Burnt mounds are mounds of heat-shattered stone, often crescentic in shape. These mounds are almost always found on the banks of a burn or stream. Excavated examples tend to date to the Bronze Age (around 2500-700 BC). There are over 1900 recorded burnt mound sites in Scotland, with the highest concentrations occurring in Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland, and Dumfries and Galloway. Less than 3% of the recorded burnt mound sites have been investigated, and their exact function remains unclear.
Burnt mounds are believed to be the by-product of heating large amounts of water. The mounds of fire-cracked stone often surround a central trough or pit which may have been lined with clay, wood or stone. It is believed that this pit would have been filled with water and hot stones thrown in; the stones would shatter as a result of the sudden change in temperature. The shattered stone was later scooped out and dumped in the area around the pit or trough, resulting in the mounds that we see today. The exact function of these sites remains a mystery, but they may have been for bathing or cooking.
For more information, use the links to the right to download Historic Scotland’s leaflet on prehistoric settlement or English Heritage’s leaflet on burnt mounds.