Cairn is a term used for a man-made pile (or stack) of stones. It comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn (plural càirn). Cairns are found all over the world in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, near waterways and on sea cliffs, and also in barren desert and tundra areas. They vary in size from small stone markers to entire artificial hills, and in complexity from loose, conical rock piles to delicately balanced sculptures and elaborate feats of megalithic engineering. Cairns may be painted or otherwise decorated, e.g. for increased visibility or for religious reasons.
In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times. Since prehistory, they have also been built as sepulchral monuments, or used for defensive, hunting, ceremonial, astronomical and other purposes.
Famous quotes containing the word cairn:
“Much wondering to see upon all hands, of wattles and woodwork made,
Your bell-mounted churches, and guardless the sacred cairn and the rath,
And a small and a feeble populace stooping with mattock and spade,
Or weeding or ploughing with faces a-shining with much-toil wet;
While in this place and that place, with bodies unglorious, their chieftains stood....”
—William Butler Yeats (18651939)