5.6.2 Grave Goods

The individuals buried in Loch Borralie and Inchnadamph caves (MHG11410), and in the An Corran rock shelter on Skye (MHG6497), were not accompanied by any artefacts – at least, not any that have survived. The possibility that organic items were deposited with them cannot be ruled out.

As for grave goods associated with chamber tombs (see section 5.4.3), since these monuments were used for the collective housing of the dead, sometimes with episodes of deposition over several centuries, it can be hard to associate specific artefacts to specific individuals, or indeed to tell whether the artefacts found in the monuments were deposited as grave goods or offerings for specific individuals in the first place. The pots found inside monuments may well have contained offerings of food or drink for the dead when they were deposited, but whether these were individual offerings or those made to the commingled remains of the ancestors, is impossible to tell.

The presence of high-status Late Neolithic artefacts in some tombs – notably the macehead, the imported flint arrowheads and edge-polished knife in Ormiegill (MHG2184), or the edge-polished flint knife and transverse arrowhead in Camster Round (MHG1816) – raises the question as to whether these had been grave goods accompanying the bodies of notable people who had died around 3000 BC, or else offerings to ancestral remains (or deposits for safekeeping – admittedly a less likely scenario). Sadly the fact that the bones from Anderson and Shearer’s 1865 exploration of these monuments are lost, so one cannot date the remains.

Finds from the passage tomb at Ormiegill, Caithness 1. Oblique arrowheads of black flint and a flint scraper found in the chamber and antechamber. Note the red leaf-shaped arrowhead in the photograph is not from Ormiegill but from Cairn of Get 2. The ovoid macehead (left), shown beside a macehead from Tormore, Arran 3. Drawing of the Ormiegill macehead, arrowheads, scraper and (far right) edge-polished flint knife. (1) and (2) from Clarke et al 1985. ©Trustees of NMS. (3) From Davidson and Henshall 1991. ©Audrey Henshall

As for the items found with the Late Neolithic cremated remains at Raigmore (MHG3723; Case Study Raigmore (Stoneyfield) Cairn) and Culduthel (MHG51630), it is clear that we are not dealing with the deposition of complete pots, but with parts of pots – three and two vessels, respectively. As noted in section 5.6.1, the sherds from the two pots at Culduthel were placed at the base of and around the side of the pit. The presence of fragmentary pots could be interpreted in various ways: perhaps they had been deployed in funerary feasting, or had contained offerings and were smashed as part of the funerary rites. Archaeologists cannot rule out the possibility that they represent routine domestic rubbish. Pot 41 from the Culduthel pit has a repair hole below its rim, indicating that the pot was not new, and had been curated, when its remains were deposited in the pit. The presence of a few flint items, some burnt, in the Culduthel pit has also been noted in section 5.6.1. Whether the burning occurred on the funerary pyre, is impossible to tell.

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