The monument consists of prehistoric rock art carved on two areas of outcropping bedrock, about 100m apart. The area to the E contains three carved rock outcrops adjacent to each other, while the area to the W comprises a single, carved rock panel lying flush with the ground. The rock art was created probably in the early prehistoric period, between about 3500 BC and 2500 BC. The monument lies at around 60m above sea level on relatively flat ground part way up slopes that form the W side of the valley of the Badden Burn. Today the rock outcrops lie in thinned plantation woodland, but originally (in the absence of trees) this site would have offered views to Lochgilphead and the sea to the SE, over Crinan Moss, and to the valley bottom to the S where Cairnbaan lies today.
The rock outcrops form two groups, which differ in style. The easternmost comprises three substantial outcrops, adjacent to each other and now enclosed by metal railings. The largest decorated rock panel measures approximately 8m by 2m. It is decorated with a pair of cups surrounded by three partial rings, one cup with two rings, three cups within a single ring, sixteen single cups with single rings, at least sixty plain cups, and several lengths of grooving. A particular feature of this sheet is the long gutters that run downslope from seven of the cups at the S end of the outcrop. The other two outcrops measure 3.5m by 2m and 2.6m by 2m. Their carvings comprise mainly plain cupmarks: six on the outcrop towards the centre of the enclosure; and three cups with double rings and six plain cups on the outcrop at the NW of the enclosure. The panel located around 100m to the W measures 2m by 3m and is not enclosed by railings. It is decorated with a complex series of markings, the most distinctive of which are a number of conjoined multiple-ringed cups. Six of these are surrounded by four rings, one by three rings, seven by two rings, and eight by single rings; several of the ringed cups have gutters. There are also at least fifteen plain cups and stretches of wandering grooves. At the bottom right of the outcrop is a badly weathered, unusual carving, consisting of a broad shallow cup surrounded by a single ring, which is linked to the cup by a series of rays.
The area to be scheduled consists of two distinct polygons. The easternmost is a trapezium shape on plan and contains the area enclosed by the metal railings and 15m beyond the railings on all sides. The second is a circle, 20m in diameter, centred on the westernmost outcrop. These areas include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area specifically excludes the above-ground elements of the metal railings and interpretation board to allow for their maintenance.
Statement of National Importance
The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:
This monument displays a variety of carved abstract motifs and represents a relatively complex collection of rock art. It is notable that the ornament of the easternmost group is simpler than that of the western rock-sheet, which indicates that they may have been carved by different people and at different times. On individual panels, some markings overlie others and some adjacent motifs also appear to have a sequential relationship, indicating that the carvings on individual outcrops may have accumulated over a period of time and are likely to exhibit a development sequence. Both sets of designs are partly determined by the rock surface when the patterns were created, such as the slope and cracks. Precise dating of prehistoric rock art is an ongoing challenge, but the use or reuse of rock art panels in funerary monuments in this area is providing additional dating evidence. The Cairnbaan carvings survive in generally good condition, although they are viewed to best effect in low evening sunlight. The ground around the rock outcrops has very high potential to contain additional buried carvings or other archaeological evidence for contemporary activity in the immediate vicinity. The carvings themselves would have had meaning for the people who created them and there is high potential to study their meaning, function and use. Researchers have suggested that this type of art represents a series of messages, spread between monuments, with the meanings dependent on their position in the landscape and their relative complexity.
Mid-Argyll contains one of Europe's finest groups of ritual monuments, particularly the rock art found in the Kilmartin Glen area. This concentration of rock art is without equal in the United Kingdom, with sites ranging from simple cupmarks on boulders to elaborately decorated rock outcrops. Studies of the major rock-art sites in Kilmartin have shown that, although the art is similar, different sites have particular characteristics, which subtly distinguishes them from each other. In the case of Cairnbaan, the lengths of the grooves running from the cupmarks across the surrounding rings, or apparently detached from any other carvings, are of particular interest. The cupmark surrounded by rays is also unusual; the closest parallel is at Poltalloch where there are two star motifs.
This monument lies only 300m N of Carn Ban, a substantial burial cairn partly excavated in the 19th century; the cover slab of its central stone cist has a lightly incised 'fir tree' design on one edge and a cupmark on one face. It also lies only about 1.6km W of Achnabreck, where there is another area of extensive rock carvings in the care of Scottish Ministers. The Achnabreck carvings include cups with up to twelve rings, networks of grooves, exceptionally large plain cups, two double spirals and one triple spiral; the spirals show similarities with prehistoric art in Irish passage graves. Many of the patterns found at Cairnbaan have parallels among the Achnabreck carvings, including the presence of adjacent motifs of concentric rings, and the larger motifs of concentric rings appear particularly similar. The rock art at Cairnbaan and Achnabreck forms one part of the rich archaeological landscape of the Kilmartin Glen with its significant concentration of burial cairns, some of which incorporate stone slabs that themselves bear rock art. Recent studies of rock art have stressed the importance of its positioning in the landscape. Rock art is often sited at the junction of farmland and upland areas and it has been suggested that it marks a boundary between domesticated and wild landscapes, as well as being located with reference to other prehistoric ritual and funerary monuments nearby.
The site is closely associated with the first publication of a national study into Scottish rock art by the famous antiquarian and surgeon, Sir James Young-Simpson.
More widely, the monument is an integral part of Kilmartin's unrivalled collection of prehistoric rock-art and ritual and funerary monuments. There is a high degree of awareness of the distinctive and important cultural heritage of Kilmartin Glen, and the mysterious meaning and symbolism of prehistoric rock art particularly resonates with people today. The carvings also enhance the natural landscape of which they are a part.
This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular of early prehistoric rock art and its place in the exceptionally rich, prehistoric ritual and funerary landscape in the Kilmartin Glen. The monument augments the other rock art in the vicinity and has the potential to enhance our understanding of the placing, meaning and function of the important concentration of carvings in this area. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the rock art of Argyll and its place in the wider prehistoric landscape.