The Grey Cairns of Camster are two large Neolithic chambered cairns in the Highland region of Scotland. They are among the oldest buildings in Scotland, dating to about 5,000 years ago. The cairns demonstrate the complexity of Neolithic architecture, with central burial chambers accessed through narrow passages from the outside. They were excavated and restored by Historic Scotland in the late 20th century and are open to the public.
The cairns, which are considered to be examples of the Orkney-Cromarty type of chambered cairn, were constructed in the third or fourth millennium BC in a desolate stretch of boggy peat-covered moorland in the Flow Country of Caithness. They consist of two structures standing 180 m apart, known as Camster Round and Camster Long. A third cairn, located about 120 metres away from Camster Round, is not considered to be part of the grouping. Although the surrounding countryside is now inhospitable and sparsely inhabited, during the Stone Age it was fertile farming land and only became covered in peat during the Bronze Age.
Camster Long is a 60 m long cairn with 'horns' at each end. The two chambers appear to have originally been constructed within separate round cairns, which were only later incorporated into a single long cairn for unknown reasons.
Camster Round is, as the name suggests, a circular cairn; it measures 18 metres in diameter by 3.7 metres high. It is virtually intact with a high vaulted chamber at its centre, accessed from a passage 6 metres long and 0.8 metres high at the east-south-east side of the cairn. The passage appears to have been deliberately put out of use by blocking it up with stones piled up to the height of its roof.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.