The monument is a group of small standing stones aligned in at least six rows, considered to date from the late Neolithic or Bronze Age (about 3000 to 800 BC). A plan drawn in 1871 recorded 41 erect stones with a further 31 identified beneath the surface. Peat and vegetation growth has since covered more of the stones, and only occasional stones are visible depending on the height of vegetation. The monument is located about 100m above sea level on gently sloping moorland.
The site was surveyed again in 1910, recording that the stones are set in six rows, the longest 27m long. It also noted that the rows fan out slightly from south to north, the distance across all the rows being 10m at the south end and 13m at the north end. The account also shows the stones are thin slabs facing across the rows, set 1.7m to 2.1m apart.
The scheduled area is rectangular on plan measuring 48m by 32m 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
The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:
The monument consists of stone rows visible as radiating lines of small standing stones, although many are covered by peat growth or vegetation. Overall the site survives in good condition with no record of an excavation at the site. The monument is well-preserved with some stones still visible and the majority covered by peat. The layout of the monument can be difficult to discern on the ground, but clear historic plans, made at the time of Sir Henry Dryden's survey in 1871 and again in 1910 by the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historic Monuments, assist with the interpretation of the remains. A more recent detailed survey drawing by Alexander Thom published in 1971 depicts fewer stones as being visible, 18 in total, but still conveys the general plan and layout of the rows. It is very probable that the stones recorded in early surveys still exist beneath the peat and moorland. The remains can help us understand more about possible ritual practice at the site and the construction, use and abandonment of these monuments.
There is potential for the survival of archaeological deposits, including buried remains, artefacts such as pottery, and environmental remains such as charcoal or pollen, within, beneath and around the intact elements of the monument. These elements can contribute to our understanding of possible ritual practice, and the significance of materials, technology and craft in a prehistoric context of stone rows.
The monument probably dates from the late Neolithic or Bronze Age (around 3000 to 800 BC). Excavation at the nearby Battle Moss, Loch of Yarrows stone row (scheduled monument SM506 and Canmore ID 9021) in 2003 suggested a Bronze Age date for that monument. Scientific investigation of this site would allow us to develop a better understanding of the chronology of the site, including its date of origin, state of completeness and any possible development sequence. Such scientific research at Battle Moss indicated the site was constructed over a period of time with stones gradually added to the site.
The original function of stone rows is not fully understood. In the 1960s and 1970s, Thom argued that they were constructed to make lunar observations. However, stone rows in Caithness have a recurring association with cairns, cists or mounds, suggesting they played a role in funerary activity early in the Bronze Age and the site probably had ceremonial or ritual uses for the local community.Further investigations could help clarify how the stone rows were developed. Such investigations could also allow us to better understand any possible relation between this monument and the nearby Grey Cairns of Camster (scheduled monument SM90056 and Canmore IDs 8686, 8693, 8694) to the north; the nearest cairn is only around 100m distant.
Multiple stone rows have an unusual distribution in Britain, occurring in Southwest England, North Wales, and Caithness and Sutherland. These are rare monuments: there are twenty-one confirmed stone rows in Caithness and Sutherland, which accounts for all the known stone rows in Scotland. In 2016 there are nine scheduled monuments classified as stone rows in this area, including this monument. Within 10km of the monument, there are 11 confirmed stone rows including Battle Moss, Loch of Yarrows, 5.2km east (scheduled monument reference SM506 and Canmore ID 9021) and Hill O' Many Stanes approximately 6.5km southeast (scheduled monument reference SM90162 and Canmore ID 8604). Some stone rows previously identified have not been located in recent years due to peat encroachment, for example Upper Dounreay (Canmore ID 7852) and Duim Na Ceud (Canmore ID 7885), while Allt Breac (Canmore ID 7036) near Helmsdale has been largely destroyed by road building. This monument is therefore significant as it retains a number of visible stones.
There may have been links between neighbouring stone rows or they may indicate community catchments. This stone row has the potential to enhance and broaden our understanding of prehistoric life. There are also numerous other broadly contemporary monuments in the landscape surrounding the monument including the Grey Cairns of Camster (scheduled monument reference SM90056 and Canmore IDs 8686, 8693, 8694) immediately to the north. There is potential to study the stone rows and cairns together to understand their functions within the local communities and chronological development. Camster also has a dense cluster of other prehistoric remains and offers potential to study domestic sites alongside those with evidence for ritual practices.
The stone rows sit on gently sloping moorland, with open views over the surrounding landscape. The site is slightly overlooked by adjacent hillsides and the Grey Cairns of Camster to the north.
There are no known associative characteristics which contribute to the site's cultural significance.
Statement of National Importance
The monument is of national importance because of its potential to make a significant addition to our knowledge and understanding of the past, particularly the design, construction and use of stone rows in Caithness and Sutherland. Only a few stones are visible on the surface but the monument is preserved beneath peat and retains excellent structural characteristics; there is high potential for the presence of buried archaeological remains, including artefacts and palaeoenvironmental evidence. The monument was an important part of the historic landscape, lying in close proximity to the Grey Cairns of Camster. There are numerous other broadly contemporary monuments in the vicinity, including other stone rows and many prehistoric settlements, which together can contribute to our understanding of how the prehistoric landscape was used. This is important for enhancing our understanding of Bronze Age society, its organisation, economy, religion and demography. Detailed plans showing the form of the monument in 1871 and in 1910 add to our understanding of the site. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the use of stone rows and their role and function within the prehistoric communities which constructed them.
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 8708 (accessed on 17/11/2016).
The Highland Council HER http://her.highland.gov.uk/ reference MHG 1831 (accessed on 17/11/2016).
Anderson, J. (1886). Scotland in Pagan Times: the Bronze and Stone Ages: The Rhind Lectures in Archaeology for 1882. Edinburgh.
Barber and Heald, J and A. (2015). Caithness Archaeology: Aspects of Prehistory. Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath.
Burl, A. (1993). From Carnac to Callanish: The Prehistoric Stone Rows and Avenues of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. Vale University Press, London.
Davis, A. (1986). 'The Metrology of Stone Rows: A Reassessment'. Glasgow Archaeological Journal, volume 13. Pages 44-53.
Freer and Myatt, R and L J. (1982-5). 'The multiple stone rows of Caithness and Sutherland: Volumes 1-4'. Caithness Field Club Bulletin.
RCAHMS. (1911). The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Third report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Caithness. London.
Ruggles, C. (2003). Records In Stone: papers in memory of Alexander Thom. Cambridge University Press.
Thom, A. (1971). Megalithic lunar observatories. Oxford.
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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There are no images available for this record, you may want to check Canmore for images relating to Camster, stone rows 450m WSW of S end of Loch of Camster
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Printed: 29/03/2023 17:45