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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.
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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)

Excavation (29 July 2017 - 19 August 2017)

NR 21045 56420 (NR25NW 3) A three week fieldwork season was carried out, 29 July – 19 August 2017, at the chambered cairn of Slochd Measach (Giant’s Grave). This was the third and final fieldwork season at the site following work in 2015 and 2016 (DES 2015, 42; 2016, 32–33). The work was undertaken with scheduled monument consent from HES, and consisted of an excavation, an electrical resistance tomography survey,

continued photogrammetry of the architecture of the cairn and a terrestrial 3D laser scan survey.

The excavation continued with the opening of three trenches. Trench 2 was opened in the forecourt and Trench 4 targeted the previously unconfirmed SE end of the façade (see plan in DES 2016, 33). Furthermore, Trench 4 was positioned in reference to the outlier megalith and a possible

round cairn that was postulated from the results of the electrical resistance survey. Trench 5 was placed c20m to the S in order to investigate a suite of high resistance anomalies in this area.

Trench 2 was the continuation of Trench 1, excavated in 2016, and it measured 5 x 6m. In Trench 1 we investigated surviving remains of the heavily robbed cairn and its relationship with the chamber and identified one possible displaced façade monolith. This was an elongated pinkish

cyenatic gneiss rock (S32), a type of stone that was also used for the front jamb stones at the entrance to the chamber. The chamber was otherwise made entirely of massive greenish metagabbro megaliths. The SW end of Trench 2 continued to investigate the line of largely missing façade, which now has only one remaining standing monolith at the NW end.

The rest of the trench projected into the forecourt area where a long thin mattagabro monolith S23 lay prone on the surface of the peat. This monolith must have been moved or toppled relatively recently considering our dates from the base of the peat indicate that its formation falls within

the last three hundred years (DES 2015, 42). The sequence below the peat consisted of a series of rubble deposits, which were underlying monolith S23, but in turn overlying another massive, but much broader, metagabbro stone S33. The position of S33 suggests that it formed part of the façade and that it toppled forward onto a thin soil horizon, which was directly above natural glacial till. Thus, it appears that the dismantlement/collapse of the façade and the portal stones happened in stages and probably over a prolonged period of time. The rubble at the front of the entrance abutted displaced megalith S19, which we previously interpreted as a probable

capstone, but which could have equally been another façade stone, considering its similarity to S33. Either way, it is likely that S19 was placed across the entrance into the chamber as a deliberate blocking, pushing portal stone S20 forward in the process. Distinctive metagabbro-rich green rubble deposit abutted S19 in its new position and it may have been a deliberate blocking deposit, as its extent was limited to the entrance area. The rest of the trench was covered by more extensive rubble deposits containing many regular flat slabs that once probably formed dry wall panels between the monoliths, as part of a ‘post and panel’ built façade.

In Trench 4, another displaced metagabbro megalith (S36) was partially covered by the peat at the top of the stratigraphic sequence and partly overlying a large flat cyenatic gneiss block (S35). The rest of the trench was covered by dense rubble, which was also partly overlying stone S35. The excavation of the uppermost rubble defined underlying structures, the latest of which was a roughly built cist at the W end of the trench. This appears to have been formed by the rearranging of some of the underlying

cairn rubble into a sub-rectangular structure of which only the SE corner had well defined sides made from set on edge stones. The interior was lined with smaller stones forming an oval space in which a pot (SF17) was placed. The pot was on its side with the base against the stone lining of the cist. No human remains, burnt or otherwise, have been found around it. It is doubtful that the oval space, which was 0.5m in length and 0.3m in width, could have contained an adult inhumation. The pot was lifted together with its contents, excavated in the lab and is being professionally conserved. The SE end of the cist was overlying a wall, which was by its alignment and construction interpreted as the continuation of the kerb wall of the chambered cairn, first identified in 2016 in Trench 3. The kerb wall ran up to

flat slab S35 and abutted it neatly, which suggests that they were either part of the same construction or that S35 was a reused part of some earlier structure. Two further features were excavated at either side of the kerb wall. While the outer face of the kerb was lined with thin flat stones set on their side, the interior was occupied by continuous rubble in which several large stones were set upright around loose rubble fill. Our interpretation of this feature is that it represents the stone socket for the missing end façade stone and, thus, the main objective of Trench 4 to locate the meeting point of the kerb wall and the façade of the chambered cairn has been met. The combined evidence from Trenches 2 and 4 and the upstanding architecture of the chamber suggest that the façade was slightly concave rather than a straight one as previously believed. On the

outer side of the kerb, a later rubble deposit was abutting its face. Below this layer a small semi-circular niche was constructed, abutting the kerb. It contained the tightly packed remains of two ceramic vessels (SF25, SF27).

Although formal analysis of the pottery is yet to take place, the initial assessment suggests that both the cist pot (SF17) and the niche vessels (SF25, SF27) belong to the Bronze Age phase of activity on the site. At the E end of the trench the upper rubble deposits were abutting flat stone S35, but underlying them was a coarser rubble or a stone-built structure, which was underlying stone S35. This deposit had a curved eastern edge with the remains of a possible kerb. This was the earliest structure in the trench

and considering it was predating the construction of the kerb of the Clyde-type cairn, it can only be a preparatory platform for its construction or the remains of an earlier smaller round cairn. The limits of the trench did not allow investigation of the full extent of this structure.

Trench 5 revealed a much simpler stratigraphic sequence. The source of the high resistance in this area was a layer of rubble below the peat, which probably represents a tumble down the slope of the cairn material. The rubble was overlying a layer of buried soil in which a leaf-shaped arrowhead (SF15) was found.

Archive and report: NRHE and WoSAS

Funder: University of Reading, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and Islay Heritage

Darko Maricevic and Steven Mithen – University of Reading

(Source: DES, Volume 18)


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