The monument comprises the remains of a chambered cairn, dating to the Neolithic period, probably built and in use between around 4000BC and 2500BC. It is visible as a substantial heather-covered stony mound measuring 2.3m in height and around 16.4m southeast-northwest and 13.2m transversely. The monument is located on level and open, peat covered moorland at around 165m above sea level.
Much of the cairn material from the southeast quadrant of the cairn has been cleared and appears to have been deposited immediately to the south. The central chamber has been exposed and is evidenced by large orthostats that form the chamber walls within the body of the cairn mound. The likely position of the entrance passage is at the southeast.
The scheduled area is circular, centred on the cairn, with a diameter of 30m. It includes 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
The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:
The monument is a chambered cairn which survives as a stone-built mound with the structural orthostats of the central chamber visible. Although some of the upper cairn material has been removed, the monument stands close to its original scale and appearance. The entrance passage and burial chamber can be identified and it is likely that other features survive within the body of the cairn. There is good potential for the survival of archaeological remains, including human burials, artefacts and environmental remains such as pollen and charcoal, within, beneath and around the upstanding structure of the cairn. The archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monument, ritual and funerary practices, and the structure of Neolithic society. Any artefacts and environmental material would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment.
Dating evidence from chambered cairns elsewhere demonstrates that they were constructed and in use between around 4000BC and 2500 BC. They were used for communal burial and ritual, and excavations often reveal evidence of complex development sequences. Therefore the 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.
Chambered cairns are found throughout Scotland, with a concentration in the north and west. The example at Loch Ailsh is important as an upstanding, well-preserved example of substantial scale. It is part of a wider group of chambered cairns in Glen Oykel including, all within around 1.2km to 1.4km of Loch Ailsh cairn; Strathseasgaich, chambered cairn 700m SW of (scheduled monument SM4044; Canmore ID 4750), Cnoc Chaornaidh, chambered cairn, cairn and long mound E of (scheduled monument SM4564; Canmore ID 4741), Cnoc Chaornaidh, cairn 930m NW of (scheduled monument SM4042; Canmore ID 4724). The proximity of these burial monuments can give important insights into the Neolithic landscape and add to our understanding of social organisation, land division and land-use. The monument has the potential to enhance our understanding of the nature and development of Neolithic monumentality and burial, the nature of belief systems, ceremonial and burial practices.
Chambered cairns are found in a variety of locations. Some are placed in conspicuous locations within the landscape, such as on the summits of hills or on the shoulders of hills, perhaps to be seen on a skyline or otherwise in profile. Others are found in less conspicuous locations, for example on valley floors. Relationships to routeways and/or other ritual sites, locations near to good upland pasture and views over specific areas of land may also have had significance. The chambered cairn at Loch Ailsh is positioned on a level, open moorland, just above the river. It occupies a valley floor position and is has extensive views of the surrounding area.
There are no known associative characteristics that contribute to this site's national importance.
Statement of National Importance
This monument is of national importance because it makes a significant addition to our understanding of the design and construction of burial monuments, the nature of burial and ritual practices and their significance in Neolithic society. The chambered cairn is an impressive monument which retains its field characteristics and can be compared with other chambered cairns that survive in the vicinity. As such it can significantly enhance our understanding of Neolithic society and economy, as well as the nature of belief systems, burial and ceremonial practices. It would have been an important component of the wider prehistoric landscape of settlement, agriculture and ritual and would have been a prominent part of the prehistoric landscape. Chambered cairns are one of our main sources of information for the Neolithic in Scotland and so are an important element in our understanding of the nature of Scotland's prehistoric society and landscape. The loss of the monument 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 in northern Scotland and further afield.