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Publication Account

Date 1986

Event ID 1017471

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


On their hillside setting above Wigtown Bay, these two chambered tombs possess a range of dramatic visual qualities that are apparent under all lighting conditions. The lower or southern cairn (Cairnholy I) is quite majestic with its pillared eastern facade; set on a knoll some 150m to the north, Cairnholy II is not so grand but its portals and inner capstone give it a more mysterious aspect. These tombs are the best of the Clyde group of long cairns in the region, and their excavation in 1949 produced a rich assemblage of finds (RMS).

Cairnholy I has been robbed of most of its overlying cairn material. In its final prehistoric form it was a long straight-sided mound, about 43m by 10m, aligned along the contour and extending beyond the present road. The inner burial-chamber with its massive side-slabs probably represents the nucleus of the tomb, and was covered with a small cairn. To this was later added an ante-chamber, and then a concave 'homed' facade comprising eight tall pillars. The forecourt seems to have been designed as a setting for ritual ceremonies. At least six fIres had been lit in this area before it was blocked for good, and indications of pottery-associated offerings were uncovered. A fragment of jadeite axe-blade found in the outer compartment may also have been related to these ceremonies.

There is a large slab in the inner chamber which bears a weathered cup-mark with four or five concentric rings; it possibly roofed the last (cist) burial within thiscompartment A small cup-and-ring-marked slab found in the inner chamber is now in RMS.

The cairn which originally covered Cairnholy II has been much denuded, leaving only its irregular oblong outline around the summit of the hillock. Most of the stones evidently went into the construction of dykes and buildings in the late 18th century, but robbing stopped at the large slabs of the tomb itself. It consists of slab-sided inner and outer (perhaps secondary) chambers, the inner still retaining its large capstone. The entrance is flanked by tall and leaning portal stones, one 2.9m high, the other possibly broken; like Cairnholy I, it had a large closing stone, now recumbent Excavated frnds from the outer compartment included a leaf-shaped arrowhead, a flint knife and Beaker pottery, thus showing a similar range of users to that of the neighbouring tomb.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Dumfries and Galloway’, (1986).

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