MarySmith’sPlace – #The Giants’Graves #Arran

Graves where giants were buried or where giants buried their victims? Neither, it turns out, and I still haven’t discovered how these Neolithic burial cairns on Arran came to be associated with giants.

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These two chambered cairns (there are over twenty others on Arran) are in a clearing on Forestry land above Whiting Bay. Built around 5,700 – 5,000 years ago they’re of the Clyde type – so called because a separate group of burial cairns found in the Firth of Clyde region were identified. They are considered to be the earliest chambered cairn tombs in Scotland, and their construction technique was probably carried from Scotland to Ireland.

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Holy Isle in the background

The burial chamber was usually located at one end of a rectangular or trapezoidal cairn, while a roofless, semi-circular forecourt at the entrance provided access from the outside. Forecourts are typically fronted by large stones and it is thought the area in front of the cairn was used for public rituals. The chambers were created from large stones set on end, roofed with large flat stones and often sub-divided by slabs into small compartments. They were intended for the community’s ancestors and not for individuals – and it would have taken considerable community effort to construct them.

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Before being placed in the cairn, bodies would be left outside for ravens to strip away the flesh from the bones and different parts of the skeleton may have been placed in different parts of the chamber. The chambers were not permanently sealed and were used again and again over many years.

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It all looks a bit of a jumble and quite hard to picture how they would have looked over six thousand years ago. Many of the stones have been removed and incorporated into local buildings and dry stane dykes and many other stones lie below the turf. The Giant’s Grave (North) is the larger with the main axis north-south while the smaller grave (South) is at right angles to the northern cairn with its east-west axis. As I don’t know my right from my left never mind east west, I took these details from the information board on the site.

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Excavations in 1902 recovered pottery shards, flint knives, and leaf-shaped arrowheads in the larger cairn but only soil and stones in the smaller. During a later excavation in1961-2 nine shards of a round-based vessel and fragments of burnt bone were found.

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Much more information about Arran’s Neolithic chambered tombs can be found here which is also where I found this image of how the chambered cairn would have looked.

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43 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – #The Giants’Graves #Arran

  1. I love visiting sites like this. Perhaps the folks buried there were just bigger than the local people so they called them giants. I guess we will never know. It certainly sparks the imagination.

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  2. I agree with Darlene and Pete. The only large stone site I’ve visited is Stonehenge, and that place sucked me in with its spiritual energy or vibration or WHATEVER it was that affected me into shocked (and appreciative) silence. I think I’d feel the same way in the presence of these stone cairns. Fascinating history. I like to close my eyes and imagine what it was like there “in the day.”

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  3. How interesting, Mary! The images are quite breathtaking. It is hard to reconcile the way mankind has changed with our thoughts of dealing with the end of life. It feels like a place of peace.

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  4. Oh, those pictures. How fab to see these, Mary! When I visit places like this I always put my hand on them and have wild fantasies about being transported back in time to when they were built. If only, eh?

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    • Thanks, Terry. Arran is stuffed full of places like this and standing stones. And more modern stuff like iron age forts! It’s incredible how much there is on such a small island. I’d like to go back in time as an onlooker.

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  5. Pingback: The Giants’Graves ~ Mary Smith #Arran | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  6. This is a fascinating post, Mary, and the pictures of the stones in their breath-taking setting truly set the scene and give us a tantalising glimpse of how life – and death – all that time ago. I agree with the other bloggers who have commented – I’d love to somehow travel back there and see it in it’s heyday. If it looked anything like the image from the Forestry and Land Scotland site it must have been an impressive feat of engineering. 🙂

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  7. A fascinating post and place to visit, Mary. The last image was one of enlightenment and I can begin to fathom how the various stones built up to this chambered cairn. What was the atmosphere like at this location? Having visited various cairns in England as well as Ireland, Scotland and Sweden I feel they exude peace and often feel they are sacrosanct ground.

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    • Thanks, Annika. I was glad to find the picture of the recreation of the cairn as I find it difficult to imagine how it would have looked when there are only a few stones seemingly in a jumble. It was a peaceful place, making you (me) want to stay quiet and absorb the atmosphere.

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