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Islay, Nereabolls, Giant's Grave

Chambered Cairn (Neolithic)

Site Name Islay, Nereabolls, Giant's Grave

Classification Chambered Cairn (Neolithic)

Alternative Name(s) Slochd Measach; Beinn Tart A' Mhill

Canmore ID 37335

Site Number NR25NW 3

NGR NR 2105 5642

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2017.

Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilchoman
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR25NW3 2105 5642

(NR 2105 5642) Slochd Measach (NR)

OS 6" map (1900)

Ten large stones, some of which are standing. Tradition says they were erected over the graves of ancient heroes of British origin.

Name Book 1878

The Giant's Grave. The remains of a Clyde group chambered long cairn of which none of the cairn material remains, although most of the orthostats and part of the facade survive. The floor of the chamber is bare and usually water covered and is 1ft 6ins lower than the general level of the peat covered area outside. The cairn had faced NE and three stones of the almost straight facade remain while other stones in front of the line may be displaced facade stones. The chamber is 25ft 3 ins long, rather irregular in plan (although less so than at first appears as several stones are slightly displaced) and the axis is slightly curved. The walls are of large slabs set on edge and standing from 3ft to 4ft 9ins high. The chamber is divided by septal slabs supported by jambs. Lying at an angle within the chamber are two cap-stones 6ft and 8ft 9ins long; and thirty feet SSW of the inner end of the chamber

there is a stone set on edge, 1ft 9ins high.

F Newall and H E Newall 1961; A S Henshall 1972.

Situated in moorland on the SE slopes of Beinn Tart a'Mhill, 2km NW of Nerabolls, the uprights of the chamber and facade of this tomb stand above the paet, but no cairn material is now visible. The cairn is aligned NE and SW with the chamber at the NE end; several stones of the straight facade remain, that at the NW end still standing to a height of 1.1m, while the one at the SE end has fallen. In front of the entrance there are several large displaced slabs which may be either fallen facade stones or dislodged capstones.

The chamber is 7.5m long and is divided into four compartments, although several stones at the NE end are now missing or displaced. The massive slab that forms the SE side of the outermost compartment is at least 1.3m high, but its partner on the other side has now fallen. The second compartment measures 1.5m by 0.9m with its slabs standing up to 1.25m high. The septal stone between this and the third compartment is a thin slab 0.6m high and it is additionally supported by the jamb-stone at its NW end. The two rear compartments are comparatively well preserved and measure 3.6m in overall length by 2m in breadth, with the end-slab still exposed to a height of 1.4m. The intervening septal stone has jamb-stones at each end to provide support for the sides of the chamber; the septal stone is 1.25m long. Two displaced capstones partly cover these two compartments and measure respectively 2.65m by 1.57m by 0.3m and 1.83m by 0.2m.

At a point 10m SSW of the inner end of the chamber there is a further upright stone, standing to a height of 0.5m, but in the absence of excavation its function is not clear.

RCAHMS 1984, visited July 1975

A chambered long cairn known locally (D MacDiarmid, Lower Nearabolls) as The Giant's Grave and as described by Henshall.

Surveyed at 1:10 000.

Visited by OS (BS) 22 May 1978.


Archaeological Evaluation (22 August 2015 - 29 August 2015)

NR 21045 56420 A week long investigation of the Early Neolithic Clyde-type chambered cairn of Slochd Measach (Giant’s Grave) on the Rhinns of Islay was carried out, 22– 29 August 2015, by a team from the University of Reading and the University of Bournemouth.

Slochd Measach chambered cairn is located in the forestry plantation on the SE slopes of Beinn Tart a’ Mhill near the southern tip of the Rhinns of Islay (NR 21045 56420). The remains of the cairn have been described by Newall and Newall (1961), and described and surveyed by Henshall (1972) and the RCAHMS (1984). The work undertaken in 2015 was undertaken after scheduled monument consent was granted by Historic Scotland.

Slochd Measach was chosen for investigation for two main reasons. Firstly, the location of an Early Neolithic monument within the landscape rich in both Mesolithic and Neolithic archaeology is thought to constitute a considerable potential for the understanding of the Mesolithic – Neolithic transition on Islay and more broadly in western Scotland. Secondly, the changing environmental conditions on the site during the last three decades, due to the establishment of the dense conifer plantation, were causing deterioration in drainage and the establishment of invasive plant species which might be a threat to the monument and the associated archaeological deposits.

The fieldwork in 2015 included cropping the vegetation, geophysical survey, monument recording, topographic survey and test pitting. Despite the short fieldwork season, significant information was gained regarding the preservation and the threat to the monument, the depth and the date of the overlying peat, presence of previously unidentified cairn rubble and possible associated Iron Age activity on the site. Presence of additional features and stone-built structures under the peat are thought likely on the basis of the results of the resistivity survey carried out in the immediate area surrounding the chambered cairn. Two radiocarbon dates were obtained from the base of the peat (Beta-421421 - 240±30BP, 430–10 CalBP and Beta-421420 - 101.3 ± 0.3BP, 260–30CalBP) and two from the underlying rubble deposit (Beta-421419 - 2300 ± 30BP, 2360–2180 CalBP and Beta-421418 - 2390 ± 30, 2490–2340 CalBP).

Archive: Museum of Islay Life. Report: National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) and WoSAS

Funder: University of Reading

Steven Mithen, Darko Maricevic and Karen Wicks – University of Reading

(Source: DES, Volume 16)

Excavation (20 August 2016 - 3 September 2016)

NR 21045 56420 (NR25NW 3) A two week long excavation and geophysical survey of the chambered cairn of Slochd Measach (Giant’s Grave) was carried out, 20 August – 3 September 2016, by a team from the University of Reading and Bournemouth University.

Slochd Measach chambered cairn is located in the forestry plantation on the SE slopes of Beinn Tart a’ Mhill near the southern tip of the Rhinns of Islay (NR 21045 56420). The work was undertaken with scheduled monument consent and section 42 consent granted by Historic Environment Scotland. This was a second fieldwork season at the site

following the evaluation and survey in 2015 (DES 2015, 42).

Two out of four planned trenches were excavated in 2016 (Trenches 1 and 3). Trench 1 was oriented SW/NE and positioned along the front two compartments of the chamber (C1 and C2) and the adjacent area at the NW side of the cairn. It measured 5 x 4m with a smaller 2.5 x 1m

extension to the SW overlapping with the outer face of the third compartment C3. The excavation in Trench 1 revealed the presence of toppled façade stones lying in the peat in the NE part of the trench and the scant remains of a possible semi-circular shelter constructed against the outer side of the orthostats. Underlying the peat the entire area of the

trench, including the interior of the chamber compartments C1 and C2, was filled with rubble. The top rubble deposits were loose and in places overlying rubble mixed with peaty soil. More compact rubble representing undisturbed cairn material followed, increasing in size with the depth. The

initial stages of the cairn were built from stacked upright stone slabs wedged with smaller rubble on top of thin soil horizon, which survived in places, but was mangled in others under the weight of the construction.

One of the aims in Trench 1 was to investigate the kink in the alignment of the chamber visible in plan between the back compartments C3 and C4 and the front compartments C1 and C2. Excavation of the cairn material confirmed that the apparent misalignment was caused purely by the

toppling of the othostats of compartments C1 and C2, rather than a separate construction phase. The cairn in this area was built as a single phase of construction, abutting the in situ orthostats and following the movement of those that toppled. Toppled and leaning orthostats of compartments C1 and C2 prevented the excavation inside these compartments except for the very front of compartment C1, which was

much disturbed. The base of compartment C1 consisted of natural bedrock and glacial till. Trench 3 measured 5 x 2m and was E/W oriented. It

was positioned over a concentration of high resistance anomalies in the immediate area of an outlier stone visible c10m SSW from the back end of the chamber. The excavation revealed an unexpected structural sequence

consisting of a substantial wall built from stone boulders and incorporating the outlier stone, which was moved into this position from elsewhere on the site, most likely the chamber or the façade of the chambered cairn. The wall was N/S oriented, but it is not entirely clear how far it continues beyond the limits of the trench. The electrical resistance survey, conducted over the entire forestry clearing, suggests that it could continue S for another 20m and beyond the limits of the survey. The wall was overlying a stone platform or an area of hard standing built from medium sized cobbles, which covered the entire area of the trench, thus extending to either side of the overlying wall and beyond the limits of the excavation. To the E it was picked up in 2015 in test pit (TP11) located 4m from

Trench 3, but its overall limits remain undetermined. The electrical resistance survey shows a complex suite of high resistance anomalies to the E and the SE of Trench 3, but they are difficult to relate to the stone platform in the trench without further excavation. Underlying this platform or area of hard standing was a tumble of larger stones, which might represent disturbed cairn material of the chambered cairn. Below this tumble was a well-constructed level platform built from large stone slabs and kerbed to the SE by a double line of long rectangular stone slabs running diagonally across the trench on the same orientation as the

chamber of the chambered cairn. This was postulated to be the kerb of the chambered cairn, judging by the size of its construction, the alignment and the stratigraphic position towards the base of the sequence and on top of a thin soil horizon overlying glacial till.

A systematic environmental sampling strategy was employed throughout the stratigraphic sequence in both trenches, providing a suite of potential C14 dates to be added to those already obtained in 2015. A 3D photogrammetry survey of the monument was also conducted. The excavation will continue in 2017 with the opening of Trenches 2 and 4.

Archive: Museum of Islay Life, Port Charlotte. Report: HES and WoSAS

Funder: University of Reading

Darko Maricevic and Steven Mithen – University of Reading

(Source: DES, Volume 17)


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