The Nether Largie South Cairn is reached by means of a fenced path that leaves the minor road through Nether Largie not far south-west of the primary school. It is thought to have been the earliest, or certainly one of the earliest, of the many ancient monuments that were scattered across Kilmartin Glen by our distant ancestors, and as a result has a particular sense of significance within the landscape.
Nether Largie South Cairn now forms part of what is known as a linear cemetery, a line of cairns stretching some three miles very roughly south across the landscape from the village of Kilmartin. The first structure on the site was a chambered tomb, which was built between 5,500 and 5,600 years ago. The only older structure known to have been built in Kilmartin Glen was a ceremonial avenue, defined by posts, leading here from Kilmartin now clearly visible to the north.
The original cairn would have been more oblong than circular in design, and had a passage at its centre which was used as the final resting place for members of a local community of farmers. About 4,300 years ago, in other words well over a thousand years after the cairn was originally built, it was reused as a place of burial.
Move forward a couple more centuries into the Early Bronze Age and Nether Largie South Cairn was remodelled into a circular cairn, presumably to match others being built in the glen at the time. At the same time it was used to house two more burials, in stone cists: again like others taking place in the glen at the time.
The cairn was excavated over a three day period in 1864 by Canon William Greenwell, the librarian of Durham Cathedral. Canon Greenwell was an acknowledged expert in prehistoric monuments, and author of the influential book "British Barrows". His early deployment of the Time Team approach to rapid archaeology uncovered many finds in the main chamber that runs in a north south direction through the structure.
These included flints of various shapes, sizes and uses, cremated and uncremated human bones, pottery, knives, arrow heads, quartz pebbles, and animal remains. Many of these dated back to the original use of the cairn, but Beaker pots and flint arrowheads were evidence of the later reuse of the main chamber. Some of what was found is now on display in Kilmartin Museum.
The cairn was originally much larger than it is today, with much of it finding reuse in nearby field walls prior to the 1864 excavation. It nonetheless remains one of the more impressive of the Kilmartin Glen cairns, largely because of the interest and complexity generated by the stone roofed passage that runs through the heart of the cairn. Today only one of the two later cists is visible, to the south of the main cairn. It is likely that this originally lay within the diameter of the later much reduced structure.