A visit to The Ord, two chambered cairns above Lairg

In particular, Ronnie and I were interested to see the early Neolithic chambered cairns of The Ord North and The Ord South in relation to the archaeo-optics project. Both sites are set in a spectacular hilltop location overlooking Loch Shin, a setting which recalls the Yarrows cemetery in Caithness, and even comparable sites in Ireland.

The ruined chamber of The Ord South in the foreground, with the cairn of The Ord North beyond. (Photo: Aaron Watson)
 

The Ord South was constructed upon the crest of a distinctive dome-shaped natural mound which, from a distance, itself resembles a monument. This has parallels elsewhere. Tim Phillips has noted that glacial mounds adjacent to the Grey Cairns of Camster, Caithness, appear similar to the profile of monuments. Perhaps the Neolithic cairn-builders, who had a quite different understanding of geological features to ourselves, were attracted to places which they believed to already be significant.

Ronnie and Richard discuss The Ord North. The remains of The Ord South are set upon the crest of the natural mound beyond. (Photo: Aaron Watson)
 

The the natural mound underneath The Ord North has an exposed outcrop to one side, and Richard wondered whether this may have a quarry that was used to provide some of the stone used to construct the two cairns. If so, the cairns may have been constructed from materials derived from a variety of different locations as there are also boulders which look water-worn and other which appear glacial in origin.

Ronnie, Richard and Annette in what would once have been the forecourt of The Ord North. (Photo: Aaron Watson)
 

The Ord North was excavated in the 1960's, revealing a passageway leading to a polygonal chamber. With the exception of some lintels, none of these elements are visible today.

Lintels visible in the cairn material of The Ord North reveal the alignment of the buried passage. (Photo: Aaron Watson)
 
Quartz crystal found amidst the cairn material of The Ord North. (Photo: Aaron Watson)
 

In its present state it is difficult to assess the potential for archaeo-optical projections within The Ord North. The passage and chamber are now buried within cairn material, and their format is further complicated by blocking material in the passage and a turf platform which surrounded the cairn. The 1960's excavations revealed that the passage gradually rises towards the entrance, and that an orthostat at the rear of the chamber was both unusually tall and especially smooth. Could this have acted as a screen for projections within the chamber?

Finally, the alignment of The Ord North suggests a potential for solar alignments in wintertime, with the sun rising along its passageway axis around October/November and again in February. Similar to my work with Ronnie in Orkney, such generalised kinds of alignments seem common among east-facing monuments and may not have been be intended to mark specific celestial events.

Ronnie standing on the approximate alignment of the passageway within The Ord North. (Photo: Aaron Watson)