A Third Bronze Age Cist at Drumnadrochit

A Third Cist in Drumnadrochit

Cist during excavationDuring site clearance for Drumnadrochit's new care housing site, AOC's archaeologists uncovered a third cist, a stone slab-built grave (right), which contained an Early Bronze Age Beaker pot, dating to about 4,500-4,000 years ago. AOC has previously excavated two other cists at the site (read about these here and here), so this represents another significant discovery at Drumnadrochit’s Kilmore site. 

At the time of discovery, it was clear that the cist had already been disturbed. One of the side slabs had been broken and had collapsed into the soil-filled grave while the capstone, or grave lid, was missing. The size of the grave indicates that it would have contained a crouched inhumation burial, which did not survive inside the acidic soil environment. Fragments of the Beaker pot survive (below and bottom), enabling us to clearly interpret the Bronze Age date of the cist, and to connect it to the other burials on the site. This increasingly indicates that the Drumnadrochit site contained a Bronze Age cemetery, with three cists and a fourth burial pit found during our monitoring work. All of the burial sites were located centrally along the slightly raised ground within what would have been a wide flat expanse between the River Enrick and the River Coiltie on the edge of Glenurquhart Bay. Due to the soil conditions, only one of the graves contained human remains, a male inhumation burial, while two other Beaker pots have been recovered, one alongside a stone bracer, or archer’s wrist guard.

Beaker sherdWork in another area of the site revealed what we believe was another cist capstone and other prehistoric archaeology. Analysis indicates that the stone was an isolated capstone-like slab sitting within an early soil layer, from which we have provisional radiocarbon dating evidence to suggest that it represents a 14th century, or medieval, soil layer. It is possible that medieval farming activity may be responsible for some of the damage to the Bronze Age burials, and potentially complete destruction of other cists that may have been here.

Further archaeological finds were found below the early ploughsoil layer during a previous phase of work on behalf of Compass and Loch Ness Homes. Excavation revealed groups of pits dating to between 3,700-3,500 BC, the Neolithic period that precedes the Bronze Age. Almost all of the pits contained Neolithic pottery, burnt grain and hazelnut shells and stone tools. It is possible that the material was deliberately left inside pits, potentially as an offering related to a belief system linked to the importance of the land and agriculture.

AOC Inverness' Operations Manager, Mary Peteranna, said, “I believe that around 4,000 years ago, this landscape was already imbued with meaning. In the period preceding this, the Neolithic ancestors were the first farmers becoming increasingly tied to a landscape where they were cultivating wheat and barley – and with that their beliefs were tied into the changing of the seasons, with the need for winter to end and summer to begin. This was an important transition from the more transitory lifestyle of hunter-gatherers. Later, in the Bronze Age, we know that the communities of the Great Glen were building burial cairns in line with the winter solstice – as at the nearby Corrimony Cairns and Clava Cairns in Inverness. To have a cemetery built on this site certainly was a deliberate choice for the inhabitants of this part of the Great Glen.”

Beaker sherdsThe archaeological work is being undertaken on behalf of the Glenurquhart Care Project and with the assistance of Compass Building and Construction. The Glenurquhart Care Project is a community-based charity established over 20 years ago to provide support for the elderly and vulnerable in the communities of Glenurquhart and Strathglass.

Susan Clark, Director of Glenurquhart Care, said, “this cist was discovered during some enabling works to construct 12 community houses for the elderly in this area and is an exciting step in the development of the site. Funding for the construction of the houses has recently been granted by SSE Highland Sustainable Communities Fund, the Wolfson Foundation and Scottish Government Rural Housing Fund. To allow the construction to commence, we are continuing to raise funds for the total build cost of £1.6m and hope to secure this during the summer.” 

“The archaeological findings are exciting for the Drumnadrochit community– located in one of the most renowned landscapes in the world by the shores of Loch Ness.”