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Lewis, Callanish, Olcote, Breasclete Park

Cairn (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Lewis, Callanish, Olcote, Breasclete Park

Classification Cairn (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Calanais

Canmore ID 110238

Site Number NB23SW 33

NGR NB 21796 34735

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Western Isles
  • Parish Uig
  • Former Region Western Isles Islands Area
  • Former District Western Isles
  • Former County Ross And Cromarty

Archaeology Notes

NB23SW 33 21796 34735

NB 2179 3473 A prehistoric burial cairn and a scatter of quartz flakes (some 400 pieces) were found as a result of preliminary road works. This was followed by partial excavation by CFA on behalf of Historic Scotland, establishing that the cairn has an unusual kerb about 8.4m diameter.

The cairn is located in a field, on a gently rising summit immediately W of the existing road, A859.

M R Curtis and G R Curtis 1995.

NB 2179 3473 In the course of road widening through Breasclete, a hitherto unknown kerb cairn of unusual morphology was revealed. Located 1.6km from the Callanish standing stones, the new site seems to form part of the wider ceremonial complex. When soil stripping for the road improvement scheme began, R and M Curtis discovered a scatter of flaked quartz on the line of the road. Work on the road was delayed by Western Isles Council whilst an excavation was carried out between October and December 1995.

The identified structure was deturfed and excavated by hand, and three phases recognised.

Phase 1: Pre-cairn features. An old ground surface was present below the main material of the cairn. Ard marks were sealed beneath this cairn material, predominantly in the NE quadrant. The ard marks ran both N-S and E-W. No ard marks were discovered outside the area occupied by the cairn. Whilst this may reflect differing preservation, especially as the general area has been cultivated in more recent times, a ritual explanation cannot be discounted.

A large number of post-holes were also sealed by the old ground surface (see entry below). It is probable that they were cut from a higher level than the old ground surface, but were only preserved coherently beneath this layer. Certainly a number of the post-holes seem to flank the path into the cairn (see below) and should properly be regarded as part of phase 2, although they only survived as negative features in the till.

Phase 2: The kerb cairn. The cairn was unusual in having two kerbs. The outer kerb was c 8m in diameter and roughly circular. It was constructed of large local stones, laid flat, not set on end as appears to be the case in most other kerb cairns. It had been heavily robbed in places, surviving at its most complete in the SW quadrant. In the NE quadrant both kerbs had been heavily disturbed. The inner kerb elsewhere was formed of smaller stones and survived particularly well on the W side of the monument, although its shape could still be discerned on the E side. It took the form of a flattened circle, the flattened portion being on the E side. It appeared that the 'mathematical construction axis' of this inner kerb points directly up the avenue of the main site at Callanish. The maximum diameter of the inner kerb was about 6.5m.

A central cist within the cairn was formed by three orthostats (one alleged) set into the subsoil. A slightly broken, plain cremation urn lay next to the W orthostat and a quantity of the cremated bone which had spilled from the urn was found to its S. No covering slab was found. It is possible that such a slab had been robbed, as the site had been horse-ploughed and drained, and had no significant overburden. An organic covering can also be envisaged. Pollen analysis of samples taken from the central cist may confirm this.

A pathway of flat-laid slabs led to the central cist from the NE. This feature was apparently flanked by posts (see above).

The SW portion of the cairn was heightened by the presence of large boulders. The remainder of the inner cairn material was of redeposited peaty soil. Layers of orange and black burnt peat were predominant in the cairn construction in the NW portion. Although no stratigraphic link existed between the central cist and this burnt material, it is probable that the peat was deposited later, as it respected the cist spatially. This argues against the peat having been burnt in situ; a hypothesis which will be tested by the analysis of magnetic susceptibility samples taken across the material. Presumably, the burnt peat is the remains of the funeral pyre for the cremation. Analysis of the bulk samples of the burnt peat will prove useful.

A number of slight hollows and pits were cut into the burnt peat. One of these contained the broken remains from a single pottery vessel of similar type to the central cremation urn. The cairn was covered with a dense scatter of worked and unworked quartz.

Phase 3: Post-cairn features. The cairn was cut by two later field drains. The E-W example was a rubble drain. The other was filled with peaty soil.

Three post-holes, with stone packing, formed a line running N-S through the E side of the cairn. Their morphology is quite distinct from the post-holes found beneath the cairn, although they cut through this into the till. One of these features was unambiguously cut through the stony cairn material.

Other work. In addition to the excavation of the cairn, a grid of test pits was established between the road and the wayleave fence to assess the density of artefacts as a function of distance from the cairn. The pits were positioned at 5m intervals in three roughly N-S rows. The test pits were excavated to the glacial till and the spoil retained for wet sieving.

Post-excavation analysis remains to be conducted on the substantial quantities of quartz, flint, baked shale, pottery and soil samples collected from the excavation.

A Data Structure Report is lodged with the NMRS.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

T Neighbour 1996

NB 2179 3473 The prehistoric burial cairn (Curtis and Curtis 1995) was further excavated by CFA prior to repositioning the new road. Thereafter, initially on behalf of Historic Scotland, we excavated inside and outside the cairn site. It had been built over an area of redeposited till, which had not been excavated.

More than 100 post-holes were found in, through and under this redeposited layer. Most post-holes lay in curved or straight lines, some forming a trapezoid. This, together with the redeposited material, suggests structures with walls of turf, earth or other filling with posts and possible wattle panels. Pottery, struck quartz, flint and baked shale have been found in these areas. There is another stone setting, about 1.5 x 1.5m, some 9m S of the cairn.

Excavation is not yet complete. Finds are at present with the reporters pending laboratory work and specialist studies.

M R and G R Curtis 1996

NB 2179 3473 The Callanish Cairn (Neighbour 1996; NMRS NB23SW 23), excavated by CFA in 1996, was built over an area of redeposited till. Further excavation has confirmed more post-holes and other features in, through and under this redeposited layer, indicating a series of structures.

At the lowest level, probably beneath an early southern chamber or entrance to the cairn, the burial of a large animal was indicated by the detailed shadow of its vertebrae (length 0.75m), shoulder and pelvic girdles, and some limb bones.

About 9m S of the cairn is an oval stone setting, about 1.5 x 1m. It comprises a flat-bottomed hollow, 1.35 x 0.85m by 13cm deep, in the natural till; a layer of stones, some of them flat; a layer, 1.1 x 0.7m by up to 7cm thick, of general burnt material with modern root penetration between and over the stones; and a covering of more stones up to a total depth of about 30cm. The N end of the setting was cut by a field drain about 1850.

M R Curtis and G R Curtis 1997

NB 2179 3473 The Callanish Cairn (Curtis and Curtis 1997) was carefully rebuilt in March 1999.

Sponsor: An t-Seana Bheinn Trust (Urras nan Tursachan).

M R Curtis and G R Curtis 1999

NB 2179 3473 The kerb cairn at Olcote, Breasclete Park, had its first entrance aligned towards the avenue at Callanish 1, 1.8km away, and can be regarded as partof the mainsite. Its first entrance was laterblocked and its second entrance aligned towards the stone circle at Cnoc Gearraidh Nighean Choinnich (NB23SW 69).

M R Curtis and G R Curtis 2003


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