5.6.1 Funerary Practices

A variety of Neolithic funerary practices (both monumental and non-monumental) are attested for Highland Region, of which some have only recently been recognised. The radiocarbon dating of some human remains (Table 5.4) has significantly improved our understanding of the chronology of funerary practices, but many more dates are required (and this will entail the excavation of monuments, as well as the dating of more of the extant human and animal remains – including those from the passage tomb with a short horned cairn at Garrywhin [aka Cairn of Get; MHG2210], recently rediscovered in the National Museums Scotland collections). Similarly, while the recent (Brace et al 2019) and current DNA analysis of nine individuals from the Loch Calder cairns (MHG932; MHG981: MHG5316), from Embo (MHG11630) and from Balintore cist (MHG 6341) (Sheridan et al 2018), and of possibly as many as 13 individuals from the Strathglebe chamber tomb (MHG5316), is furnishing invaluable information on the genetic ancestry of the people buried in Highland Region, there is scope for further DNA analysis to be undertaken. Much more isotopic analysis could also usefully be undertaken, as it offers the opportunity to examine patterns of lifetime mobility.

Other insights into how the dead were treated come from osteological research: recent re-examination of the human remains from the Loch Calder passage tombs by Kelsey Yohe of the University of Aberdeen (2019) has revealed two chop marks on bones from Tulloch of Assery A and B; in the first case, the chop mark is thought to relate to defleshing or dismemberment of the body (while in the second, inter-personal combat is suspected). Bodies appear to have been deposited in chamber tombs as complete corpses, then as they decayed, their remains became commingled with those of other individuals. An earlier osteological study of the unburnt human remains from the three Loch Calder passage tombs by Archibald Young concluded that the body of one of the individuals buried at Tulloch of Assery A, an adult, probably male, had been so tightly contracted when placed in the monument that it may well have been bound, and the leg muscles may have been cut (Young in Corcoran 1966, 62).

A recent publication (Sheridan and Schulting 2020) provides an overview of Neolithic funerary practices for the whole of Neolithic Scotland, situating the evidence from Highland Region within its broader context. Meanwhile, the corpora of chambered cairns in Highland Region (and elsewhere in Scotland) created by Audrey Henshall and colleagues (Henshall 1963; 1972; Davidson and Henshall 1991; Henshall and Ritchie 1995; 2001) provide by far the best source of information about the form, distribution and contents of these monuments.

The chambered and possibly unchambered mounds of definite and suspected Neolithic date are listed in Datasheet 5.5 and plotted in Map 5.5.  

Map 5.5: Distribution of chambered cairns and possible chambered cairns in the Highlands (updated interactive map coming soon!)

The evidence will be reviewed in three chronological blocks corresponding to the Early, Middle and Late Neolithic periods.

5.6.1.1 Early Neolithic

5.6.1.2 Middle Neolithic

5.6.1.3 Late Neolithic

Findspot, County /AreaHER noContextBoneLab No.d13C‰, d15N‰, C/N ratioRadio-carbon age BPCalibrated date cal BC, 95.4% probabilityNotes, ref-erences
Loch Borralie Cave, SNo HER no.Cave1. Clavicle, 2.Humerus (no info on age and sex of 1 or 2)1. SUERC-57756 2. SUERC-577551. -19.7,9.7, 3.3 2. -20.7, 9.3, 3.31. 4875±32 2. 4911±321.3710–3543 2. 3636–3380Note 1 Bownes 2018; Knight et al 2020
Cladh Aindreis, Ard-namurchan, LMHG 439Clyde cairn1.Calcined bone 2. Bone 3. Bone 4. Bone 5. Bone  1. SUERC-49033 2. SUERC-49038 3. SUERC-49039 4. SUERC-49040 5. SUERC-490411. N/A 2. -22.1, 9.9, 3.4 3. -21.5, 9.8, 3.3 4. -21.7, 9.7, 3.3 5. -21.5, 9.8, 3.21. 4947±30 2. 4750±32 3. 4759±30 4. 4817±32 5. 4753±301. 3783–3656 2. 3637–3381 3. 3639–3383 4. 3657–3523 5.3638–3382Harris et al 2014
Tulloch of Assery B passage tomb, CMHG 932ChamberL petrous temporal, adult FSUERC-68634-21.6, 9.8, 3.14911±323766–3642Bownes 2018, Knight et al 2020
Tulach an t’Sionnaich, CMHG 926Chamber1. L petrous temporal, adult, M 2. Bone1. SUERC-68638 2. GU-13341. -21.1, 10.1, 3.3 2. -20.2; no other data1. 4851±34 2. 4685±601. 3704–3535 2. 3634–3361Bownes 2018, Knight et al 2020
Tulloch of Assery A passage tomb, CMHG 981North chamber (bone deposit A)1. L petrous temporal, adolescent M 2. Bone1. SUERC-68639 2. GU-13381. -21.1, 10.1, 3.2 2. -20.7; no other data1. 4796±37 2. 4800±601. 3653–3390 2. 3702–3378Bownes 2018, Knight et al 2020
Ackergill Mound, CMHG 2136Uncertain but within kerbed area1. Adult, skull 2. Maxilla, young adult1. SUERC-86877 2. SUERC-868731. -20.3, 11.7, 3.4 2. -20.1, 11.9, 3.41. 4708±35 2. 4458±331. 3632–3373 2. 3339–3017Sheridan et al 2019
Creag nan Uamh cave, Inch-nadamph, SMHG 11410Cave1. Metatarsal 2. Humerus, immature 3. Femur, immature 4. Scapula, immature1. OxA-5761 2. OxA-5758 3. OxA-5759 4. OxA-57601. -20.8 2. -20.9 3. -21.7 4. -21.4 No other data1. 4720±50 2. 4515±60 3. 4520±50 4. 4470±501. 3640–3370 2. 3490–3020 3. 3370–3030 4. 3350–2940Saville 2005
An Corran rock shelter, SkyeMHG 6497Rock shelter1. Navicular tarsal, adult 2. Vertebra, mature adult >40 3. Metatarsal, adult 4. Vertebra,  adult <351. OxA-13549 2. OxA-13552 3. AA-27744 4. OxA-135501. -19.4 2. -19.9 3. -20.2 4. -20.51. 4650±55 2. 4535±50 3. 4405±65 4. 4360±551. 3632–3039 2. 3486–2890 3. 3340–2890 4. 3307–2880Saville et al 2012
Rattar East probable passage tomb, CMHG 8910Chamber1. Mandible, adult 2. Mandible, adult1. UB-7010 2. UB-70111. -21.0, 11.23–11.26, 2.85–2.86 2. -21.0, 9.94–9.98, 2.99–3.01. 4695±35 2. 4427±351.3620–3370 2. 3270–2930Sheridan 2006
Embo passage tomb (south chamber), SMHG 116301. Under roof corbel stoner 2. Lower layer 3. [S chamber] 4. Upper layer 5. Lower layer 6. Upper layer  1. Infant mandible 2. L Adult calcaneus 3. Adult M, L petrous portion 4. Adult M R cochlea 5. R talus, adult 6. Child, femur1. GrA-771 2. UB-6878 3. SUERC-67259 4. SUERC-95467 5. UB-6879 6. UB-68771. Info not available 2. -21.32, 8.7, 3.4 3. -21.6, 11.0, 3.3 4. -20.8, 11.5, 3.4 5. -21.3, 9.9, 3.1 6. -21.2, 12.0, 2.9  1. 4340±70 2. 4433±36 3. 4403±31 4. 4455±22 5. 4645±35 6. 4633±351. 3332–2777 2. 3331–2924 3. 3264–2916 4. 3330–3022 5. 3500–3360 6. 3518–3352Note 3 Henshall and Ritchie 1995, fig. 27; Sheridan 2006; Bownes 2018; Knight et al 2020
Strathglebe chamber tomb, SkyeMHG 5316Feature B: pit in chamberDentine from molar, male, in-det. age but not childOxA-37513-21.00, 11.2, 3.24569±353495–3104Knight et al 2020
Balintore cist, ERMHG 6341Cist1.Skull fragment, adult female 2. Bone, infant1. MAMS-21254 2. MAMS-212531. -19.2; no other data 2. No data1. 4543±24 2. 4473±231. 3364–3108 2. 3335–3030Sheridan et al 2018 (where adult’s sex incorrectly given as male); Sánchez-Quinto et al 2019
Stoneyfield Pit 20, Raigmore, IMHG 54911PitCalcined boneSUERC-77846N/A4371±333090–2907Copper et al 2018
Armadale Pier (Feature 26), SkyeMHG 60879PitCalcined boneSUERC-33909N/A4115±352880–2570Krus and Peteranna 2016
Culduthel (phases 7 and 8), IMHG 51630PitCalcined boneSUERC-20308N/A4215±352900–2680Sheridan 2010b
Table 5.4 Radiocarbon-dated Neolithic human remains from Highland Region (all unburnt bone unless specified otherwise). See Sheridan and Schulting 2020 for Bayesian models of most of these dates

1 See Bownes 2018 for her FRUITS-derived recalibrated dates for Loch Borralie and for one of the Embo dates.

2 OxA-5758–60 probably all date the same, immature, individual (Saville 2005).

3 GrA-771 recalibrated using OxCal v.4.4.4; see publications for details of calibration programmes used for the others. A later, mid-third millennium date for Embo human bone is excluded as it may well relate to the Chalcolithic re-use of the tomb by Beaker users.

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