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Observations placeholder

Sacred geography – Picts – Barrows 02



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

The so called ‘Clava cairn’ is a type of Pictish [Bronze Age] circular barrow, named after the group of three such barrows  at Balnuaran of Clava, to the east of Inverness in Scotland. There are about 50 barrows of this type in an area round about Inverness. They fall into two sub-types:

  • chaco canyon kiva for comparison
    one typically consists of a corbelled passage leading to a single chamber linked to the entrance by a short passage and entirely covered with stones, with the entrances oriented south west towards midwinter sunset.
  • in the other sub-type an annular ring barrow encloses an apparently unroofed area with no formal means of access from the outside.   In this case access may have been like the Chaco Canyon kiva

In both sub-types a stone circle surrounds the whole barrow and a ‘kerb’ often runs around the inside of the barrow. The heights of the standing stones vary so that the tallest fringe the entrance (oriented south west) and the shortest are directly opposite it.

Chaco canyon kiva for comparison

The vast majority of the Clava-type tombs contain no bodies, simply confirming these barrows formed part of the sacred geography and were used spiritually [as described in the introduction observation 01]. 


At Balnuaran of Clava itself there is a group of three barrows which lie close together in a line running north east to south west. The tombs at either end are of the passage sub-type. The central cairn is of the ring sub-type, and has stone paths [leys] or causeways forming "rays" radiating out from the platform round the kerbs to three of the standing stones.

The ring round the northern Balnuaran of Clava cairn was measured and analysed by Professor Alexander Thom. He found that the ring was slightly egg-shaped with a complex geometry of circles and ellipses which could be set out around a central triangle, using sizes which are close to whole multiples of the Megalithic yard.

The site has cup and ring mark stones, carved before they were built into the structures.

The kerb stones are graded in size and selected for colour, so that the stones are larger and redder to the south west, and smaller and whiter to the north east. ‘All these elements seem to have been constructed as one operation and indicate a complex design rather than ad hoc additions’.


The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items



Activities and commonsteps