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Top Archaeological Sites and Discoveries in Badenoch

As the UK’s largest national park, the Cairngorms boasts hundreds of historic sites spanning thousands of years of human history. Across its 4,500 square kilometres, you can encounter many castles and forts with fascinating stories to tell, but it’s not all about what lies above the surface.

Dig into six of our top archaeological gems from the Badenoch region of the Cairngorms, in the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

Prehistoric Rock Art

Archaeological Sites in Badenoch
Cupmark Rock

Across Scotland, you can find thousands of natural outcrops and boulders carved during the Neolithic (c.6,000 to 4000 years ago) and Early Bronze Age (4,000 to 2,000 years ago), but little is known about who created it and why. We know from studies of societies in other parts of the world that rock art was produced by people with special ritual status. It’s possible that Scotland’s rock art was created by ‘ritual specialists’, or people with a particular role in the community.

Some areas of the country are renowned for their density of elaborate rock art (such as Kilmartin Glen in Argyll), but there are also parts of Scotland, such as the central Highlands, which appear to have none at all, and experts aren’t sure why. This makes the rock art found in the Cairngorms, such as the examples at Laggan hill, the Highland Folk Museum and Milton of Balnapoul Sluggan, relatively rare. They feature the most common symbols – a small circular hollow pecked into the rock known as a ‘cupmark’ and a cupmark surrounded by one or more concentric circles known as a ‘cup-and-ring motif’ – which were likely
created by hammering surfaces with stone tools or large river pebbles.

Visitors can seek out these carvings as well as look for new ones, as many rock art sites are discovered every year and it’s likely that more are still waiting to be found.

Delfour Ring Cairn

Delfour Ring Cairn

This prehistoric monument near Alvie is made up of a ring-cairn (a circular bank of earth or stones surrounding a hollow central area) which was once surrounded by a great stone circle. Delfour is classed by archaeologists as a ‘Clava cairn’ and is thought to date to the Early Bronze Age, around 3,500 to 4,500 years ago.
An 1845 account describes this monument as ‘the remains of a Druidical Cairn’ and goes on to wonder whether the cairn might mark the grave of an important person. The author also notes that the site still appears to be venerated locally, as the stones have been allowed to remain standing in prime farming land.

The purpose of ring cairns is still debated, but it’s possible that they were funerary sites, as the stain of a crouched body was found at Corrimony and traces of cremated remains have been identified at Balnuaran of Clava.
Whether or not people were buried at Delfour, the site does appear to have been of special ritual significance, with experts noting that the builders carefully orientated the monument to point towards where the sun would set at midwinter.
Sadly, many of the stones that made up the monument have been robbed in recent times, with only two stones remaining of the circle that once surrounded the cairn. But visitors can still visit the site and wonder what ceremonies occurred here thousands of years ago.

Croftgowan Barrow Cemetery and Torr Alvie Hillfort

Torr Alvie

In the shadow of Torr Alvie lies the largest Pictish barrow cemetery discovered in Scotland. The Croftgowan cemetery is home to dozens of barrows (burial mounds) and is at least 1,100 years old. Around AD 1800, human remains, pieces of sword blades, and buckles were discovered when several mounds were investigated prior to cultivation of the field. The site exists today mainly as a cropmark best seen from above. Aerial photographs were taken in 1977 capturing a number of circular and square barrows, but in 2018 hot dry weather resulted in many more very clear crop marks appearing, including a new group of round barrows.
In 2021, volunteers worked with experts from the University of Aberdeen’s Northern Picts project to excavate the site as part of the Badenoch Great Place Project. They uncovered preserved human remains – including enamel caps from the individuals’ teeth – in one round barrow and in another the “remarkable” body stain of a person interred in the grave. The skeletal remains of this person had dissolved but left evidence of the body posture and layout of the individual with the shadow of features such as the kneecaps still visible.
The same team also excavated the remains of an ancient hillfort located at the summit of the hill above Croftgowan cemetery, which once held commanding views from Loch Alvie to the River Spey.

The oval-shaped structure was unrecorded until 2011 when members of the community archaeology group North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS) identified the site and produced a measured sketch plan of the 60m long and 27m wide fort.
The 2021 team excavated sections across the wall of the fort and retrieved samples of charcoal, which will be radiocarbon dated to determine the age of the settlement features and of the bank itself.
Both the cemetery and the hillfort are hugely important to our understanding of Pictish life and death in Scotland, and it’s likely that future excavations will reveal much more.

You can find out more about the results of the excavations at this upcoming event as part of the
Badenoch Heritage Festival on Sunday 18 September 2022.

Raitts Souterrain

Archaeological Sites in Badenoch
Raitts Souterrain

Raitts souterrain (also known as Lynchat, Uamh Mor or Raitts Cave) is a well-preserved prehistoric underground passage near Kingussie. The U-shaped passage is large compared with most similar examples in the north of Scotland (around 25m long, 1.3m wide and up to 2.2m high).
Why souterrains were constructed and what they are used for is still debated by archaeologists. According to legend, Raitts was built by giants and giantesses, who carried the excavated soil to the River Spey in their aprons. They are commonly associated with settlement in the Bronze Age and Iron Age, over 1,200 years ago, and some archaeologists believe prehistoric peoples may have used these underground structures for storage, defence or an unidentified ritual.

Traces of earthworks identified in the area around the souterrain may relate to it being part of a larger settlement site. In more recent times, the site is said to have formed a refuge for persecuted worshippers and a secret hiding place for the Comyns (or Cummings) in their clan war with the Macphersons.

During roadworks near the souterrain in 2017, archaeologists unearthed Iron Age tools, pottery pieces and a possible stone Ard point (a stone worked into a point for use as part of a Bronze Age plough), as well as a possible Iron Age structure believed to be linked with the souterrain. Today, the passage is largely infilled, but the lintel of the entrance passage is still visible. This monument is of national importance as it has the potential to enhance our understanding of prehistoric domestic life and architectural practice.

Medieval Kingussie


Kingussie was a planned settlement dating from the 18th century, but it’s said that an early Christian church dedicated to St Columba was founded there much earlier. Documentary sources also record the founding of a Carmelite Friary, probably in the late 1400s.
The Carmelites are one of the ancient religious orders of the Roman Catholic Church, which first came to Britain in the 13th century (some 700 years ago). There were around 10 foundations in Scotland although little is known about most of them, including the Kingussie order. The exact location of both the Friary and the earlier Columban church was unknown, but recent
fieldwork has offered tantalising evidence of these sites.

In 2018, the cutting of a water pipe trench next to the current town cemetery disturbed human remains. The following archaeological excavation uncovered two large sections of wall which are likely to be the remains of the Carmelite Friary, as well as remains of metalworking dating from the 8th to early 11th century AD (over 1,000 years ago), which may have been associated with the church.
Significant amounts of disarticulated human bones (bones that are separated and no longer attached to one other) were also uncovered within a structure built inside the friary church, which was interpreted as an ossuary – a container or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remain, often when there isn’t space for a full burial.
In addition, more human remains were found which appeared to lie beneath the church foundations. These may predate the Carmelite Friary and possibly relate to the Columban church.
Following studies of the remains, the bones were placed in a burial ground near where they were found.
Even this small excavation shows the importance of the site for the Highlands where, unlike other areas in Scotland, few religious houses were established and we have limited settlement or metalworking evidence from the medieval period.

Ruthven Barracks

Ruthven Barracks

Ruthven Barracks near Kingussie is the best surviving example of four Highland garrisons built by the Hanoverian government in the wake of the Jacobite Rising of 1715. It was designed to house up to 120 soldiers who policed the area and enforced new restrictions on the local population.
The strategic importance of the site is clear to see today – visible from miles around, it dominates the head of the Spey valley. And the Hanoverian government weren’t the first people to notice. A 14th century silver groat featuring the head of King David II was found at the site around 2003. Now in Inverness Museum collections, it speaks to the site’s history as the location of a succession of medieval castles occupied by the Comyns (or Cummings) and the Gordons, centuries before the barracks were built.

The barracks saw action twice. A 300-strong Jacobite attack failed to take the site in 1745, but a more heavily-armed attack the next year forced the barracks’ surrender. The Jacobites rallied here after their defeat at Blàr Chùil Lodair (the Battle of Culloden) in 1746, before conceding and burning the garrison, after which it was never repaired.
Today, visitors can wander the ruins and imagine what life was like there at turbulent times in the region’s history.

Dun da Lamh Hillfort

Archaeological Sites in Badenoch
Dun da Lamh Hillfort

The remains of this Early Pictish fort are located on a rocky hill at the north-east end of Black Craig. Its Gaelic name (pronounced ‘dun da larve’) means ‘fort of the two hands’ and may refer to the two crags on which the fort was built.
Hillforts were both defensive structures and clear statements of land ownership and tribal belonging. Their builders used both the natural landscape and well-built defences to construct these strongholds. At Dun da Lamh, the east and south sides of the hill are steep and include some vertical crags, while the unusually massive rampart which climbs up and down with the crags (now tumbled but best preserved towards the west end of the fort) was built up to seven and a half metres wide to keep out invaders.
The interior of the fort covers an area of some 4,000 square metres of rocky shelves and terraces which would have provided suitable stances for Iron Age timber buildings. More recently, two shelters were built by the Home Guard during the Second World War.

Like many Pictish forts in the Highlands, Dun da Lamh has not yet been excavated or firmly dated. But it was archaeologically surveyed in the early 2010s and aerial pictures were taken in 2017. Situated 200m above the valley floor, today visitors can transport themselves back over 1,500 years as they enjoy the same commanding views over the junction of Glen Shira and the River Spey to the north and Strath Mashie and River Mashie to the south that Dun da Lamh’s Pictish inhabitants once did.

Humans have lived in the Badenoch area for thousands of years and these sites offer just a taste of the region’s long and varied past. Ready to explore more stories from Badenoch? Check out the free and low-cost events at the upcoming Badenoch Heritage Festival and download the Badenoch The Storylands app, a new self- guided touring aid which showcases the very best that local heritage has to offer.
The app features walking, cycling and driving tours around Badenoch, highlighting over 75 points of cultural heritage interest, together with a wealth of fascinating stories and legends, augmented reality images of key sites, and inspiring music for visitors to experience.
For more help planning your holiday in Badenoch, be sure to visit the dedicated section of our VisitCairngorms website.

Dig It! Bio

Dig It! is a hub for Scottish archaeology coordinated by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Thanks to our Scotland-wide network of heritage organisations, museums and archaeological groups, we’re able to source the best events and stories from across the country for you.
Explore the Dig It! website to find free (or low-cost) events for participants of all ages – no experience required – and discover over 150 Scottish archaeology stories to spark your imagination.

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