Iraq Banner Desktop

Store Banner Mobile

The hide constructed on top of the Neolithic cairn.

Scotland’s Longest Neolithic Cairn Destroyed by Bird Watchers


A 5000-year-old stone burial structure in northern Scotland has been deliberately ripped apart to make way for an unsightly red-neck bird hide, constructed from a wooden pallet and the canopy for a pick-up truck. And to add an element of class, the hide was painted camouflage!

Known as Carn Glas long cairn, it is one of a group of three Neolithic burial mounds located at Achvraid, Essich, near Inverness. Created in the 4th millennium BC for funerary rites and burials, this site is protected by law and North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS) told reporters at The Press and Journal, “the cairn had been deliberately damaged.” In a social media post they added: “Apparently turf has been cut and stones have been removed to create a makeshift structure. This is a scheduled monument and the police, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and Highland Council are aware. Let’s hope an example can be made of the perpetrators.”

A photo of the hide structure erected at Carn Glas cairn. (Image: NOSAS)

A photo of the hide structure erected at Carn Glas cairn. (Image: NOSAS)

Police Scotland told reporters at The BBC that to have installed the hide at Carn Glas, considered to be the longest burial cairn in Scotland, the criminals “removed turf and stones” from one of the three burial cairns at the site and to "hold the hide in place” they smashed in "heavy metal pins.” Of late, it seems that every week I have to cover another shocking story about ever increasingly repugnant acts of archeological vandalism, and I am beginning to see patterns emerging.

In the Name of Just Cause

I find that in the east, this phenomena of archeological vandalism most often occurs in the “name of something,” to support an ideology, for example, Isis destroy Buddhist statues in the name of ‘religion’ and when ten ancient tombs in China were destroyed by bulldozers for an IKEA store in Nanjing, China, it was done in the name of ‘profit’. Furthermore, according to according to Simon Jenkins, writing in the  Guardian, June 2007 American soldiers in 2003 systematically destroyed Nebuchadnezzar's great city of Babylon and “a 2,500-year-old brick pavement leading to the Ishtar Gate, using the subsoil to fill sandbags, for a 150-hectare camp with helipads and car parks.”

Photo of the remains from the 1930s of the excavation site in Babylon. (Public Domain)

Photo of the remains from the 1930s of the excavation site in Babylon. (Public Domain)

Not that I agree with or endorse any of these actions - I have to admit that I can ‘understand’ why a terrorist group with a warped religious ideology might destroy religious statues to further their blinkered agenda. And in China, as much as it saddens me, I can conceptualize why a chain of bonus-inspired business people could decide to rip up ancient tombs when they have drooling shareholders to please. It is also not hard for me to understand why war-battered American soldiers outside Saddam Hussain’s palace might dig into an ancient building to take cover from mortar fire in the final stages of toppling an evil regime.

While these acts are nothing short of shocking, I can ‘understand’ why brainwashed, greedy and endangered humans might do such things. However, what makes me shudder to my core, because I can’t get my head around it, is the recent increase in empty, petty and mindless vandalism, which greatly occurs in the west.

The Brimham Rocks (Public Domain)

The Brimham Rocks (Public Domain)

They Just Don’t Give a Damn

Only last month I covered a story about a gang of youths in England rolling a massive boulder off a crag which destroyed the Brimham Rocks, an Ice Age formation in the Yorkshire Dales. Earlier this year, I almost cried on my keyboard writing about the FBI charging a 24-year-old American man, Michael Rohana, for snapping the thumb off of a 2,000-year-old Chinese terra-cotta warrior “to impress his friends.” And now, I am forced to report on another act of archeological destruction, which believe it or not, was committed in the name of “bird watching.” But was it?

Vandalism, is defined as an "action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property” after an ancient Germanic people, The Vandals, who violently and senselessly destroyed Rome under King Genseric in AD 455. I suspect that in the case of the ‘Inverness bird hide’ criminal, however, it was possibly not as deliberate, or as conscious an act of vandalism as some reporters make it appear to be. I think this is a classic case, not of willful, but mindless vandalism.

The Bird-Brained Scheme

Let’s look at the evidence offered by the ‘bird hide’ for a moment. Someone in the Inverness bird watching community has ‘come up’ with what they must have thought was a truly brilliant idea. Having obtained the appropriate truck topper, they undertook a considerable painting project to craft their camo-monstrosity into shape.

Then, this super-tasteless heap of trash was driven to the location and hiked up to the cairn. Just like the ancient cairn builders did 5000-years-ago, having chosen the location for their new structure the area was cleared of stones and flattened. While the foundations of the Neolithic cairn have remained in situ for 5000-years, the 2018 bird watchers attempt was blown over in less than a couple of weeks. And therein’ lies the take away in all this.

Not that I agree with everything he says, but in 2013 Pope Francis said something that still resonates with me, deeply: “Around the world today,” he said, the powerful "feed upon the powerless" and too many people are treated as "consumer goods to be used and then discarded.” And according to an Eco-business article “Today, mass consumption and shopping are a way of life in the west, and from fast fashion to the next iPhone, consumers sometimes don’t even wait for something to break or wear down before replacing them.” A ‘throw-away’ society is a human society strongly invested in overconsumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable things, rather than making durable goods and repairing them.

The bird hide installer saw ‘great value’ in recycling a 10-year-old truck topper, yet saw not a glint of value in the 5000-year old cairn he mindlessly ripped apart to install it. Could there be a sharper projection of a “throw-away society” than in this story?

Top image: The hide constructed on top of the Neolithic cairn. Source: The Press and Journal

By Ashley Cowie



Gary Moran's picture

I suppose someome stupid or ignorant enough to do this could plead innocence for a variety of intentions in an attempt to justify his actions. Surely it was obvious to the perpetrator that there was something there more important than whatever they were doing with that ‘construction’. 

By all means make an example of this idiot and publicize it to the max. String them up by the soft parts and let them dangle for a while. My vote for physical punishment – a monetary fine is no deterrent as you have so adeptly noted due to the ‘disposable’ attitude so common these days.

The guy was a real "bird brain". I could not resist.

Numerous manufacturers make temporary blinds that set up in minutes and look a hell of a lot better than that abomination. Whoever did that was just plain stupid. The penalty should be extremely severe.

I bet you're right, Veronica.

Much as I hate to say it, I think this was a case of they just had no idea what the place was. Were there any signs or interpretive panels ? As a general rule youngster are not taught in school about ancient monuments, so they grow up with little or no knowledge about them. It also has to be remembered that it is only relatively recently that we have assigned value to a lot of our ancient past. Previous generations just cleared old stuff and built new.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

Next article