Scheduled Monument

Burnside, chambered cairns 340m and 270m west ofSM13705

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn
Local Authority
NC 20425 10400
220425, 910400


The monument comprises the remains of two chambered cairns dating from the Neolithic period built between 4000 and 2500 BC. They are visible as low, grass-covered mounds with exposed structural stone features. The cairns measure approximately 17m and 15m in diameter and 1.5m in height, respectively. The cairns are located on a north-facing, terraced slope in open moorland, at approximately 150m above sea level.

Much of the overlying cairn material at each cairn has been removed. The overall structural footprints of sub-circular chambered cairns remains intact but has exposed interior features. There are a number of large protruding orthostats (upright stones) which mark the likely positions of the chambers within the cairns. The cairns are approximately 85m apart and the western-most lies on slightly higher ground. 

The scheduled area comprises two circles, the western-most measuring 30m and the eastern-most measuring 25m in diameter. It includes the remains described above, and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The above ground elements of a cable-bearing transmission pole and a post and wire fence are excluded from the scheduling, to allow for their maintenance. 

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is a pair of structurally intact Neolithic chambered cairns, each of a sub-circular design and measuring approximately 17m and 15m in diameter and 1.5m in height, respectively. The presence of large orthostats forming part of a chamber within which burials were deposited provides further evidence of the class of monument to which they belong. In the case of the eastern-most cairn, there is a crescent-shaped feature built into its west side, however it is not clear if this feature is part of the original design, such as a forecourt or if it is the remains of a later intervention.  

Archaeological excavations at similar sites have established that there is good potential for the survival of archaeological deposits, including human burials, artefacts and environmental remains such as pollen and charcoal, within, beneath and around unexcavated or partially excavated examples. The archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monuments, ritual and funerary practices, and the structure of Neolithic society, while surviving artefacts and ecofacts would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment. The study of the form and construction techniques at chambered cairns, can enhance our understanding of the development sequence of the site and of chambered cairns in general.

Dating evidence from similar chambered cairns elsewhere demonstrates that they were constructed and in use between around 4000 BC and 2500 BC, with some re-used in the later Bronze Age. They were used for communal burial and ritual, and excavation often reveal evidence of complex development sequences. Therefore this cairn may have been in use for a long period of time. Scientific study of the cairn's form and construction techniques compared with other chambered cairns would enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and of chambered cairns in general.

Contextual Characteristics

Around 600 chambered cairns are found throughout Scotland. These two cairns belong to a broad sub-class of chambered round cairn, widespread across the north and west of Scotland in Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney. The chambers are often defined by upright slabs of stones and they can be separated into compartments. The enclosing stone cairns are mainly round in plan, but there are short-horned and heel-shaped varieties.

Henshall (1963) and Henshall and Ritchie (1995) suggest that the almost all chambered tombs found in Sutherland belong the Orkney-Cromarty group. The chambers of these tombs comprise one, two or three sections, and the place between the passage and the main chamber is defined as the ante-chamber Henshall and Ritchie (1995, 20). The chambers are typically made from large slabs of stone mixed with dry stone wall construction or dry stone at the lower courses, or sometimes just drystone walling alone. These particular cairns have not however,   been formally categorised as Orkney-Cromarty type cairns, and the field evidence is not sufficiently clear to define as such.    

Chambered cairns are found in a variety of landscape contexts. Some are placed in conspicuous locations within the landscape, such as on the summits of hills or on the shoulders of hills, so as to be deliberately seen on a skyline, or otherwise seen in profile. Their relationship to routeways across and between different terrestrial and marine landscapes, location near to good upland pasture and views over specific areas of land (perhaps relating to different communities) also seems to hold significance. What makes this a particularly interesting example, is not only the co-location of two cairns together, but their position on a terrace, facing north and overlooking a narrow, low lying natural routeway running southwest to northeast. From the monument, the predominant views are west, north and northeast.

This example is part of a larger local group of broadly contemporary burial monuments, surviving along the natural routeways of northwest Scotland. The spatial arrangement of these examples can give important insights into the wider organisation of the Neolithic landscape and the placing and meaning of such sites in specific locations. This can help us understand more about social organisation, land division and land-use at the time of their construction and use.

Associative Characteristics

There are no known associative characteristics that contribute to this site's significance.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the past, in particular the design and construction of prehistoric burial monuments. It is an impressive monument comprising two burial cairns which retain their field characteristics to a marked degree. In particular, they each retain important structural evidence of burial chambers, overlying cairns and underlying archaeological deposits which can inform us of how such monuments were constructed. They are comparable as part of a wider local group of contemporary burial monuments and evidence Neolithic settlement of this region of Scotland. Chambered cairns are one of the main sources of evidence for the Neolithic in Scotland and so are an important part element in our understanding of the nature of Scotland's prehistoric society and landscape. They can enhance our understanding of Neolithic society and economy, as well as the nature of burial and ceremonial practices and belief systems and are an important component of the wider prehistoric landscape of settlement, agriculture and ritual activity. The loss of these cairns would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the meaning and importance of death and burial and the placing of cairns within the landscape in the Neolithic period.



Historic Environment Scotland reference numbers CANMORE ID 4637 and 4638 (accessed on 23/07/2018).

Highland Historic Environment Record Reference MHG13036 and 13037 (accessed on 23/07/2018).

Cavers, G. and Hudson, G. (2010) Assynt's hidden lives: and archaeological survey of the parish, AOC Archaeology Group.

HER/SMR Reference

  • MHG13036
  • MHG13037

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

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Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map (see ‘legal documents’ above) showing the scheduled area is the designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary and provided for general information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within the statement of national importance or additional information. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

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Burnside by Elphin – one of two chambered cairns (easternmost), looking east, in daylight.
Burnside by Elphin – one of two chambered cairns, in daylight with mountains in background.

Printed: 30/05/2024 10:14