Case Study: Stoneyfield / Raigmore Neolithic Building and Bronze Age Cairn

Susan Kruse

When the A9 road was being upgraded in the 1970s, a cairn at Stoneyfield (MHG3723) was excavated, and then moved to behind Raigmore Community Centre. The first phase of the site is represented by some pits with Grooved Ware pottery, a rectangular post-built structure with a hearth and a post-built linear setting going northeast from the structure. Whether the building was domestic or ritual is unclear, but it is important evidence for our knowledge of Neolithic structures. The Grooved Ware pottery also provides evidence of Late Neolithic contacts.

Aerial view of the relocated cairn.
Figure 1: Oblique aerial view of the remains of Stoneyfield Cairn after reconstruction near the Raigmore Community Centre. Photograph taken during the construction of the filter road in 1976 ©HES (John Dewar Collection)
View of cairn located in a field.
Figure 2: Stoneyfield Cairn before excavation, 1943. ©HES

The kerb cairn was built respecting this building, and later had four cist burials associated with it. Antiquarian reports mention two stone circles, and the site is often cited as a Clava-type cairn. However, it is atypical in several ways. No stone circle or traces of one were uncovered. The interior of the kerbs was not filled with rubble. Burials appear to have been placed beneath individual cairns, the large cairn in the centre (overlaying the timber structure) and five smaller examples. However, it does have the classic grading in height towards the southwest. The earliest burial connected with the new cairn was a cist with a food vessel, with a radiocarbon date of 2290–1979 cal BC.

Richard Bradley (2000) has noted that there are two possible interpretations of the site. In the first, the timber building was demolished or decayed and was replaced by the central cairn, and covered a pit with cremations and Grooved Ware. A later phase of activity saw the monument enlarged and a boulder wall constructed to enclose the first cairn and the position of the house. Thereafter the cairn was used for burials for some time.

Digital drawing of two phases at the site.
Figure 3: Plan of Neolithic structure and later ring cairn. © Richard Bradley (2000: 168)

In the second interpretation, the structure may have been enclosed by a circular wall when it was standing or while it decayed. The outer kerb may have defined an open area outside the building. The central cairn would then have been added later once the structure had disappeared.

Regardless of interpretation, the fact remains that the Bronze Age structure respected the earlier building, and shows respect for earlier occupation. Richard Bradley also notes the importance of the cairn focussing to the southwest, while the earlier setting for the structure was to the northeast.

Two reconstructed ceramic vessels on display in a museum.
Figure 4: Cremation urn from Stoneyfield Cairn. ©Susan Kruse

The excavation was noteworthy in having 19 radiocarbon dates, although these were undertaken at an early date when bulk samples were often needed. A later date obtained in 2007 for a Bronze Age cremation provided a date of 1741–1518 cal BC (Sheridan 2007a). The phasing is difficult to determine, and the National ScARF Neolithic panel recommended that further work be undertaken.

The site also has limited evidence of later use: a Roman brooch found in the top soil, and a pit with medieval glass and iron fragments. This provides further evidence of Roman imports to the Highlands, and then for medieval activity in the Inverness area.

Side view of a bronze brooch, which has some color inlay decoration still intact.
Figure 5: Roman headstud brooch from Stoneyfield Cairn. ©Ewen Weatherspoon

Public feeling for the monument led to it being re-assembled behind Raigmore Community Centre (MHG24979). Projects by the Workers’ Educational Association and Adopt-a-Monument researched details of this move. The Adopt-a-Monument project also excavated the current position of the re-erected cairn.

Further information

Simpson, D D A 1996 ‘Excavation of a kerbed funerary monument at Stoneyfield, Raigmore, Inverness, Highland, 1972-3’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot. 126, 53–86.

Bradley, Richard 2000 The Good Stones. A new investigation of the Clava Cairns, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland: Edinburgh, 168–170.