Armadale Cist Burial and Stone & Timber Complex

01 July 2020

News Type:
Site of the Month

An important early Bronze Age cemetery was excavated at Armadale near the pier in 2009 and 2010. It revealed a complex history. Scattered flint and bloodstone lithics from the site showed activity first during the Mesolithic. Later, a small cairn built on an earlier ground surface may have covered a chamber, and residues suggest the possibility it contained a wooden coffin or chamber. Radiocarbon dates will determine its dating.


Postholes suggest a timber stone circle was built on the site, followed by a stone circle. A large cist was situated in the centre (Cist 3), containing a degraded inhumation, beach pebbles and molluscs, but no other obvious gravegoods. Three in-situ standing stones may have been part of the stone circle, and other stones from the circle may have been used to construct Cist 3. After the dismantling of the stone circle another six cists and five cremation pits were placed inside or outside the circle, some reusing holes for the dismantled stone circle. One in particular (Cist 7) was sited a fair distance away. The restructuring of post and stone circles, with stone following timber is known from Machrie Moor, Arran and Temple Wood, Kilmartin in Argyll.

Lithics from Cist 7 (© RoCAS_

The other cists contain a mixture of cremation and inhumation burials. Three had food vessels, and one had a number of pot fragments. Cist 7, an inhumation burial placed away from the others, had three barbed and tanged arrowheads and two flint scrapers. Cist 4 also contained degraded humans, with a food vessel and a steatite archer’s bracer (wristguard), re-used it appears as a pendant. Some wealthy early Bronze Age burials from the Highlands contain archery equipment, including a burial from Corry near Broadford on southern Skye (MHG13995). All the cists and cremation pits contained lithics with the exception of Cist 6.

Food vessel from one of the cists
© Susan Kruse

The mixture of cremation and inhumation, in pits and cists, and inclusion of different gravegood assemblages is reminiscent of Seafield West near Inverness (MHG3944), and shows the variety of burial traditions in the Bronze Age.

The final phase on the site is represented by a kerbed cairn, but it had been much disturbed by later electricity cable trenches. It had beach cobbles of various sizes, overlying degraded large schist slabs. The cairn may have been robbed in antiquity, or may have extended in an irregular shape.

Few sites in the Highlands have given us such detailed information of the use of timber and stone circles, and then conversion into a cemetery in the early Bronze Age. Most evidence for early Bronze Age cist burials has focussed on the east coast. While we have evidence of a couple dozen cists from Skye, most are either old finds or not investigated, and only seven, including Armadale are known to have included pottery. The final report with radiocarbon dates is eagerly awaited.

NOTE: After this was posted, Mary Peteranna has drawn my attention to an important article which was published discussing the radiocarbon dates from the site (Krus and Peteranna 2016). They showed Neolithic use at the site, with a hearth, and interestingly, a late Neolithic burial. The radiocarbon dates for the Bronze Age burials have been analysed using Bayseian modelling, providing a good case study in the advantages the approach offers when combined with stratigraphic information to tease out detailed chronology. In this case, developments at the site are proposed at a generational level. It suggests that the cemetery was used infrequently, perhaps reserved for special occasions and individuals.

Further information

Highland HER MHG60879

Peteranna, Mary 2011 'Excavation of a Bronze Age Burial Site at Pier Road, Armadale, Isle of Skye. Data Structure Report. Excavation summary and preliminary findings'. RoCAS DSR attached to MHG60879

Krus, Anthony M and Peteranna, Mary 2016 ‘Bayesian Modeling of an Early Bronze Age Cemetery at Armadale, Isle of Skye, Scotland’,  Radiocarbon 58, 693-708.



Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands (ARCH), The Goods Shed, The Old Station, Strathpeffer, Ross-Shire, Scotland IV14 9DH
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