Loch Nell Serpent Mound, Scotland

A Scottish serpent mound with finds of flint and bronze knives. And folklore about battling giants. Tue 19 April 2022

Loch Nell serpent mound superimposed on map. Source: Serpentine, Andrew King, 2017

Among its many names are: - Kilmore Serpent Mound - Craigh Serpent Mound - Oban Serpent Mound

Nearby is a hamlet called Catrail. The 'cat' phoneme and similar sounds like 'Cot', 'Ket', 'Cote' and 'Coate' are often found near serpent mounds and sites with serpent lore. There is a reason for this.

Aerial view annotated by Andrew King. Source: Serpentine, Andrew King, 2017

it is an artificial shape, designedly given, and deliberately intended to represent a snake. It partly closes the entrance of a singular little rock amphitheatre with a waterfall at the head (the north end of it), the Loch being to the southward. There is a raised plateau to the northward of the serpent, nearly square. The ground is apparently a rubble of gravel, stones, and dirt, such as is found in moraines. The head of the snake had been opened, and showed a quantity of stones with some indication of a square chamber in the middle.

Plan and elevation, July 1879. Source

Loch Nell mound, Scotland, as plotted by Andrew King. Source: Serpentine, Andrew King, 2017

Loch Nell Serpent Mound as it looked around 1871. Source

From John S Phené's 1871 Reptile Tumuli lecture):

This spine is a ridge forming an angle on each side. The ridge is formed of large stones, as though they were the vertebræ of a huge animal, and at a declining angle slope away smaller stones, as it were the commencement of the ribs projecting from the spine.

Phené also clued people in to Loch Nell Serpent Mound's purpose:

the megalithic chamber and flint instrument, the cremation of the human bones, the wood and the hazel nuts, which tell of some mystic rites, of which Hallowe'en retains still a faint remembrance.

As did other writers of the time:

From Loch Nell: the Tomb of the Giants and a Serpent Mound quoting Constance Gordon-Cumming:

Gordon-Cumming... alludes to "white-robed priests" making offerings on the "mystic altar." She... reveals... the local tradition that in times past it was a place of public execution.

As does Ancient Monuments UK record while describing Craigh serpent mound as part of a so-called 'funerary complex':

This monument lies within a remarkable concentration of at least 10 cairns scattered along the valley floor between foot of Loch Nell and the head of Loch Feochan some 3km to the SW. These include three cairns only 200m to the N, one with a large cist or small chamber exposed; the Dalineun chambered cairn about 500m to the N; and a cluster of three cairns, including the 'Serpent Mound', about 800m to the N.

site lies about 15m above sea level, on flat land in a valley floor location, between Loch Nell 0.5km to the N and Loch Feochan, a sea loch 2km to the SW.

turf-covered stony mounds. The larger cairn measures about 32m in diameter and stands 1.8m high

in 1872, a bronze dagger blade was found in an undisturbed corner of the cist

second cairn ... is much smaller, measuring 8.5m in diameter and 0.6m high

circular earthwork (possible henge) ... takes the form of a low bank about 5m wide and 0.3m high with traces of an internal ditch, which encloses a near-circular area 21m in diameter.

there are traces of a depression outside the bank

[of the circular enclosure] researchers suggest were built between about 3000 and 2000 BC, to screen from view a ceremonial site that might be dangerous or for the eyes of a select few only.

[henges] frequently contain evidence of a variety of internal features, including timber or stone circles, pits or burials,

cairns frequently incorporate or overlie several graves

Flint knife and pot find, Lochnell, Scotland. Source

Grave goods - they are always cookware or toothpicks...

As viewed from roadside in 2017. Source: Serpentine, Andrew King, 2017

It was quite well described by Constance Gordon Cumming in [Good Words] and In the Hebrides, 1883, p47. Click on the link to see Gordon Cumming's full write-up. (IHASFEMR note: Constance Gordon Cumming's biography has patterns similar to Lady Augusta Gregory.) 1

Loch Nell serpent mound location

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Quartz crystals often show up in early reports of tumuli excavations. We don't know what the crystals meant.

From The Serpent-Mound of Loch Nell, In the Hebrides, Constance Gordon-Cumming

...in the heart of the tumulus were found two megalithic chambers, containing human remains and urns. Also divers white quartz stones... arranged in pairs, on a ledge of rock projecting above the urns, a single stone being placed at each end of this double row; another single white pebble was found inside one of the urns.

A considerable number of similar pebbles of white quartz have recently been discovered in various old British tombs...

These pebbles were also found in most of the old tombs recently excavated in the neighbourhood of Dundee, in fact, so frequent was their presence, that it was common for the workmen employed in excavating to exclaim, "Here the two stones! now we will get the bones."

Akin to these pebbles... are the conical masses of white quartz found entombed with human remains in tumuli at Inverary, Dundee, Letcombe Castle in Berks and Maiden Castle near Weymouth - precisely similar to those found in excavations at Nineveh (now to be seen in the British Museum), with this exception, that on the latter are carved representations of serpents, and of the sun and moon.

From Reptile Tumuli: A Lecture, 1871, John S Phené:

I would here mention the curious quartz conieal stone " altar " I exhumed from the Duke of Argyll's estate at Ach-na-Goul, being similar to one I lately discovered in an ancient British fort in Berkshire, and also similar in form to the Nineveh altars of the same kind now in the British Museum. I find white quartz was a frequent accompaniment of Celtic burial ; it seems to have indicated purity and eternity.

Photograhs of these stones are on the table, and I received an interesting letter from an antiquary who lately obtained permission from the authorities in the Isle of Man to search in the Sacred Circle, still used for convening the Parliament of the Island, for such quartz symbols ; and there also the same successful result was obtained . You cannot fail to remember the very interesting deposit of white quartz pebbles in the tombs of the Larger Cumbrae on the estate of the Earl of Glasgow , who presided at my inaugural lecture last year, and then presented you with those valuable relics now in your Museum.

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  1. From Augusta Gregory: "...they resided in London, where Augusta met many of the leading literary celebrities of the day, including Robert Browning, Henry James, and Alfred Lord Tennyson

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