Kilmartin Museum is located in the heart of Kilmartin Glen, mainland Scotland's most important archaeological landscape.

For over five thousand years, humans have treated the Glen as a special place. Evidence suggests that it was a significant place in prehistory, particularly in the Bronze Age. Our ancestors left their mark, literally carved in stone and the artefacts found in the burial cairns here tell us that the occupants were important and wealthy.

What makes this place so exciting to visit is the huge number of historic sites in the area. Within 6 miles of Kilmartin village there are over 800 historic monuments, including cairns, standing stones, stone circles and rock art. Those are just the ones that have been found, new sites are still being discovered!

You can easily visit many of these sites and touch many of the standing stones and peek or even clamber inside a burial cairn.

Dunadd Hill Fort

This rocky crag was fortified around 2,400 years ago and in the 6th century AD become the citadel of the Kings of Dál Riata, the first Kings of Scotland. This was the home of the Scotti, the people who gave Scotland its name.

Dunadd became a major political centre, making contacts and alliances, with other major kingdoms of the day. It was also a centre of trade and imported many goods such as dyes from France, and exotic spices and wines. Shallow drafted ships negotiated the River Add, connecting the Kings of Dál Riata with the rest of Europe.

At Kilmartin Museum you can view artefacts found at Dunadd including clay moulds that were used to make silver brooches.

Climb to the top and put your foot into the stone footprint where the first Kings of Scotland were inaugurated. See if you can also find a boar, basin and Ogham script carved into the rock at the summit.

Dunadd Hill Fort

Linear Cemetery

Linear Cemetery

The Linear cemetery is a line of Bronze Age burial cairns stretching for over a mile along Kilmartin Glen. Five cairns still exist, but it is thought that there was originally at least one other cairn, possibly more. It is the only example of this type of burial arrangement in Britain.

The cairns were built at a time when powerful leaders were keen to emphasise their status. Massive burial monuments were constructed and the dead were buried with rare jet necklaces and elaborate pottery, items which would only have been available to the rich and powerful.

Four of the cairns contain stone coffins called cists. However, Nether Largie South Chambered Cairn, the oldest of the five, was originally built in the Neolithic (New Stone) Age and features an internal chamber and an entrance allowing access into the cairn.

Glebe Cairn

Glebe Cairn is the most northerly in the Linear Cemetery and closest to Kilmartin Museum.

One of two cists found here contained an incomplete jet necklace and one of the finest pottery vessels of its time in Scotland - an Irish style Food Vessel. The second cist also held a similar, highly decorated Food Vessel.

Both vessels can be seen on display in the Museum and are on loan from the National Museum of Scotland and the British Museum.

Glebe Cairn

Nether Largie North Cairn

Nether Largie North Cairn

Following excavations in 1930, the interior of the cairn was completely rebuilt and heavily modified so that you can now go inside and explore, but this would not have been in the case when it was built.

The underside of the burial cist's capstone is decorated with around 40 cupmarks and at least 10 axe head carvings. One of the upright end slabs, on display in Kilmartin Museum is decorated with pecked circles. Whoever was buried in this flamboyant grave was a person of great importance. Similar carvings of axe heads can be seen at Ri Cruin Cairn.

If you are feeling brave enough, you can open the access hatch to climb inside the cairn and then into the cist.

Nether Largie Mid Cairn

The cairn is thought originally to have been 3 metres high and contained two cists. One cist is not visible now (its position is marked by concrete posts), but the other is visible and its top slab has been propped open so that you can look inside.

By the time the cists were excavated in the 1929, both were empty, all the original contents having decomposed by the surrounding peat bog.

Look out for a cup mark and the carving of an axe head on the inner surface of one of the slabs.

Nether Largie Mid Cairn

Nether Largie South Chambered Cairn

Nether Largie South Chambered Cairn

This is the oldest surviving monument in the Glen, with work commencing on the cairn in the early Neolithic period over 5000 years ago. Modifications were then carried out in the early Bronze Age.

Nether Largie South has an entrance way to allow access. The 6 metre long chamber, divided into four internal compartments, allows you to walk right into the cairn.

A Neolithic pottery vessel dating from 3,600 - 3,500 BC and a distinctive, Bronze Age vessel known as a "Beaker" found in the cairn are on display in Kilmartin Museum, both on loan from the British Museum. Also found were cremation bones, barbed and tanged arrowheads, flint tools, great numbers of broken quartz pebbles, a bovine tooth and a round based Neolithic vessel. All these finds are in the British Museum.

Ri Cruin

The most southerly cairn in the cemetery, local tradition has it that Ri Cruin is the burial place of a king. Although we don't know that for sure, we do know that Ri Cruin was built to express social status and important people were interred there.

Built 4,000 years ago, between 2200 BC and 1950 BC, it was used in more recent times as a lime kiln and so it is much reduced in size from the removal of many of its water-rolled stones. Some of its contents were also removed.

Three cists were found inside, the most northerly set into a pit and the side slabs carved with grooves so that the end slabs could fit snugly against them. This is a technique also used at Stonehenge.

Cremated human bones were found inside, but as the cist had previously been opened, any grave goods might have been removed.

A second cist also with grooved side slabs was erected to the south east. Nothing was found inside and the cist itself was removed at some point between 1870 and 1929.

Ri Cruin

A third cist was constructed just outside the southern end of the cairn. Its cap slab is sitting to one side of the cist so that you can see inside.

This was also empty of any grave goods or human remains, but it has an end slab carved with seven flat axe heads. Bronze flat axes were rare items. The depiction of flat axes on a grave indicates a high status and important occupant. Similar carvings can be seen in Nether Largie North cairn, as well as at Stonehenge.

We haven't found any flat axes in Kilmartin, yet! Happily, the National Museum of Scotland has lent us a flat axe from Du Bhar Glengorm in Mull, which can be seen in Kilmartin Museum.


Kilmartin Museum, Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland, PA31 8RQ : : 01546 510278

Kilmartin House Trust SC 022744 : : Kilmartin House Trading Co. Ltd. SC 166302

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