5.6.1.2 Middle Neolithic

It is unclear whether many (or any) chamber tombs were constructed during this period, although the use of chamber tombs for burial at this time is indeed attested, through radiocarbon dating of unburnt human remains, at the O-C type passage tomb at Embo, Sutherland (MHG11630; Fig. 5.72.1; Henshall and Ritchie 1995, 135–40), at the probable passage tomb at Rattar East, Caithness (MHG8910; Davidson and Henshall 1991, 165–6), and at the small, unusual chamber tomb at Strathglebe on Skye (MHG5316; Fig. 5.72.2; Wildgoose and Kozikowski 2018). The dates in question are listed in Table 5.4.

Figure 5.72: Ground plans of chambered cairns in use during the Middle Neolithic: 1. Double passage tomb at Embo, Sutherland; 2. Unusual chamber tomb at Strathglebe, Skye. (1) After Henshall and Wallace 1963; ©Audrey Henshall and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; (2) From Wildgoose and Kozikowski 2018; ©the estate of George Kozikowski

At Embo, the two earliest dates for human remains (UB-6877 and UB-6879) attest to burial there during the 35th century BC (Fig. 5.70, bottom; Sheridan and Schulting 2020, fig. 18.4; Table 5.4), while others attest to further burial within the c. 3300–2800 BC date bracket, plus subsequent re-use later during the third millennium, the latter probably associated with the Chalcolithic Beaker pottery found in the monument.

The dates for two adult individuals buried at Rattar East (one possibly male, the other possibly female), listed in Table 5.4, suggest interment at different points during the second half of the fourth millennium.  

The date of 3495–3104 cal BC for human remains from Strathglebe (Table 5.4) was obtained on behalf of Ceiridwen Edwards and Katharina Dulias. Further dates are due to be obtained, as part of the post-excavation work on the finds from this monument, co-ordinated by Alison Sheridan; as noted in Section 5.4.5, the presence of a jet ‘monster bead’ suggests that it could have been constructed as early as c. 3600 BC, if not before. The Strathglebe chamber tomb has only recently been recognised and explored (by the late George Kozikowski, with Martin Wildgoose).

A further monument whose existence had remained obscure until recently is Ackergill Mound, Caithness (MHG2136). In 2019, a maxilla from a young adult from this monument produced a date, for Juliette Mitchell’s doctoral research, of 4458±33 BP (SUERC-86873, 3339–3017 cal BC: Sheridan et al 2019, 230) while a skull fragment from an adult produced a date of 4708±35 BP (SUERC-86877, 3632–3373 cal BC: ibid). Excavated by (or for) Sir Francis Tress Barry in 1902, this site appears to be a large round cairn up to 28 m in diameter and 2 m high, with a kerb; watercolours and a photo show a large slab within the kerb, and a further three slabs labelled ‘floor found in mound’, but whether this had been a funerary chamber is unclear. The scanty details of the excavation suggest that human remains were found within the area bounded by the kerb, but whether these had been in a chamber or not is unclear. Neolithic pottery and lithic artefacts were also found. It was not until 2019, when a maxilla from a young adult from this monument was radiocarbon-dated for Juliette Mitchell’s doctoral research (on Pictish funerary rites) and found to date to 3339–3017 cal BC, that the Neolithic date of Ackergill Mound was finally confirmed.

There is also evidence for non-monumental burial during the second half of the fourth millennium in Highland Region. Research undertaken by Kate Britton as part of a Dark Ages Diet project produced two dates for an adult female and a male infant, both unburnt, found as the primary and secondary deposits in an unmounded stone cist at Balintore, Easter Ross (MHG6341). The individuals have also been sampled for DNA analysis (Sheridan et al 2018, 7) and for isotopic analysis. The dates are presented in Table 5.4.

Radiocarbon-dated human remains from Creag nan Uamh (Inchnadamph) Cave, Sutherland (MHG11410; Saville 2005) and from the rock shelter at An Corran on Skye (MHG6497; Saville et al 2012) (Table 5.4), confirm that the practice of using this kind of location for burial continued into this period. (See Sheridan and Schulting 2020, fig. 18.3, for a Bayesian model of the dates in question, alongside other dates for human remains found in caves in the west of Scotland.)

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