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Rock Cairn near Eigergletscher Station, Switzerland

Rock Cairn near Eigergletscher Station, Switzerland


A cairn is, in essence, an intentionally-laid of rocks, carefully stacked without mortar. Cairns are thought to have some meanings associated with marking property ownership or control, such as a landmark, a territorial marker, or a grave marker.

The word is occasionally used to mean a specific type of rock-covered burial; and as such are often only part of an archaeological site. Eventually, many rock-covered burials collected wind blown earth and are now classed as mounds.

Cairns are found throughout history and all over the world.


This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology, Archaeology Site Types and Archaeology Burial Types.

Sprague, Roderick. 2005. Burial Terminology: A guide for researchers. Altamira Press, Lanham, Maryland.

Rakita, Gordon F. M., Jane Buikstra, Lane A. Beck, and Sloan R. Williams(eds). 2005. Interacting with the Dead: Perspectives on Mortuary Archaeology fo the New Millennium. University Press of Florida, Gainsville.

Just a few of what must be thousands: Kintraw (Scotland), Shilla (Korea)

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