Middle Neolithic

It is unclear whether many, or any, chamber tombs were constructed during this period. The use of chamber tombs for burial at this time is indeed attested, through radiocarbon dating of unburnt human remains, at the Orcadian-Cromarty (O-C) type passage tomb at Embo, Sutherland (MHG11630; 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 unusual, small chamber tomb at Strathglebe on Skye (MHG5316; Wildgoose and Kozikowski 2018). The dates in question are listed in Table 5.4.

Ground plans of chambered cairns in use during the Middle Neolithic: 1. Double passage tomb at Embo, Sutherland; 2. 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 (Table 5.4) attest to burial there during the 35th century BC (Sheridan and Schulting 2020, fig. 18.4), while other human remains there attest to further burial within the c 3300–2800 BC date bracket. There was also subsequent re-use later during the third millennium, probably associated with the Chalcolithic Beaker pottery found in the monument.

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

The date of 3495–3104 cal BC for the human remains from Strathglebe (Table 5.4) was determined and further dates are due to be obtained, as part of the post-excavation work on the finds from this monument. As noted in Section, the presence of a jet ‘monster bead’ at the site suggests that the monument 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 3339–3017 cal BC (Sheridan et al 2019, 230) while a skull fragment from an adult produced a date of 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 28m in diameter and 2m 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 was a funerary chamber is unclear. The scant 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.

There is also evidence for non-monumental burial during the second half of the 4th millennium in the 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; Table 5.4) 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 caves for burial continued into this period.

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