Event ID 605458
NX 8812 5505 and NX 8810 5485 An eighth season of excavation by volunteer diggers and students of the
Stewartry Archaeological Trust has continued. Previous work has been reported in DES 2003, 44; 2005, 42; 2006, 48; 2007, 60; 2008, 51.
NX 8812 5505 The North Cairn: Excavation continued on the North Cairn and its satellite cairn this season. Further investigation of the Neolithic Passage Grave confirmed its construction as c2800–2500 BC making it the oldest feature on site. A great deal of tree root damage was obvious, but more of the stones which had lined the southern side of the entrance passage were exposed and now await further investigation once the wet weather damage of August has been rectified. The entire burial was under water for two months. A huge stone guarding the entrance to the passage was exposed and the present hypothesis is ‘that this stone was standing on its end as a totemic guardian of the entrance to the tomb’.
A complex of later, smaller, boat burials has been uncovered towards the eastern perimeter of the cairn and at least two of those exhibit evidence of having been constructed as late as the Iron Age. One of them had a
headstone in the shape of half of a millstone. The earliest burial was a boat-shaped cobbled cremation measuring 1.0 x 1.9 x 0.4m deep and this was surmounted by a 3 ton capstone. The grave was surrounded by a cobbled or paved area measuring 5 x 8m. A paved path or roadway led directly into this complex and it appears that, at a later date, the paved area surrounding the burial was broken through by later mourners who buried the ashes of their dead ones as near as possible to the earliest burial. Only three small areas of paving remain between the burials. The largest burial was 1.8 x 0.6 x 0.3m deep and the smallest 0.4. x 0.3m deep. All were covered by granite capstones of varying sizes. On the periphery of the complex there were 13 large postholes, possibly representing the uprights of a timber construction which covered this complex of burials. Whether it had walls has yet to be determined. Further excavation will indicate the possible function of this structure.
A further 11 large capstones, the biggest over 5 tons and 1.9 x 1.7m at its widest point, have been identified for
future removal. They are either covering further cremations or are the detritus of the local Victorian house-builders or quarriers, who obtained much of their granite building stone from the motte hill by the use of the then common feathering technique or the indiscriminate use of gunpowder.
The Satellite Cairn Further excavation revealed part of the kerb of the cairn, and on the northern perimeter it
became clear that a clay-based platform, of much altered construction, had been constructed over the earlier boulder surface of the cairn base. This platform leads S from the site of the defensive stone wall which surrounded the base of the medieval motte hill towards the centre of the original cairn. To date an area 3m2 has been exposed down to a layer of clay flooring, and 45 rounded granite stones of various sizes from golf ball to 130 x 150mm diameter hand-sized cobble were recorded. Most of these are round or oval and appear to have been specially selected. They resemble similar stones identified as missiles, which were found behind the slot of the timber palisade which delineated the southern edge of the motte hill facing onto the current
Further clearance of peat and topsoil exposed more of the cairn to reveal a number of possible capstones which were marked for removal. Three of those, all next to each other, were lifted and revealed two further cobbled cremation burials identical to those excavated on the North Cairn. Further excavation of this new addition to the Project will continue in 2010.
Funder: Frances Cairncross CBE FRSE, Hamish McRae, Stewartry Archaeological Consultancy
Liz Penman and Alastair Penman – Stewartry Archaeological Trust