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Cairn (Period Unassigned), Stone Circle (Neol/bronze Age), Unidentified Pottery (Neolithic)

Site Name Balbirnie

Classification Cairn (Period Unassigned), Stone Circle (Neol/bronze Age), Unidentified Pottery (Neolithic)

Canmore ID 29980

Site Number NO20SE 4

NGR NO 2850 0304

NGR Description Re-erected at NO 2859 0296

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


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Administrative Areas

  • Council Fife
  • Parish Markinch
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District Kirkcaldy
  • Former County Fife

Archaeology Notes

NO20SE 4 2850 0304

(NO 2850 0304) Standing Stones (NAT)

OS 6" map (1947)

Excavation of the cairn at Balbirnie was undertaken in June 1970 in advance of widening operations on the trunk road A92. The site comprised a cairn some 15m in diameter at the edge of which, forming part of the kerb, were a series of standing stones. Five standing stones were visible before excavation and the stump of a sixth was found in the course of it; it is possible that a further stump or stone hole may exist on the NW in a small portion of the site unexcavated owing to the presence of a tree. Beneath the cairn and dug into the natural surface were three complete and two disturbed cists and a rectangular setting of low oblong stones 3.25 x 3.75m across. The site had been disturbed in the past, not only by excavations in the 1880's, but also by the planting and subsequent extraction of several trees. For this reason the sequence of phases on the site cannot be proved by stratigraphy and the scheme outlined here is tentative.

The earliest phase on the site is probably represented by the oblong stones and possibly the ring of standing stones. There is no evidence of the date of this phase but it is possible that the future excavation of the holes in which the standing stones and the setting have been set will provide additional information.

The second phase is represented by a series of cists and a pit (possibly the remains of a cist) dug into the natural gravel. It can be shown that two of these are later than the rectangular setting as they cut across it, but the precise relationship of the others is uncertain. One had been completely robbed and only one side slab remained; in the pit were several large slabs, one of which had a deliberately shaped edge and it is thus likely that this represents another cist. There were no finds in either of these disturbed cists. A third cist had also been disturbed, possibly when the cairn was built; it contained a side slab decorated with cup and ring markings. Two further cists were discovered - one containing a cremated burial, a complete Food Vessel and a plano-convex flint knife, and the other a cremated burial and a small bone toggle. One of the packing stones behind the Food Vessel cist was found to be decorated with seventeen cup marks. All the cists must now be removed from the holes in which they have been set to check that there are no further decorated stones.

A V-bored jet button, a number of jet disc beads and sherds of several vessels, are probably attributable to this phase.

Phase three comprises the cairn of stones which covered the site; this stood to a height of 0.5m, filled the area within the standing stones, and was elsewhere kerbed by medium sized boulders. It is possible that initially the standing stones were linked by low banks, but this could be shown convincingly in only one place. Sherds of at least 11 Cinerary Urns and patches of cremated bone were found throughout the cairn material.

The span of the site is likely to be from Late Neolithic to the second half of the second millenium BC.

J Anderson 1886; RCAHMS 1933; J N G Ritchie 1970.

The excavation of the cairn and stone circle was completed, and the main features have since been re-erected by Glenrothes Development Corporation about 100m to the SE of the original site. The complete outline of the circle was recovered, including the holes of 2 stones which had been destroyed or damaged during the building of the estate wall. There were originally 10 stones belonging to a circle some 15m in diameter; 5 stones were visible before excavation, the stumps of 4 others and the stone hole of the remaining upright were discovered during the excavation. The most impressive stones were on the S half of the circle. In the holes of 4 of the stones on the E side of the circle there were scatters of cremated bones around and in 2 cases under the upright.

J N G Ritchie 1971

As stated by Ritchie, the main features of this site have been re-erected at NO 2859 0296.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (RD) 13 April 1972


Excavation (1970)

Excavation of the cairn at Balbirnie was undertaken in June 1970 in advance of widening operations on the trunk road A92.


J N G Ritchie 1970.


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