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Balblair Wood

Bank (Earthwork)(S) (Period Unassigned), Cairnfield (Period Unassigned), Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Hut Circle(S) (Prehistoric), Structure (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Balblair Wood

Classification Bank (Earthwork)(S) (Period Unassigned), Cairnfield (Period Unassigned), Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Hut Circle(S) (Prehistoric), Structure (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Teafrish

Canmore ID 120662

Site Number NH54SW 64

NGR NH 5024 4456

NGR Description Centred NH 5024 4456

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


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

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Kilmorack
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Inverness
  • Former County Inverness-shire

Archaeology Notes

NH54SW 64 centred NH 5024 4456

NH 503 445. Remains of large circular chambered cairn with spread of cairn material over area c.20m in diameter. Site heavily obscured by tree and plant growth. The centre of the site consists of small square chamber with back face consisting of large slab of c.2m by 1m. The line of the passage is clearly visible, with a number of slumped lintel slabs in place (Coghill no.76)

D Coghill and R Hanley 1993

The remains of a large circular chambered cairn is situated in Balblair Wood. Although heavily obscured by trees, the cairn is about 20m in diameter and the remains of the chamber are visible at the centre. The chamber appears to have been roughly square, with a large slab some 2m in length and at least 1m in height forming its rear, W, end. The line of the passage is marked by a series of what appear to be lintels, although it is far from clear whether the slabs upon which they would have rested are still in place.

At the time when the chambered cairn (NH54SW 64) was surveyed by RCAHMS, a brief inspection of the surrounding area of woodland revealed at least eight hut-circles, a scatter of small cairns, and several low banks, extending southwards as far as the modern quarry. The full extent of the site could not be established in the time available and no attempt was made to survey these structures, although one of the hut-circles closest to the chambered cairn was mapped. This hut-circle lies at NH 5029 4458 and measures about 16m in diameter. Of the others: two lie about 80m further to the ENE; two about 100m WSW of the chambered cairn; two about 100m ESE of the cairn; and finally, a further 100m to the S of these last two, immediately within the tress at the edge of the quarry, there is an oval structure.

Visited by RCAHMS (SPH, DE) August 1997

NH 500 450 (centre) A desk-based assessment and field survey was carried out in November 1999. The range of features discovered include clearance cairns, a linear bank and ditch, two burial cairns (NH 5009 4433 and NH 5001 4426) and three probable hut circles (NH 5018 4448, NH 5032 4454 and NH 5036 4455).

Some of the features had previously been recorded (DES 1993, 44), but had not been accurately mapped. The clearance cairns are all located on the N side of the bank and ditch and are clearly part of a suite of medieval or later rural features, which continues beyond the N boundary of the survey area. The footings of a steading are present just outside the survey area.

Both burial cairns are horseshoe-shaped, with their open ends pointing E and evidence for well-set kerbstones beneath the covering vegetation. One cairn is located amongst the clearance cairns; the other is just to the S of the linear bank and ditch. It is likely that some of the clearance cairns mask earlier burial monuments.

The three probable hut circles are all c 12m in diameter and comprise turf-covered stone banks or walls up to 0.7m high. An alternative interpretation for these features as the remains of burial monuments is also plausible, and could only be tested by excavation.

A report has been lodged with Highland SMR and the NMRS.

Sponsor: Aggregate Industries UK Ltd.

T Neighbour 2000

NH 5024 4456 (centre) A field survey was carried out in an area of north Balblair Wood, where a chambered cairn had previously been recorded, and hut circles had been noted but not recorded at the time. The area is adjacent to one previously surveyed ahead of a proposed gravel quarry (DES 2000, 53-4). This identified two possible chambered cairns, four hut circles and clearance cairns Three of the hut circles lie immediately to the SE of the present project area. The gravel quarry now exists to the SE of these hut circles.

The area is situated on a gravel river terrace to the N of the River Beauly and has a SE aspect, at a height of c 20m OD.

Thirty-six features in total were recorded, including:

- Remains of five sub-circular roundhouses, 8-9m in diameter, and two oval enclosures, 10 x 7m and 11 x 6m. The walls of the structures had spreads to 2m wide and were generally 0.3-0.5m high. There was evidence of an entrance in the SE arc of each structure.

- Two smaller circular enclosures with overall diameter of 9m, and 0.5m high; these enclosed quite small internal areas and lacked evidence of entrances, they may have been burnt mounds.

- 22 clearance cairns, some quite substantial, varying in diameter from 4-8m and in height from 0.4-1.0m.

- 5 linear earth banks, two of these possibly being contemporary with the settlement, the other 3 are probably medieval.

NH 5018 4468 Linear earth bank.

NH 5044 4466 Hut circle.

NH 5043 4466 Clearance cairn.

NH 5041 4466 Clearance cairn.

NH 5040 4466 Hut circle.

NH 5039 4465 Enclosure/?burnt mound.

NH 5039 4463 Linear earth bank.

NH 5038 4462 Enclosure/?burnt mound.

NH 5036 4465 Clearance cairn.

NH 5034 4461 Clearance cairn.

NH 5037 4461 Hut circle.

NH 5034 4456 Oval enclosure.

NH 5034 4553 Clearance cairn.

NH 5034 4456 Clearance cairn.

NH 5033 4457 Clearance cairn.

NH 5031 4457 Clearance cairn.

NH 5030 4459 Hut circle.

NH 5031 4456 Clearance cairn.

NH 5029 4461 Clearance cairn.

NH 5028 4460 Clearance cairn.

NH 5027 4462 Linear earth bank/boundary.

NH 5039 4455 Clearance cairn.

NH 5024 4457 Chambered cairn. (NH54SW 064)

NH 5022 4458 Clearance cairn.

NH 5022 4453 Clearance cairn.

NH 5020 4454 Clearance cairn.

NH 5019 4452 Clearance cairn.

NH 5020 4458 Clearance cairn.

NH 5017 4450 Clearance cairn.

NH 5015 4451 Hut circle.

NH 5016 4453 Clearance cairn.

NH 5015 4457 - Linear earth bank/boundary.

NH 5010 4443

NH 5014 4447 Hut circle.

NH 5019 4448 Clearance cairn.

NH 5013 4446 Clearance cairn.

NH 5009 4449 - Linear earth bank/boundary.

NH 5013 4446

Full report deposited in Highland SMR and the NMRS.

Sponsor: NOSAS.

M Marshall 2002

NH54SW 64 NH 5030 4450

Bronze Age burial cairn; rock art. The remains of a Bronze Age funerary cairn located in Balblair Quarry were fully excavated in November and December 2004 in advance of quarrying, and produced some unusual and unexpected evidence of rock art.

The monument survived within a broader, probably agricultural, landscape, throughout which a proliferation of smaller clearance cairns was scattered, suggesting that the cairn had survived largely intact until relatively recently. No other burials or archaeological features were identified in the surfaces preserved beneath the spread of the cairn.

The sub-circular cairn was c 20m in diameter and stood to a maximum height of 1m. Despite the cairn having been substantially robbed in the past, a central cist had survived from which a few rim sherds of Food Vessel were recovered. The lack of skeletal material or grave goods was compensated for by the discovery of decoration on three of the internal faces of the sandstone slabs that formed the cist. In two instances the decoration consisted of simple

shallow pecked cup marks, but one slab was far more intricately decorated, with a pecked perforation and a deep cup mark of similar radius, with traces of a probable third cup visible at the edge of what was once a presumably larger stone. Most intriguing is a deeply incised but asymmetrical linear decoration for which there are no known regional parallels. A similar, lightly incised design can be seen running either away from (?or into) the perforation, and there is clear evidence of smaller cup marks and lighter pecking around it. The combined decorative effect contributes to the overall appearance of the representation of an owl. The slab has clearly been re-used, to judge by the dressing of the edge uppermost within the cist, and it is possible that the modification of an existing decorated slab and the application of the curvilinear art represents a deliberate attempt at representational art, perhaps suggested by the irregularities inherent within the stone.

Close by are the remains of a chambered cairn (NH54SW 64), which incorporates similar sandstone slabs that have been brought to the site from outcropping sources in the vicinity, and it is possible that the slabs within the cist could have come from the chambered cairn and been re-used in this different setting. From the evidence provided by more closely dated parallels, it may be presumed that the perforations and large cups are perhaps of later Neolithic date; smaller motifs, shallow cup marks for example, are not uncommon in Bronze Age cists. Direct parallels for the incised

curvilinear design do not exist in Scotland or elsewhere within the UK, and whilst there is only a passing resemblance to some Irish examples these are but few. Some possible European parallels exist in the form of numerous, albeit small, carved plaques recorded from burial contexts in Portugal and Spain, with Beaker associations and quite definite zoomorphic or biomorphic characteristics.

Report lodged with Highland SMR and NMRS.

Sponsor: Aggregate Industries UK.

A Dutton 2005


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