Clava Cairns

This is certainly one of the oldest cemeteries in Scotland. People buried their dead here for 4000 years and the markers of these tombs remain to this day, like headstones on a contemporary cemetery. A reminder of a distant and little known past.

sacred site

These Bronze Age graves near Inverness are amongst the best preserved of their kind. It is a sacred site, ancient, a place of unknown burial customs and unknown dead, a graveyard that leaves more questions than provides answers.

Within a small wood, Balnuaran of Clava comprises two passage graves, a kerb ring cairn, a central ring cairn and standing stones; the latter not exceptionally large but impressive in their alignment and precision.

Standing stones surround the cairns as if to protect them like a shield against evil powers. All structures together form a unique cemetery, impressive in its simplicity.

magic site

The magic of the ancient Clava Cairns grew with modern Highland magic…

For many years, it played second fiddle to its more famous neighbour, Culloden Battlefield.  That all changed in 2014, with the release of the TV dramatization of Diana Gabaldon’s popular Outlander novel.  Clava Cairns became a bucket list destination overnight, after it was suggested that Outlander’s fictitious stone circle, Craigh na Dun was inspired by the site.

It’s wonderful to see the ‘Outlander effect’ generating so much interest, however there’s way more to Clava Cairns than its Outlander connection.  For history lovers, it gives a fascinating insight into the mysterious lives of our ancient ancestors. (True Highlands)

unknown dead

Who were the people buried here?

The large passage graves were obviously built for an important member of the community, a chief of some kind. These dead were worshipped and extraordinary work was done to make their grave as impressive as possible.

The dead were not disturbed for a thousand years.

Then new corpses were buried in the existing cairns. New cairns were built. This makes Balnuaran of Clava a cemetery respected and cherished for thousands of years. In the Neolithic period, the passageways provided access to the graves. The dead could be visited.

burial customs

We do not know who was buried here and we don’t know a lot about how they were buried either.

The main type of burial at this time consisted of individual interment of firstly crouched inhumation and later cremation burials, often richly endowed with grave goods.

Burial in the Bronze Age suggests a continuing change in emphasis towards the individual, with burials of wealthy individuals and children with apparently hereditary status. There may also be a move towards concern with family and personal history rather than the supernatural power of the ancestors, with new beliefs connected with water cults perhaps taking precedence by the end of the period. (Spoilheap)

 

darkness and light

The chambers were very dark, no light would ever come in. But on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, the rear of the chamber bathed into an eerie light by the setting sun.

The winter darkness played an important part in the life of the people in the Bronze age. The sun was vital and the shortest day a sign of hope for better times to come.

What a beautiful symbol of light and hope to be used in a cemetery.

 

sources and further reading:

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/clava-cairns/history/

https://www.truehighlands.com/clava-cairns-the-real-craigh-na-dun/

https://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/specials/timeline/clava.htm

http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/burial.htm

 

 

 

 

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