Scheduled Monument

Tarradale, chambered cairn 480m ENE of HiltonSM13628

Status: Designated


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Date Added
Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn
Local Authority
NH 54996 49734
254996, 849734


The monument is the remains of a chambered cairn dating from the Neolithic period, probably built between 3800 and 2500 BC. It is visible as a group of large upright slabs defining two separate chambers, both of which have two compartments. The cairn lies 40m above sea level on a hillside above the Beauly Firth.

The monument is an Orkney-Cromarty type chambered cairn, a type typically made up of a single long chamber, divided into stall-like "compartments" by stone uprights. Here, large upright stones define two separate chambers running roughly parallel to each other, aligned east-southeast / west-northwest. The largest lies to the south. Two upright stones about 1.7m apart indicate the west end of the outer compartment. To the west, two low portal stones 0.35m apart give access to an inner compartment that is wedge-shaped, measuring about 5.4m east / west by a maximum of 2.7m wide at the east end, defined by eight upright stones. Three of the uprights are massive blocks.  The second, smaller chamber is located about 2m to the north. It is reached by a passage represented by a single upright stone and two displaced blocks likely to be lintels. The outer compartment of the chamber is represented by two portal stones and two other upright stones; it is subrectangular and measures about 2.5m long east / west by 1.7m wide. The circular inner compartment, about 2.5m in diameter, has a pair of portal stones only 0.2m apart and five other upright stones, irregularly spaced. The mound surrounding the chambers, which includes some visible cairn material, measures at least 17m and probably up to 25m across.

The scheduled area is circular on plan, measuring 37m in diameter, centred on the cairn, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.


Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument has been denuded of all but the lowest levels of cairn material exposing two chambers built of large upright stones. The chambers survive in good condition from which their individual forms can be understood. Situated on a knoll, partly formed of cairn material, it is a visually impressive monument.

Although much of the cairn material has been removed, excavation at chambered cairns elsewhere shows that there remains a high potential for undisturbed deposits.  There is, therefore, good potential for the survival of a wide range of associated archaeological remains, including human burials, artefacts and ecofacts such as charcoal and pollen within, beneath and around the upstanding structure of the cairn. Such archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the date and detailed form of the monument and the ritual and funerary practices conducted, while any artefacts and ecofacts would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment.

Having two separate chambers within a cairn is an unusual feature and is a potential indication that the form of the cairn derives from an extended development sequence. It is likely that this tomb was in use through several or many generations. Scientific study of the tomb's form and construction techniques compared with other tombs would enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and of chambered cairns in general.

Contextual Characteristics

Orkney-Cromarty cairns are found only in north and west Scotland, with the greatest concentration in Orkney. Their design is particularly interesting because the shape and form, with subdivisions formed by upright slabs, is comparable with contemporary house forms e.g. Knap of Howar, Orkney. It is likely this was deliberate, with the tombs representing 'houses for the dead'. Tarradale is an interesting example with two adjacent chambers of differing plans. The layout of chambers at Tarradale appears to be unique among the Orkney-Cromarty type cairns in the north of Scotland.

Tarradale is one of a group of well-preserved burial monuments lying relatively close to the coast between Brora and Beauly. The proximity of these monuments can give important insights into the Neolithic landscape and add to our understanding of social organisation, land division and land-use. There are eight other chambered cairns within 5km of Tarradale. All are on high ground between the Beauly Firth and the Cromarty Firth and include other Orkney-Cromarty cairns such as Balvaird chambered cairn (scheduled monument reference SM3635, Canmore ID 12842), Muir of Conon chambered cairn (scheduled monument reference SM4652, Canmore ID 12871) and Drumrunie chambered cairn (scheduled monument reference SM4565, Canmore ID 12838). This group of nearby monuments encompasses a range of landscape positions and chamber arrangements, giving high potential to carry out typological and landscape analysis, enhancing our understanding of the placing of such sites in the landscape and the organisation, division and use of land in the Neolithic.

Chambered cairns are often placed in conspicuous locations within the landscape, at the edge of arable land and overlooking or inter-visible with other ritual monuments. This cairn is located on a knoll on the hillside above the coastal strip bordering the Beauly Firth.

Associative Characteristics

At this time, there are no known associative characteristics which significantly contribute to the site's cultural significance.

Statement of National Importance

The monument has potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the past, in particular the design and construction of prehistoric burial monuments. It is an impressive monument that retains its field characteristics and can be compared with a varied group of other chambered cairns that survive in the vicinity. This cairn is of particular interest as it has two separate chambers which may reflect different phases of construction and use. Chambered cairns are one of the main source of evidence for the Neolithic in Scotland, and can enhance our understanding of Neolithic society and economy, as well as the nature of burial practices and belief systems. They are an important component of the wider prehistoric landscape of settlement, agriculture and ritual. The loss of the monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the meaning and importance of death and burial in Neolithic times and the placing of cairns within the landscape.






Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID175203 (accessed on 31/8/2016).

The Highland Council Historic Environment Record reference is MHG36555 (accessed on 31/8/2016).

Davidson, J L and Henshall, A S 1989, The chambered cairns of Orkney: an inventory of the structures and their contents, Edinburgh.

Henshall, A S and Ritchie, J N G 2001, The Chambered Cairns of the Central Highlands: An Inventory of the Structures and Their Contents, Edinburgh

HER/SMR Reference


About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for the designation of buildings, monuments, gardens and designed landscapes and historic battlefields. We also advise Scottish Ministers on the designation of historic marine protected areas.

Scheduling is the way that a monument or archaeological site of national importance is recognised by law through the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments of national importance using the criteria published in the Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement.

The description and map showing the scheduled area is the legal part of the scheduling. The additional information in the scheduled monument record gives an indication of the national importance of the monument(s). It is not a definitive account or a complete description of the monument(s). The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief and some information will not have been recorded. Scheduled monument consent is required to carry out certain work, including repairs, to scheduled monuments. Applications for scheduled monument consent are made to us. We are happy to discuss your proposals with you before you apply and we do not charge for advice or consent. More information about consent and how to apply for it can be found on our website at

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Printed: 21/09/2018 18:23