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Barrow(S) (Prehistoric), Pictish Symbol Stone (Pictish), Square Barrow(S) (Iron Age)

Site Name Garbeg

Classification Barrow(S) (Prehistoric), Pictish Symbol Stone (Pictish), Square Barrow(S) (Iron Age)

Alternative Name(s) Drumnadrochit

Canmore ID 12633

Site Number NH53SW 15

NGR NH 5110 3222

NGR Description Centred NH 5110 3222

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2018.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Urquhart And Glenmoriston
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Inverness
  • Former County Inverness-shire


Field Visit (25 February 1970)

Centred at NH 5110 3222 is a group of seventeen heather-covered cairns, each surrounded by a circular ditch. They are inconspicuously placed on the edge of a field system (NH53SW 11) on ground which, because of its rough appearance, seems not to have been cultivated. A hut circle ('B' of NH53SW 11) occurs on the W edge of the group.

With the exception of 'A' the cairns vary in diameter between 7.4m and 4.0m between the centres of the ditches, and between 0.5m and 0.8m in height and are generally flat-topped. The ditch of 'B' is 0.9m wide and 0.3m deep and in all the others is 0.6m wide and 0.3m deep. 'A', the largest, is only 0.2m high and measures 8.5m in diameter between the centres of a ditch which is interrupted by a causeway, c.2.0m wide, in the SE. 'E', 'F' and 'G' are mutilated. Joining the SW arc of 'C' is a ditch of the same dimensions enclosing a level area c.4.5m square, and joining the SW arc of 'D' is a similar ditch enclosing a sub- rectangular area measuring about 12.0m by c.5.0m with a dividing cross-ditch. Their purpose is uncertain but they appear to be contemporary with the cairns. Enlargement at 1/500 scale.

Survey at 1/10,000 scale.

Visited by OS (R L) 25 Feburary 1970

Field Visit (1 November 1974)

The centre of cairn 'H' was dug into and virtually destroyed by Younie (J L M Younie, Garbeg) in July 1974. He found a fragment of a sandstone slab immediately under the turf in the centre which bears part of a crescent and V-rod incised symbol, now in Inverness Museum. The remainder of the cairn has been subject to an excavation since then by Wedderburn, proving the ditch to be circular.

Wedderburn (L Wedderburn, Inverness Museum) has also partially excavated cairn 'J'. This has proved to be square. At each corner is a small upright boulder. The four sides are marked by shallow ditches all stopping short of the corner stones. Centrally placed in the interior is a rectangular area delineated by contiguous stones, apparently formerly on edge, c. 6' x 3', with the centre filled with rubble stones. There are possibly indications of a ditch joining the NE corner with cairn 'H', but this has not yet been proved. Wedderburn asserts that there are more cairns in this group but although there are one or two suspicious humps in the vicinity of the 17 already recorded, the only other one that can be definitely identified is in isolation, 82.0m N of hut circle 'B'. This appears as a stony mound 3.5m in diameter and 0.4m high, placed centrally on a circular platform 0.1m high, surrounded by a slight ditch 7.8m in diameter between its centres. The WSW arc has been destroyed by a track which cuts through it. There is no associated enclosure wall as stated by Wedderburn. The walls he refers to are part of a pattern of field walls apparently contemporary with the field system, and the enclosure formed by these walls in which the group of cairns occurs measures c. 250.0m NE-SW by 120.0m NW-SE.

There is no evidence to indicate that the remains of the agriculture (denoted by stone clearance heaps) within this enclosure is contemporary with the cairns.

Visited by OS (A A) 1 November 1974

Measured Survey (1984)

Visited by RCAHMS (JBS) 1984

Field Visit (4 September 1997)

There are at least twenty-six round and square burial mounds within the Pictish cemetery at Garbeg. The published plan (Stevenson 1984) depicts twenty-two of the mounds, and a further four were identified when the site was revisited in 1997.

(URQ97 210-233, 235-6)

J Stevenson 1984.

Visited by RCAHMS (SDB/DCC) 4 September 1997

Reference (1997)

Class I symbol stone showing a crescent and V-rod with ? an elephant's antenna (described under NH53SW 15.01).

A Mack 1997

External Reference (2 March 2007)

Scheduled as 'Garbeg Cottage, burial mounds 920m NE of... a Pictish cemetery of first millennium AD date.'

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 2 March 2007.

Note (May 2017)

Crop marks, barrow cemeteries and the Pityoulish cemetery

The cemeteries can tell us much about burial traditions during the time when they were built, usually known in Highland Scotland as the Pictish period. Many survive as archaeological crop-marks, because the physical remains of the barrows (a barrow is simply a mound of earth over a grave) have been removed over time, whether by natural erosion, ploughing or the actions of antiquarians. Crop-marks reflect the surviving buried remains, and in the case of barrows one can often see a square or circular ditch, within which there is a pit that marks the position of a grave. While these remains may offer much to the excavator (see Alexander 2005), imagine how exciting it can be to re-discover a barrow cemetery which is better preserved, where the mounds are still visible on the surface.

Pityoulish is one of these rare sites, all the more so as it stands on a terrace just above the River Spey in a landscape that has been heavily improved for agriculture. If you get the chance to visit you will find two groups of barrows, some 700m apart. The NE group, described here, contains one square and three circular barrows, but there is an additional mound, with a stone set against its edge, some 95m to the SE. The three round barrows measure about 5.5m in diameter within a shallow ditch, and stand to 0.5m in height, while the fourth square barrow is slightly larger. It too has a surrounding ditch, but this is not continuous and there are narrow ‘causeways’ at each corner (a diagnostic feature). Two of the round barrows have a stratigraphic relationship – one is certainly later than the other.

Archaeologists excavated one of the round barrows at Pityoulish in 1953. The circular earthen mound appeared to cover just one burial placed in a rectangular pit near its centre. The excavation confirmed anecdotal evidence that the site had been robbed, perhaps by those in search of grave goods, sadly a relatively common occurrence prior to the development of an archaeological profession. Despite the robbing, they found skeletal remains, concentrations of charcoal and a small stone marking one side of the pit. The excavators report, published in 1955, included a thorough description of the skeletal remains by Dr I H Wells of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh:

“These remains comprise portions of the skull, mandible and uppermost three cervical vertebrae; and the lower ends of both femora, remains of both tibiae and fibulae, and some of the bones of both feet. The ossification of the limb bones and of the base of the skull shows this individual to have been fully adult. At the same time the short length of the lambdoidal suture which is preserved shows little evidence of closure and indicates an age probably less than 35 years. Although the skull bones are thin the muscle markings are strongly developed and the mastoid processes large, suggesting that the skeleton is most probably male.” (Rae & Rae 1955, 158)

Even in the 1950s, the careful analysis of small fragments of skeleton could tell is a lot about a person from the past. But archaeological science has come a long way in 64 years, and a reanalysis of the bones (if they survive) would no doubt tell us much more, perhaps including the diet of the man, and the area he was brought up.

Some interpretations

So what can we say about burials from this period? It appears that the tradition of burying people in barrow cemeteries like this was long-lived. Dating evidence from a range of barrow cemeteries demonstrates their use from around the 3rd to the 11th century AD. But it is important to bear in mind that our methods of dating are still relatively crude, and that apparent similarities in the morphology of burials and in their date, perhaps masks regional and cultural variations. There are many questions to keep the archaeologists of the future busy!

Finally, it is worth thinking about the location of many of the barrow cemeteries (RCAHMS 2007, 123-4). Most are positioned adjacent to rivers, or close to the sea, on relatively flat natural terraces. In some cases, these locations favour the formation of cropmarks due to their well drained and light soils, but others have no doubt been carefully considered by the builders, reflecting boundaries of control or management, or a more symbolic explanation. Archaeologists have suggested that they might have appealed as ‘liminal’ places. The term, which describes a position at a boundary or threshold (between land and sea for example), might help us interpret the sites in their contemporary landscape, culture and environment. We know from ritualistic deposits that water had a meaning beyond the functional in the Iron Age; perhaps bodies of water such as the Spey were seen as gateways between different worlds? The positioning of the barrows close to the water may have been significant, as if the placement of the burial allowed the soul of the person to pass across a liminal zone to another world.


Alexander, D (2005) ‘Redcastle, Lunan Bay, Angus: the excavation of an Iron Age timber-lined souterrain and a Pictish barrow cemetery’

Rae and Rae, A and V. (1955a) A bowl barrow at Pityoulish, in Strathspey', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 87, 1952-3. Page(s): 153-60

RCAHMS (2007) Commissioners Field Meeting 2007. Edinburgh: RCAHMS.

RCAHMS (2007) In the Shadow of Bennachie. Edinburgh: RCAHMS and the Society of Antiquaries.

Alex Hale - Archaeology Project Manager


NH53SW 15 centred 5110 3222

NH53SW 15.01 NH 5110 3222 Pictish Symbol Stone (fragment)

For burial cairns around NH 5101 3239, see NH53SW 47.


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