Cists, Cairns & Barrows

cist:   is a small stone-built, coffin-like box used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East, and several have been found on Mull.  A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow; several cists may be found close together within the same cairn or barrow.  Often ornaments, pottery and weapons have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.  Unfortunately, there are no visible remains of most of the cists on Mull.

The following is a list of cists found on Mull with grid references.  Where the name is highlighted, more detailed information is available, sometimes including images.  Click to go to the link.  Please check back for further information as the Society has an ongoing updating programme.

  • Sites where there are visible remains:  Callachally  NM 593 422;  Port Donian  NM92  737 292
  • Sites where there are recorded finds, but no visible remains:  Ardalanish NM c. 380 188;  Gribun  NM 44 33;  Quinish  NM 415 538;  Salen  NM 570 431;  Torosay Castle  NM c. 729 35130
  • Sites only known by local tradition:  Baile Meadhonach  NM c. 652 413;  Fidden  NM 30 21;  Killichronan  NM 544 413 & 546 412.
  • Human remains without a cist were found at Kinlochspelve  NM 657 260

cairn:   is a man-made pile (or stack) of stones.  The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn (plural càirn).  Cairns are found all over the world.  They vary in size from small stone markers to entire artificial hills, and in complexity from loose, conical rock piles to delicately balanced sculptures and elaborate feats of megalithic engineering.

In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times.  Since prehistory, they have also been built as sepulchral monuments, or used for defensive, hunting, ceremonial, astronomical and other purposes.

Although only one chambered cairn (Neolithic; at Port Donian) has been identified on Mull there are many Bronze age cairns, and they are still being discovered and recorded, though few have been scientifically excavated.

The following  is alist the cairns on Mull with grid references.  Click on highlights for more information, and check back for updates.

  • Achnacraig  NM 467 473;  Aintuim  NM 435 508;  Ardnacross  NM 542 491, 545 496, 550 502, 550 500;  Blar Buidhe, Iona  NM 284 243;  Bunessan  NM 390 220;  Burgh  NM 427 264 & 428 264;  Caliach Point  NM 348 542; Carn Mor  NM 398 489;  Cluas Lagain  NM 646 251;  Fanmore  NM 421 441;  Gruline  NM 547 393 & 546 393: Inch Kenneth  NM 442 358;  Killichronan  NM 550 413;  Kilninian  NM 394 454;  Knock  NM 541 391; Knockvologan  NM 308 203;  Laggan Lodge  NM 625 233;  Lochbuie  NM 614 252;  Port Donain  NM 736 293; Rossal  NM 546   286, 546 285 & 546 285;  Rubha na h-Airde  NM 386 548 & 386 549;  Seanbhaile  NM 684 289; Sorne Point  NM 427 578.

A barrow:   is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves.  Barrows are also known as tumuli (plural tumuli), burial mounds, hügelgräber or kurgans, and can be found throughout much of the world.  A cairn (a mound of stones built for various purposes), might also originally have been a barrow.  A long barrow is a long mound, usually for numbers of burials.  The method of inhumation may involve a dolmen, a cist, a mortuary enclosure, a mortuary house or a chamber tomb.

  • Only one barrow has been recorded on Mull, at Suie, where the are also two standing stones and a possible cist.  Grid reference NM 370 218