This 5,660-year-old Neolithic tomb was built more than one thousand years before the first Egyptian pyramid and Stonehenge. It is the resting place of the earliest known community of people to settle here in Largs and is one of the most historically valuable sites in North Ayrshire.
The tomb was constructed from large sandstone and quartz stones, overlaid with huge capstones and the entire structure was then covered in a mound of smaller stones.
The Neolithic Period
The word Neolithic literally means “new stone age” and it lasted from approximately 4,000 BC until 2,500 BC. It was the time in human development when we made settlements and began farming the land and domesticating animals. Farming ensured a food supply during the winter and made us less dependent on the hunter-fisher-gatherer nomadic lifestyle.
DNA comparisons with other Neolithic sites in Europe show that the farming techniques were introduced by immigrants from Brittany in northern France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Neolithic Age tools and weapons were made from flint and wood: metal implements only started to appear during the early Bronze Age around 2,500 BC, which was a few centuries after the Haylie Chambered Cairn was built.
Discovery & Excavation
In 1772 the owner of Haylie Estate, William Wilson, was in the process of improving his estate by constructing some dykes with stones from a nearby hill which was known as Margaret’s Law. Hundreds of cartloads of stone were removed and by the time it was realised that a prehistoric tomb lay at the heart of the cairn, 2 of its 3 massive capstones had been removed.
A report mentioning the tomb in 1796 stated that the tomb consisted of 5 stone coffins (chambers), with 2 of them containing 5 skulls each.
In 1954 archaeologists Dorothy Marshall and W. Glen Aitken conducted a partial excavation of the chambers where they discovered the remains of 2 skulls, but it is not known if these skulls were part of the original 10 or if they were new discoveries. They also found a flint scraper or knife, 2 thigh bones, and charcoal.
Bone fragments from these skulls were analysed by scientists using Carbon-14 dating techniques to calculate the age of the tomb, which was confirmed to be 5,660 years old.
Who is buried within?
We can’t say anyone specific was buried within, but we can say the tomb most likely held the remains of many generations of Largs earliest inhabitants.
Up until the full establishment of the Bronze age (2000 BC until 800 BC approx.) burial tombs were mainly communal rather than individual, and there is evidence that they were re-opened multiple times and extended by adding more chambers.
There is also evidence that Neolithic tombs could house the remains of up to hundreds of people since they were reused over many centuries.
Bones within many Neolithic tombs appear to have been rearranged, possibly as part of a funerary ritual when new bones were added.
Haylie Neolithic Tomb has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument of National Importance by Historic Environment Scotland “for its potential to enhance our knowledge of early prehistoric burial practices and funerary architecture”.