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Tulach An T-sionnaich

Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Cinerary Urn

Site Name Tulach An T-sionnaich

Classification Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Cinerary Urn

Alternative Name(s) Loch Calder

Canmore ID 7901

Site Number ND06SE 10

NGR ND 0704 6192

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/7901

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Halkirk
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Caithness
  • Former County Caithness

Archaeology Notes

ND06SE 10 0704 6192.

(ND 0704 6192) Tulach an t'Sionnaich (NAT),

Chambered Cairn (NR)

OS 1:10,000 map, (1975)

Tulach an t'Sionnaich, the Mound of the Fox, is a multi-period chambered cairn, which was excavated by Corcoran in September 1961 and April 1963, in advance of the raising of the level of Loch Calder, which would threaten the site. Before excavation, its general appearance was that of a long cairn, unhorned and possibly disturbed, but retaining most of its structural features. It was 200ft long, lying NNW-SSE and averaging 40 ft in breadth with the higher and broader end, 6ft in maximum height, towards the S. A prominent feature was a 'trench' crossing the cairn about 50ft from the S end.

The excavation showed that the monument had originated as a minimal, round cairn, about 35ft in diameter, covering a passage grave consisting of a square chamber whose 7ft long passage had opened to the S, but was carefully blocked. The outer ends of the passage were bonded into a revetment wall which had bounded the cairn. Between the E side of the chamber and the revetment, an inner wall, roughly built but quite stable, was traceable for 18ft from where it was bonded into the E side of the passage to where it was lost in disturbance.

After an independent, though possibly short existence, this cairn, which comparison with Vementry (HU26SE 1) suggests may have stood on a heel-shaped platform, was enclosed within a heel-shaped cairn, the first to be identified on the mainland of Scotland, whose 'narrow plan would place it early in the typological sequence of this class of monument. The facade, built across the entrance to the passage, was unbroken. Disturbance, both prehistoric and recent, prevented the recovery of the complete plan but it appeared to have measured about 53ft from facade to rear and 51ft across the chord of the facade. The N limit was in the area of the 'trench' where disturbed remains of drystone walling about 18ins high were identified.

After a time lapse sufficient to allow slip from the heel-shaped cairn to accrue to a depth of about 1ft in the forecourt, the whole structure was encapsulated in a long cairn whose straight S end ran across the facade of the heel-shaped cairn, and which was completely surrounded by a low revetment wall. The long cairn was straight-sided, 127ft long, and tapered slightly from a width of 34ft across its pseudo-facade to 26ft at the slightly convex N end. It was aligned about 15 E of the axis of the heel-shaped cairn, presumably to use a natural ridge to enhance its height which, except at the S end was nowhere more than 3ft. Selective cuts in the body of the cairn revealed cist-like arrangements of stones, which, however proved to be part of the cairn structure.

Few finds were made but the pottery suggested to Corcoran that the heel-shaped cairn was in use during the floruit of undecorated Neolithic pottery; that it went out of use about the period of the local arrival of Beakers; and that the long cairn was complete before the deposition of a cinerary urn outside the revetment wall. Finds from the excavation are in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS), donated by DoE.

J X W P Corcoran 1967; A S Henshall 1972; NMAS 1977.

Cairn as described.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (R D) 22 October 1964.

Tulach an t-Sionnaich, a chambered cairn generally as described by Corcoran. The S and SW sides, including the chamber have been eroded by the wates of Loch Calder but the main body of the cairn remains turf-covered.

Revised at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (N K B) 17 September 1981.

Activities

Excavation (September 1961 - April 1963)

Tulach an t'Sionnaich, the Mound of the Fox, is a multi-period chambered cairn, which was excavated by Corcoran in September 1961 and April 1963, in advance of the raising of the level of Loch Calder, which would threaten the site. Before excavation, its general appearance was that of a long cairn, unhorned and possibly disturbed, but retaining most of its structural features. It was 200ft long, lying NNW-SSE and averaging 40 ft in breadth with the higher and broader end, 6ft in maximum height, towards the S. A prominent feature was a 'trench' crossing the cairn about 50ft from the S end.

The excavation showed that the monument had originated as a minimal, round cairn, about 35ft in diameter, covering a passage grave consisting of a square chamber whose 7ft long passage had opened to the S, but was carefully blocked. The outer ends of the passage were bonded into a revetment wall which had bounded the cairn. Between the E side of the chamber and the revetment, an inner wall, roughly built but quite stable, was traceable for 18ft from where it was bonded into the E side of the passage to where it was lost in disturbance.

After an independent, though possibly short existence, this cairn, which comparison with Vementry (HU26SE 1) suggests may have stood on a heel-shaped platform, was enclosed within a heel-shaped cairn, the first to be identified on the mainland of Scotland, whose 'narrow plan would place it early in the typological sequence of this class of monument. The facade, built across the entrance to the passage, was unbroken. Disturbance, both prehistoric and recent, prevented the recovery of the complete plan but it appeared to have measured about 53ft from facade to rear and 51ft across the chord of the facade. The N limit was in the area of the 'trench' where disturbed remains of drystone walling about 18ins high were identified.

After a time lapse sufficient to allow slip from the heel-shaped cairn to accrue to a depth of about 1ft in the forecourt, the whole structure was encapsulated in a long cairn whose straight S end ran across the facade of the heel-shaped cairn, and which was completely surrounded by a low revetment wall. The long cairn was straight-sided, 127ft long, and tapered slightly from a width of 34ft across its pseudo-facade to 26ft at the slightly convex N end. It was aligned about 15 E of the axis of the heel-shaped cairn, presumably to use a natural ridge to enhance its height which, except at the S end was nowhere more than 3ft. Selective cuts in the body of the cairn revealed cist-like arrangements of stones, which, however proved to be part of the cairn structure.

Few finds were made but the pottery suggested to Corcoran that the heel-shaped cairn was in use during the floruit of undecorated Neolithic pottery; that it went out of use about the period of the local arrival of Beakers; and that the long cairn was complete before the deposition of a cinerary urn outside the revetment wall. Finds from the excavation are in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS), donated by DoE.

J X W P Corcoran 1967

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