Cairns have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present.
In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times. However, since prehistory, they have also been built and used as burial monuments; for defense and hunting; for ceremonial purposes, sometimes relating to astronomy; to locate buried items, such as caches of food or objects; and to mark trails, among other purposes.
Cairns are used as trail markers in many parts of the world, in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, near waterways and on sea cliffs, as well as in barren deserts and tundras. They vary in size from small stone markers to entire artificial hills, and in complexity from loose conical rock piles to delicately balanced sculptures and elaborate feats of megalithic engineering. Cairns may be painted or otherwise decorated, whether for increased visibility or for religious reasons. An ancient example is the inuksuk (plural inuksuit), used by the Inuit, Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America. Inuksuit are found from Alaska to Greenland. This region, above the Arctic Circle, is dominated by the tundra biome and has areas with few natural landmarks.
Different types of cairns exist from rough piles of stones to interlocking dry stone round cylinders. The most important cairns commonly used around the world are interlocking stone survey cairns constructed around a central survey mark about every 30 km on the tallest peaks across a nation. These physical survey mark cairn systems are the basis for national survey grids to interconnect individual land survey measurements for entire nations. On occasion these permanent interlocking stone cairns are taken down then reconstructed to re-mark measurements to increase the accuracy of the national survey grid. They can also be used in unpopulated countries as emergency location points. In North America and Northern Europe any type of cairn can be used to mark mountain bike and hiking trails and other cross-country trail blazing, especially in mountain regions at or above the tree line. For example, the extensive trail network maintained by the DNT, the Norwegian Trekking Association, extensively uses cairns in conjunction with T-painted rock faces to mark trails. Other examples of these can be seen in the lava fields of Volcanoes National Park to mark several hikes. Placed at regular intervals, a series of cairns can be used to indicate a path across stony or barren terrain, even across glaciers. Such cairns are often placed at junctions or in places where the trail direction is not obvious. They may also be used to indicate an obscured danger such as a sudden drop, or a noteworthy point such as the summit of a mountain. Most trail cairns are small, usually being a foot or less in height. However, they may be built taller so as to protrude through a layer of snow. Hikers passing by often add a stone, as a small bit of maintenance to counteract the erosive effects of severe weather. North American trail marks are sometimes called "ducks" or "duckies", because they sometimes have a "beak" pointing in the direction of the route. The expression "two rocks do not make a duck" reminds hikers that just one rock resting upon another could be the result of accident or nature rather than intentional trail marking.
The building of cairns for recreational purposes along trails, to mark one's personal passage through the area, can result in an overabundance of rock piles. This distracts from cairns used as genuine navigational guides, and also conflicts with the Leave No Trace ethic. This ethic of outdoor practice advocates for leaving the outdoors undisturbed and in its natural condition.
Coastal cairns, or "sea marks", are also common in the northern latitudes, especially in the island-strewn waters of Scandinavia and eastern Canada. Often indicated on navigation charts, they may be painted white or lit as beacons for greater visibility offshore.
Modern cairns may also be erected for historical or memorial commemoration or simply for decorative or artistic reasons. One example is a series of many cairns marking British soldiers' mass graves at the site of the Battle of Isandlwana, South Africa. Another is the Matthew Flinders Cairn on the side of Arthur's Seat, a small mountain on the shores of Port Phillip Bay, Australia. A large cairn, commonly referred to as "the igloo" by the locals, was built atop a hill next to the I-476 highway in Radnor, Pennsylvania and is a part of a series of large rock sculptures initiated in 1988 to symbolize the township's Welsh heritage and to beautify the visual imagery along the highway. Some are merely places where farmers have collected stones removed from a field. These can be seen in the Catskill Mountains, North America where there is a strong Scottish heritage, and may also represent places where livestock were lost. In locales exhibiting fantastic rock formations, such as the Grand Canyon, tourists often construct simple cairns in reverence of the larger counterparts. By contrast, cairns may have a strong aesthetic purpose, for example in the art of Andy Goldsworthy.
Norwegian authorities said in 2015 that illegal cairns are being built each year, to a large degree by tourists to Norway; part of the problem is that individual stones are being removed from registered- and unregistered kulturminner (e.g., historical monuments).
The building of cairns for various purposes goes back into prehistory in Eurasia, ranging in size from small rock sculptures to substantial man-made hills of stone (some built on top of larger, natural hills). The latter are often relatively massive Bronze Age or earlier structures which, like kistvaens and dolmens, frequently contain burials; they are comparable to tumuli (kurgans), but of stone construction instead of earthworks. Cairn originally could more broadly refer to various types of hills and natural stone piles, but today is used exclusively of artificial ones.
The word cairn derives from Scots cairn (with the same meaning), in turn from Scottish Gaelic càrn, which is essentially the same as the corresponding words in other native Celtic languages of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, including Welsh carn (and carnedd), Breton karn, Irish carn, and Cornish karn or carn. Cornwall (Kernow) itself may actually be named after the cairns that dot its landscape, such as Cornwall's highest point, Brown Willy Summit Cairn, a 5 m (16 ft) high and 24 m (79 ft) diameter mound atop Brown Willy hill in Bodmin Moor, an area with many ancient cairns. Burial cairns and other megaliths are the subject of a variety of legends and folklore throughout Britain and Ireland. In Scotland, it is traditional to carry a stone up from the bottom of a hill to place on a cairn at its top. In such a fashion, cairns would grow ever larger. An old Scottish Gaelic blessing is Cuiridh mi clach air do chàrn, "I'll put a stone on your stone". In Highland folklore it is recounted that before Highland clans fought in a battle, each man would place a stone in a pile. Those who survived the battle returned and removed a stone from the pile. The stones that remained were built into a cairn to honour the dead. Cairns in the region were also put to vital practical use. For example, Dún Aonghasa, an all-stone Iron Age Irish hill fort on Inishmore in the Aran Islands, is still surrounded by small cairns and strategically placed jutting rocks, used collectively as an alternative to defensive earthworks because of the karst landscape's lack of soil.
In Scandinavia, cairns have been used for centuries as trail and sea marks, among other purposes. In Iceland, cairns were often used as markers along the numerous single-file roads or paths that crisscrossed the island; many of these ancient cairns are still standing, although the paths have disappeared. In Norse Greenland, cairns were used as a hunting implement, a game-driving "lane", used to direct reindeer towards a game jump.
In the mythology of ancient Greece, cairns were associated with Hermes, the god of overland travel. According to one legend, Hermes was put on trial by Hera for slaying her favorite servant, the monster Argus. All of the other gods acted as a jury, and as a way of declaring their verdict they were given pebbles, and told to throw them at whichever person they deemed to be in the right, Hermes or Hera. Hermes argued so skillfully that he ended up buried under a heap of pebbles, and this was the first cairn. In Croatia, in areas of ancient Dalmatia, such as Herzegovina and the Krajina, they are known as gromila.
In Portugal a cairn is called a moledro. In a legend the moledros are enchanted soldiers, and if one stone is taken from the pile and put under a pillow, in the morning a soldier will appear for a brief moment, then will change back to a stone and magically return to the pile. The cairns that mark the place where someone died or cover the graves alongside the roads where in the past people were buried are called Fiéis de Deus. The same name given to the stones was given to the dead whose identity was unknown. The Fieis de Deus or Fes de Deus are, in the Galician legends, spirits of the night. The word "Fes" or "Fieis" is thought to mean fairy, the same root as "fate" (fado), that can take the same meaning as the proto-Celtic *bato-, meaning "death".
Cairns (taalo) are a common feature at El Ayo, Haylan, Qa’ableh, Qombo'ul, Heis, Salweyn and Macajilayn, among other places. Northern Somalia in general is home to a lot of such historical settlements and archaeological sites wherein are found numerous ancient ruins and buildings, many of obscure origins. However, many of these old structures have yet to be properly explored, a process which would help shed further light on local history and facilitate their preservation for posterity.
Since Neolithic times, the climate of North Africa has become drier. A reminder of the desertification of the area is provided by megalithic remains, which occur in a great variety of forms and in vast numbers in presently arid and uninhabitable wastelands: cairns (kerkour), dolmens and circles like Stonehenge, underground cells excavated in rock, barrows topped with huge slabs, and step pyramid-like mounds.
Starting in the Bronze Age, burial cists were sometimes interred into cairns, which would be situated in conspicuous positions, often on the skyline above the village of the deceased. The stones may have been thought to deter grave robbers and scavengers. A more sinister explanation is that they were to stop the dead from rising. There remains a Jewish tradition of placing small stones on a person's grave as a token of respect, though this is generally to relate the longevity of stone to the eternal nature of the soul and is not usually done in a cairn fashion. Stupas in India and Tibet probably started out in a similar fashion, although they now generally contain the ashes of a Buddhist saint or lama.
In South Korea cairns are quite prevalent, often found along roadsides and trails, up on mountain peaks, and adjacent to Buddhist temples. Hikers frequently add stones to existing cairns trying to get just one more on top of the pile, to bring good luck. This tradition has its roots in the worship of San-shin, or Mountain Spirit, so often still revered in Korean culture.
Throughout what today are the continental United States and Canada, cairns still mark indigenous peoples' game-driving "lanes" leading to buffalo jumps, some of which may date to 12,000 years ago. Natives of arctic North America (i.e. northern Canada, Alaska and indigenous Greenland) have built carefully constructed cairns and stone sculptures, called by names such as inuksuit and inunnguat, as landmarks and directional markers since before contact with Europeans. They are iconic of the region (an inuksuk even features on the flag of the Canadian far-northeastern territory, Nunavut), and are increasingly used as a symbol of Canadian national identity.
In North America, cairns are often petroforms in the shapes of turtles or other animals.
Cairns have been used since pre-Columbian times throughout what is now Latin America to mark trails. Even today, in the Andes of South America, the Quechuan peoples use cairns as religious shrines to the indigenous Inca goddess Pachamama. This is often part of a syncretic form of Roman Catholicism.
Although the practice is not common in English, cairns are sometimes referred to by their anthropomorphic qualities. In German and Dutch, a cairn is known as steinmann and steenman respectively, meaning literally "stone man". A form of the Inuit inuksuk is also meant to represent a human figure, and is called an inunguak ("imitation of a person"). In Italy, especially the Italian Alps, a cairn is an ometto, or a "small man".
Coastal cairns called sea marks are also common in the northern latitudes, and are placed along shores and on islands and islets. Usually painted white for improved offshore visibility, they serve as navigation aids. In Sweden they are called kummel, in Norway varde, and are indicated in navigation charts and maintained as part of the nautical marking system. Inversely, they are used on land as sea cliff warnings in rugged and hilly terrain in the foggy Faroe Islands. In the Canadian Maritimes, cairns have been used as beacons like small lighthouses to guide boats, as depicted in the novel The Shipping News.
The Cairn of Barnenez (also: Barnenez Tumulus, Barnenez Mound etc.; in Breton Karn Barnenez; in French: Cairn de Barnenez or Tumulus de Barnenez) is a Neolithic monument located near Plouezoc'h, on the Kernéléhen peninsula in northern Finistère, Brittany (France). It dates to the early Neolithic, about 4800 BC; it is considered one of the earliest megalithic monuments in Europe, as well as one of the oldest man-made structures in the world,
along with the Tumulus of Bougon and Locmariaquer megaliths, also located in Great West France. It is also remarkable for the presence of megalithic art.Bowl barrow
A bowl barrow is a type of burial mound or tumulus. A barrow is a mound of earth used to cover a tomb. The bowl barrow gets its name from its resemblance to an upturned bowl. Related terms include cairn circle, cairn ring, howe, kerb cairn, tump and rotunda grave.Cairn Energy
Cairn Energy PLC is one of Europe's leading independent oil and gas exploration and development companies and is listed on the London Stock Exchange. Cairn has discovered and developed oil and gas reserves in a variety of locations around the world. Cairn Energy has a primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.Cairn Island
Cairn Island is one of the many uninhabited Canadian Arctic islands in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut. It is a Baffin Island offshore island located in Frobisher Bay, 10.3 km (6.4 mi) southeast of the capital city of Iqaluit.
Other islands in the immediate vicinity include Aubrey Island, Beveridge Island, Bishop Island, Coffin Island, Crimmins Island, Emerick Island, Faris Island, Gardiner Island, Hill Island, Jenvey Island, Kudlago Island, Long Island, Mair Island, McLaren Island, Monument Island, Pichit Island, Ptarmigan Island, Qarsau Island, Sale Island, Sybil Island, and Thompson Island.Cairn Terrier
The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest terrier breeds, originating in the Scottish Highlands and recognized as one of Scotland's earliest working dogs. The breed was given the name Cairn, because the breed's function was to hunt and chase quarry between the cairns in the Scottish highlands.Although the breed had existed long before, the name 'Cairn Terrier' was a compromise suggestion after the breed was originally brought to official shows in the United Kingdom in 1909 under the name Short-haired Skye terriers. This name was not acceptable to The Kennel Club due to opposition from Skye Terrier breeders, and the name 'Cairn Terrier' was suggested as an alternative. They are usually left-pawed, which has been shown in dogs to correlate to superior performance in tasks related to scent. Cairn terriers are ratters.Cairn University
Cairn University is a Christian university in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1913, the university has six schools: Divinity, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Music, and Social Work. All students take a minimum of 30 semester hours of Bible.Cairn Valley Light Railway
The Cairn Valley Light Railway was a rural railway line built to connect Moniaive and other communities in the Cairn Valley with the main railway network at Dumfries. It opened in 1905 but usage was disappointing, and declined further when bus companies started competing. It was closed to passengers in 1943, and completely closed in 1949.Chambered cairn
A chambered cairn is a burial monument, usually constructed during the Neolithic, consisting of a sizeable (usually stone) chamber around and over which a cairn of stones was constructed. Some chambered cairns are also passage-graves. They are found throughout Britain and Ireland, with the largest number in Scotland.
Typically, the chamber is larger than a cist, and will contain a larger number of interments, which are either excarnated bones or inhumations (cremations). Most were situated near a settlement, and served as that community's "graveyard".Cist
A cist ( or ; also kist ;
from Greek: κίστη or Germanic Kiste) is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East.
A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.
This old word is preserved in the Swedish language, where "kista" is the word for a funerary coffin.Clava cairn
The Clava cairn is a type of Bronze Age circular chamber tomb cairn, named after the group of three cairns at Balnuaran of Clava, to the east of Inverness in Scotland. There are about 50 cairns of this type in an area round about Inverness. They fall into two sub-types, one typically consisting of a corbelled passage grave with a single burial chamber linked to the entrance by a short passage and covered with a cairn of stones, with the entrances oriented south west towards midwinter sunset. In the other sub-type an annular ring cairn encloses an apparently unroofed area with no formal means of access from the outside. In both sub-types a stone circle surrounds the whole tomb and a kerb often runs around the cairn. The heights of the standing stones vary in height so that the tallest fringe the entrance (oriented south west) and the shortest are directly opposite it.
Where Clava-type tombs have still contained burial remains, only one or two bodies appear to have been buried in each, and the lack of access to the second sub-type suggests that there was no intention of re-visiting the dead or communally adding future burials as had been the case with Neolithic cairn tombs.Court cairn
The court cairn or tomb is a megalithic type of chamber tomb and gallery grave, specifically a variant of the chambered cairn, found in western and northern Ireland, and in mostly southwest Scotland (where it may also be called a horned cairn or Clyde-Carlingford tomb), around 4000–3500 BCE, but many remained in use until as late as the Bronze Age transition, c. 2200 BCE. They are generally considered to be the earliest chambered cairn tombs in Scotland, and their construction technique was probably brought from Scotland to Ireland.
In Scotland, they are most common in what today are Argyll and Dumfries and Galloway (where they form the Clyde-Carlingford group), though a small outlying group have been found near Perth.Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB, known as English-language Public District School Board No. 25 prior to 1999) refers to both the institution responsible for the operation of all English public schools in the city of Ottawa, Ontario and its governing body. Like most school boards, the OCDSB is administered by a group of elected trustees and one director selected and appointed by the Board itself. Additionally, annually, two student trustees are selected per provincial regulation.
Every four years, within the context of the Ottawa municipal elections, an election is held within each of Ottawa's twelve trustee electoral zones to elect each trustee. Following election and annually thereafter, the Board of Trustees holds its organizational meeting, where the Board membership elects two of its members to the positions of chair and vice-chair of the Board. Chairs and membership of each of the Board's committees are also determined as part of the organizational meeting. In addition to the twelve trustees, two student trustees are elected by their peers, providing opportunities for the student body to become informed and involved in Board governance.Parc Cwm long cairn
Parc Cwm long cairn (Welsh: carn hir Parc Cwm), also known as Parc le Breos burial chamber (siambr gladdu Parc le Breos), is a partly restored Neolithic chambered tomb, identified in 1937 as a Severn-Cotswold type of chambered long barrow. The cromlech, a megalithic burial chamber, was built around 5850 years before present (BP), during the early Neolithic. It is about seven 1⁄2 miles (12 km) west south–west of Swansea, Wales, in what is now known as Coed y Parc Cwm at Parc le Breos, on the Gower Peninsula.
A trapezoidal cairn of rubble – the upper part of the cromlech and its earth covering now removed – about 72 feet (22 m) long by 43 feet (13 m) (at its widest), is revetted by a low dry-stone wall. A bell-shaped, south-facing forecourt, formed by the wall, leads to a central passageway lined with limestone slabs set on end. Human remains had been placed in the two pairs of stone chambers that lead from the passageway. Corpses may have been placed in nearby caves until they decomposed, when the bones were moved to the tomb.
The cromlech was discovered in 1869 by workmen digging for road stone. An excavation later that year revealed human bones (now known to have belonged to at least 40 people), animal remains, and Neolithic pottery. Samples from the site show the tomb to have been in use for between 300 and 800 years. North-West European lifestyles changed around 6000 BP, from the nomadic lives of the hunter-gatherer, to a settled life of agricultural farming: the Neolithic Revolution. However, analysis of the human remains found at Parc Cwm long cairn show the people interred in the cromlech continued to be either hunter-gatherers or herders, rather than agricultural farmers.
Parc Cwm long cairn lies in a former medieval deer park, established in the 1220s CE by the Marcher Lord of Gower as Parc le Breos – an enclosed area of about 2,000 acres (810 ha), now mainly farmland. The cromlech is on the floor of a dry narrow limestone gorge containing about 500 acres (2.0 km2) of woodland. Free pedestrian access is via an asphalt track leading from the park's entrance, which has free parking for 12–15 cars about 250 yards (230 m) from the site. Parc Cwm long cairn is maintained by Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environment division.Passage grave
A passage grave (sometimes hyphenated) or passage tomb consists of a narrow passage made of large stones and one or multiple burial chambers covered in earth or stone. The building of passage tombs was normally carried out with megaliths and smaller stones; they usually date from the Neolithic Age. Those with more than one chamber may have multiple sub-chambers leading off from the main burial chamber. One common layout, the cruciform passage grave, is cross-shaped. Sometimes passage tombs are covered with a cairn, especially those dating from later times. Not all passage graves have been found to contain evidence of human remains. One such example is Maeshowe. The Passage Tomb tradition is believed to have originated in the French region of Brittany. It was introduced to other regions such as Ireland by colonists from Brittany.Passage tombs of the cairn type often have elaborate corbelled roofs rather than simple slabs. Megalithic art has been identified carved into the stones at some sites. The passage itself, in a number of notable instances, is aligned in such a way that the sun shines into the passage at a significant point in the year, for example at sunrise on the winter solstice or at sunset on the equinox.
In a 1961 survey of megalithic tombs in Ireland, Irish scholars Seán Ó Nualláin and Rúaidhrí de Valera describe four categories of megalithic tombs: court cairns, portal dolmens, wedge-shaped gallery graves, and passage tombs. This appears to be one of the first uses of the term. It is likely that the writers borrowed from the Spanish term tumbas de corredor, which is used for tombs in Cantabria, Galicia and the Basque Country. Of their list, only passage tombs appear to have widespread distribution throughout Europe.
Passage graves are distributed extensively in lands along the Atlantic seaboard of Europe. They are found in Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, northern Germany and the Drenthe area of the Netherlands. They are also found in Iberia, some parts of the Mediterranean, and along the northern coast of Africa. The earliest passage tombs seem to take the form of small dolmens. In Ireland and Britain, passage tombs are often found in large clusters, giving rise to the term passage tomb cemeteries. Many later passage tombs were constructed at the tops of hills or mountains, indicating that their builders intended them to be seen from a great distance.Ring cairn
A ring cairn (also correctly termed a ring bank enclosure, but sometimes wrongly described as a ring barrow) is a circular or slightly oval, ring-shaped, low (maximum 0.5 metres high) embankment, several metres wide and from 8 to 20 metres in diameter. It is made of stone and earth and was originally empty in the centre. In several cases the middle of the ring was later used (at Hound Tor, for example, there is a stone cist in the centre). The low profile of these cairns is not always possible to make out without conducting excavations.Rousay
Rousay (Old Norse: Hrólfsey meaning Rolf's Island) is a small, hilly island about 3 km (1.9 mi) north of Mainland, the largest island in the Orkney Islands of Scotland, and has been nicknamed "the Egypt of the north", due to its archaeological diversity and importance.
It is separated from mainland Orkney by the Eynhallow Sound, and, like its neighbours Egilsay and Wyre, can be reached by ro-ro ferry MV Eynhallow from Tingwall, on the mainland of Orkney, which takes 20–25 minutes. This service is operated by Orkney Ferries, and can take up to 95 passengers (reduced to 50 in winter), and 10 cars. The ferry links the islands of Rousay, Egilsay, and Wyre with each other, and with the mainland of Orkney.Tor cairn
A tor cairn is a prehistoric cult site occurring in the British Isles, especially in Cornwall and Devon but also in Wales. It consists of a circular enclosure of stones or a platform of loose rocks surrounding a natural tor, sometimes encircled by a ditch. The diameter of the roughly 35 tor cairns ranges from 12 to over 30 metres and their height varies from 0.5 to 4.0 metres. There is usually an entrance to the enclosed area and pits in the ground between the rock outcrop (tor) itself and the enclosure.Finds of flint tools, pottery, gravel, quartz and bronze weapons and jewellery have enabled the sites to be dated to the early 2nd millennium B.C., i.e. the early Bronze Age.Examples are the tor cairns of: Alex Tor, Catshole Tor, Corndon Tor, Cox Tor, Hameldown Tor, Limsboro Cairn, White Tor (Peter Tavy), Rough Tor, Tolborough Tor, Top Tor, Tregarrick Tor and Yes Tor.Unchambered long cairn
Unchambered long cairns (sometimes also chamberless long cairns) are found in Scotland and northern England, and form a group of non- or semi-megalithic monuments. There are about 28 long cairns in north Scotland and 21 in south Scotland that show no evidence of internal stone chambers. However, proving the existence of wooden chambers under a cairn is not possible without excavation work. The exact classification of this group of monuments is therefore not easy. Three particularly noteworthy examples of these cairns are:
Dalladies in Kincardineshire, with cup and ring marks
Slewcairn in Kirkcudbrightshire.
Lochhill in Kirkcudbrightshire.All have narrow rectangular chambers whose positions are marked by wooden posts. The last two are especially interesting, because stone chambers were built into the mound at a later date. These make the connexions and overlaps of ideas clearly visible, something which can otherwise only be imagined from their classification by type.
Although none of the northern cairns has been excavated, their existence is significant for the architectural history of Scotland. The north is a region where passage tombs in circular cairns are especially common (the Orkney-Cromarty type). Sites that span several periods of time, such as Tulach an t'Sionnaich, demonstrate that both forms were used by the same communities. Several round cairns, like those of Camster had long cairns built over them, so that the round mound here retains its older shape. Many chamberless cairns and those with stone chambers have concave forecourts which are reminiscent of those that had been built earlier of wood (Haddenham and Street House) in Yorkshire.