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1992 RCAHMS Aerial Survey

Although the most exciting results have arisen from summer flying, reconnaissance this year has been spread over the entire year. Fourteen sorties were undertaken in the period January to May, three directed at architectural targets including mills, mines and other industrial sites, and nine at upland archaeology in the Borders and Grampian Regions. The drought conditions that were experienced in southern Britain from late spring onwards were delayed in their onset in Scotland by an episode of strong winds and low cloud, which made most impact in the E of the country. Some of the most impressive results of early summer flying were thus gleaned in SW Scotland where vegetational responses in pasture, as well as arable, revealed several cropmark-complexes of profound archaeological significance. This exceptionally dry spell ended on 26 June, but, with the rainfall of July conforming to the long-term average, cropmark formation was maintained here and in eastern Scotland until mid-August; the increasingly cloudy weather nevertheless provided poorer conditions for aerial work, manifesting themselves in duller photographs and bumpier flights!

The statistics of the summer flying reflect the high level of aerial activity maintained by RCAHMS: no fewer than forty-one sorties accomplished, amounting to more than a hundred hours' flying, and producing a provisional total of 1,047 sites recorded, of which more than 40% have not previously been recorded from the air.

Summer reconnaissance was carried out in the Cromarty and Moray Firths in Highland, along the northern coast and in Kincardine in Grampian, in Angus and Perthshire in Tayside, in Fife, in Stirlingshire in Central, in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire in Strathclyde, in the Lothians, in Dumfries and Galloway (with particular attention to Annandale), and in the Tweed Valley and its tributaries in Borders. Sites which may be of especial interest include various pit-defined structures of possible Neolithic date: a possible pit-defined cursus, similar to that at Inchbare in Angus, has been discovered at Holy wood, in Nithsdale, complementary to the two, revealed in part in 1978; various pit-enclosures have been detected in Perthshire, Nithsdale and Lauderdale; an indeterminate structure NE of Biggar recorded in the Inventory of Lanarkshire appeared in cropmark form as a small mortuary enclosure, while a probable henge was found in the valley of the Whiteadder Water. Remarkably detailed views of timber houses have been recorded in Ayrshire, the Rhinns of Galloway and Midlothian. New Roman camps have been located on the E bank of the Water of Luce, Lauderdale and on the Lyne Water, as well as a possible fortlet on the River Almond in Lothian. Square-barrow cemeteries were noted in the Black Isle, Invernessshire, Perthshire and Fife, at the last of which there is an example with barrows of ascending size. The paucity of markings in grass limited the recording of abandoned gardens, but there were interesting examples from Fife, Wigtonshire and Perthshire.

Among this exceptionally rich harvest of cropmark sites the discovery of one particular example deserves special mention. Immediately S of the village of Dunragit in Wigtonshire (NX 15 57) cropmarks in parched pasture revealed the existence of a magnificent complex of ceremonial or funerary structures probably belonging to the Neolithic period. The most spectacular takes the form of a triple circle of pits, about 300m in diameter overall, with an avenue of pits leading to the southern entrance. In the fields around can be seen what are probably henges, as well as other pit-alignments. The identification of an important complex of structures so close to the putative capital of an Early Historic kingdom (and comparable in many ways with major ceremonial sites in Southern Britain - Avebury, for example) raises intriguing possibilities.

RCAHMS (DES 1992, 90-1)