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12 April 2012
Survey in Scotland reveals cluster of ancient cairns

Seven massive Neolithic cairns and 300 new Bronze and Iron Age sites have been found in Caithness following the first large-scale survey of its kind to be undertaken in Scotland. The £100,000 archaeological project used a system known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) which can map ancient sites in fine detail and reveal three-dimensional visual images of their shapes, size and content.
     The seven 'horned' cairns date back 5000 years and were discovered in a well-preserved state at the Hill of Shebster near a wind-farm development. But the survey also covered an area stretching from Dounreay to Loch Calder and found a further 300 new archaeological sites. They are mainly hut-circle settlements from the Bronze Age (1800 to circa 600 BCE) and Iron Age (circa 600 BCE to 500 CE).
     "The Shebster area is an unusually good example of a well-preserved cluster of sites. The cairns are essentially burial and ritual monuments, much like the chapels and shrines of more recent times and each of them is likely to have been used exclusively by individual local groups or communities," consultant Dr Graeme Cavers, of Edinburgh-based AOC Archaeology, said. Dr Cavers pointed out that 'horned' cairns have projecting arms of stone wall at their entrances, creating small courtyard areas in which ceremonially buried artefacts are sometimes found. He hopes further work can be carried out in the area in the future.
     The cairns will be depicted in on-site visual displays, with provision of a visitors' car park and development of a dedicated website within the next two months.

Edited from John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier (21 March 2012)

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