-cairn or just outside it were also excavated.

A full post-excavation and dating programme is currently under way. Archive will be deposited in NMRS.

Sponsor: G & J Investments Ltd.

T Rees and J Barber 1995.

This ring-cairn and surrounding stone circle were fully excavated in 1995 in advance of development within Badentoy industrial estate, and the site was then reconstructed 175m to the NW (NJ 9063 9749). Excavation revealed an interesting sequence of activity at the site, the earliest phase being a curvilinear arrangement of six pits, one of which contained pottery, cereal grain and wood charcoal that was radiocarbon dated to 4680 ± 80 BP. The next securely dated context for human activity was radiocarbon dated to 3070 ± 60 BP, some 1600 radiocarbon years later, and was represented by an area of intense burning, interpreted as the remains of a funeral pyre. Following this, a timber enclosure was constructed within a narrow bedding trench, terminated on the S by two large post-holes flanking an entrance. A further four pits were discovered clustered around this entrance, and within the enclosure itself five cremation pits were re-identified, having been excavated previously in 1858 when fragments of urns were recorded (Thomson 1864, 132). On top of this was built the ring-cairn, measuring at least 7m in diameter overall, and defined externally by a near-continuous kerb of thirty-six stones. The internal court measured 4.2m in diameter with twenty-one surviving stones, and had been constructed on the line of the bedding trench; the area between the two kerbs was infilled with rubble. The stones of the outer kerb were mainly thin flagstones, though some larger more rounded boulders were noted on the S arc. One, which was more than twice the length of the others, straddled the entrance into the underlying enclosure. A stone circle surrounded the cairn and was the only structural component not to be radiocarbon dated. Overall it measured 9m in diameter and comprised eight stones, only three of which were still standing when the site was excavated. Of the remainder, one had fallen and was discovered beside its socket, and four had been removed and were revealed only as sockets. A revetment of rubble linked the stone circle with the outer kerb of the cairn.

Thomson provides the first detailed account of the ring-cairn in 1858, giving a plan of the site as well as a written description with measurements (Thomson 1865, 131-3). Thomson shows a circle of thirteen standing stones surrounding a ring-cairn with a broad band of rubble between the kerbs and a small internal court. The overall diameter of the cairn is given as 'about 56 feet' (17m), and the internal court is said to have 'a diameter of 12 feet' (3.6m). The stone circle is 'about 12 feet distant' from the outer kerb, roughly equating with a diameter of 80 feet (24.4m). By digging the internal court, he 'found at five spots, arranged in a quincunx, fragments of coarse earthenware urns'. Coles' plan and account, published in 1900, shows only three stones of the circle remaining, with comparatively narrow gaps between the circle and the outer kerb, and likewise between the outer and inner kerbs of the cairn (Coles 1900, 149-52). His measurements are very different from those of Thomson, the circle being 30 feet (9.1m) in diameter and the inner court 15 feet (4.6m) in diameter. These are little different from the measurements published in Henshall's account, which in turn bear close comparison with the plan undertaken prior to excavation (Henshall 1963, 400-01; Rees 1997, 259). Indeed, had it not been for the presence of the five central pits, there is little similarity between Thomson's account and the detail revealed by excavation.

Information from RCAHMS (ARG), 9 May 2006.

People and Organisations