Middle Bronze Age Funerary Practices

In common with elsewhere in Scotland (ScARF Bronze Age section 2.2), examples of Middle Bronze Age graves and human remains are considerably rarer than those of the Early Bronze Age. Cremation as the funerary rite is found at Connagill, Sutherland, where calcined human remains were found in a cell adjacent to a Middle Bronze Age round house (MHG61678; Dagg 2014;Watts 2016). It is also attested at two kerb cairns at Claggan in the Aline Valley (MHG467): at Claggan cairn 1 the calcined bone has been dated to 1414–1213 cal BC (Sheridan 2008a), and at Claggan cairn 3 it has been dated to 1379–1123 cal BC (ibid). Kerb cairns are a specific type of cairn dating to the Middle Bronze Age; they have memorably been described by the late Graham Ritchie as resembling a ‘Charlotte Russe’ dessert, since the cairn itself has a flattish top and is surrounded by prominent boulders or slabs resembling the halved sponge fingers that encircle the dessert.

Large upright stone slabs surrounding a cluster of stone cobbles.
A kerb cairn at Claggan, Aline Valley, Lochaber. ©HES

One example of a Middle Bronze Age grave featuring unburnt human remains was found at Rough Haugh (9 Holdings), Strathnaver (MHG11052; Edwards and Low 1933). Here, the tightly contracted skeleton of an adult male laid on his right side was found in a short stone cist. The skeleton was dated for the Beaker People Project to 1500–1380 cal BC (Parker Pearson et al 2019; SK52). This demonstrates that the practice of burying unburnt corpses in stone cists in a crouched position persisted after the end of the Early Bronze Age.

Leave a Reply