Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

In recognition of the essential restrictions and measures imposed by the Scottish and UK Governments, we have closed all sites, depots and offices, including the HES Archives and Library, with immediate effect. Read our latest statement on Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Blackshouse Burn

Cairn(S) (Period Unassigned), Mound(S) (Period Unassigned), Pit Enclosure (Prehistoric)(Possible), Ritual Enclosure(S) (Neolithic)

Site Name Blackshouse Burn

Classification Cairn(S) (Period Unassigned), Mound(S) (Period Unassigned), Pit Enclosure (Prehistoric)(Possible), Ritual Enclosure(S) (Neolithic)

Alternative Name(s) Knowhead; Blackhouse Burn

Canmore ID 47640

Site Number NS94SE 11

NGR NS 9526 4048

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council South Lanarkshire
  • Parish Pettinain
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Clydesdale
  • Former County Lanarkshire


Reference (1864)

This large camp is situated by the side of a moss in the valley near the farm of Knowhead. The extensive fortification is of an irregular form with a single entrenchment of a comparatively slight character which measures 300 yds (274.4m) in length by 230 (210.4m) in breadth.

G V Irving and A Murray 1864.

Reference (1890)

Knowhead, (native) fort. This fort is the fourth and most important of the group, being situated not on the crest but in the elevated and slightly hollowed plateau that is half encircled by the crest. This plateua is, for the most part, a half-drained marsh which surrounds the fort, except where the rampart comes to the edge of the plateau and descends a little way down the hollow through which runs a little rill, passing Knowhead Farm to join the Mill Burn. This rill takes its origin by two heads in marshy ground within the fort, the interior of which is higher elsewhere and tolerably dry.

The single enclosing mound is an irregular oval, about 1200 paces round, but as the surface is very rough the paces were probably short. The Statistical Account [OSA] gives the area as about 6 acres. The mound, though it rarely exceeds 2, and never 3 or 4, feet in height, is of a tolerably uniform breadth, averaging 35 ft (10.7m), and, although thinly covered with moss and heather, consists of little else than stones, as shown in many breaks and several accidental sections. The stones are for the most part smallish, but every here and there large blocks occur, and it seems no improbable hypothesis that we have here the remains of a massive wall which has been cast down and spread out for the purpose of plundering the large stones. Indeed, how else can we account for the great zone of stones, 35 ft (1-.7m) wide and only 2 or 3 ft high? Probably the remains were in better preservation at the end of the last century (when noted by OSA and New Statistical Account - NSA).

On the NW there is a singular re-entering curve in the oval, opposite to which, and about 35 yds (32m) outside the line of the oval is a detached circular work 150 ft (45.7m) in diameter with a single vallum , 15 ft (4.6m) wide and 2 to 4 in height. This detached work is planted entirely in marsh, which even occupies the inside of it. There is some appearance of a causeway connecting it with the main work and a fragment of mound halfway between.

D Christison 1890.

Field Visit (29 January 1968)

The larger enclosure is about 270m in diameter, formed by a low spread stony bank about 10.5m wide and up to a metre in height. It has been heavily quarried. It partly encloses a raised plateau on the NW, and drops to lower ground on the SE. Two streams rise in the interior and flow through gaps in the S and SE.

The smaller enclosure, of similar construction, is about 60m in diameter, with a bank 4m broad, also heavily quarried.

The purpose of both enclosures is uncertain, but they appear to be contemporary.

Surveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (EGC) 29 January 1968.

Desk Based Assessment (9 April 1979)

NS94SE 11 9526 4048.

(Centred NS 9527 4049 and NS 9509 4053) Enclosures (NR)

OS 1:10000 map (1978)

One of the strangest monuments in Lanarkshire is situated on open moorland 2.5 km N of Thankerton, within the natural amphitheatre formed by the Cairngryffe, Swaites and Chester Hills. It consists of a bank 11m thick which encloses a roughly circular area of about 6.5 ha (16 acres), and which has clearly been sited to include the twin heads of the Blackshouse Burn, one of the tributaries of the Glade Burn. The position has no defensive value, and examination of the bank by the RCAHMS showed that it had consisted largely of stones, heaped together with only a small amount of earth and rock rubble. Because the stone content had included a high proportion of sandstone slabs, the bank has been heavily robbed and is nowhere more than 1.2m high. Throughout its entire length it is disfigured by quarry-scoops, while piles of small stones discarded by the robbers overlie the remains of the bank for a distance of about 110m on the WNW. There is no trace of a ditch, nor any certain indications of an entrance, and the interior, which falls slightly on the SE but is otherwise more or less level, exhibits no sign of structures.

The Statistical Account (OSA 1794) records that some 'urns' had been found 'under the ruins of the wall, a great many years ago by some people that were digging out the larger stones, for the purpose of building. They were each of them enclosed within four coarse flag stones, set on edge, and covered with one laid flat. The space included by these flags was filled to a considerable depth, with a fine whitish sand, among which the urn was standing in an inverted position. Upon removing the urn, something of a soft slimy nature was found upon the sand, which, probably might be the ashes of human bones.' This appears to have been a small cinerary urn cemetery, with each burial deposit protected by a setting of stones.

Although different in construction, notably in the absence of a ditch, the enclosure compares in size with such late Neolithic ritual enclosures as Avebury, Wiltshire (11.5 ha) and Mount Pleasant, Dorset (5.6 ha). If this monument is indeed a Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age ritual enclosure, it is likely that the burials noted above did not antedate the construction of the bank, but were subsequently inserted into it.

Immediately outside the bank on the WNW there is a small sub-circular enclosure of uncertain purpose. It measures about 40m in diameter within a stony bank averaging 8.5m in thickness and up to 0.7m high; this bank also has been severely robbed. A gap on the SE may represent an original entrance.

Information from OS (IF) 9 April 1979

Sources: OSA; RCAHMS 1978, visited 1976

Project (28 May 1985 - 13 April 1999)

Excavation and geophysical survey of a Neolithic enclosure and the surrounding area at Blackhouse Burn. Geophysical survey in 1998 titled the Blackshouse Burn Environs Project.

O Lelong and T Pollard 1999

Trial Trench (28 May 1985 - 10 July 1986)

(Location cited as NS 952 404). Blackshouse Burn: ceremonial enclosures, cairns, mounds, trackways, former lochan. Excavation and survey in response to proposed land improvements both within and around the 6.5ha enclosure at the headwaters of the Blackshouse Burn have revealed much new information about this remarkable monument and its surroundings. The interior of the enclosure contains 19 mounds and small cairns and is traversed by a network of trackways and drains of various dates. Four cairns and two small, insubstantial enclosures lie within 50m of the enclosure; a former lochan - now filled by silt and peat - lies immediately to the W.

Limited excavation of the bank revealed the following sequence:

Phase 1 - Turf stripping followed by activity represented by stakeholes, a possible hearth and an extensive spread of charcoal and ash.

Phase 2 - The construction of a drystone bank contained by external and transverse divisions of upright flagstones.

Phase 3 - The erection of large, upright posts on the inner and outer margins of the Phase 2 bank.

Phase 4 - The decay of the Phase 3 posts followed by the construction of low heaps of earth and stone against the inner and outer flanks of the Phase 2 bank.

Phase 5 - The laying of flagstones to cap the flanks and, possibly, the crest of the bank.

Phase 6 - Extensive robbing of the centre of the bank, possibly during the 18th century AD.

A spread of charcoal and crude stone surface were exposed on the inner margin of the bank. The decayed stumps of the phase 3 posts had survived and a radiocarbon date of 2085 +/- 55 bc (GU-1983) from one post seems to confirm the Late Neolithic period of the site that was suggested by RCAHMS (1978).

A trench exposing two of the mounds on the interior showed these to be insubstantial stone settings. The mounds lay to either side of a recent rutted track, while an unrutted gravel path to the N may be an earlier feature. A sherd of AOC Beaker pottery was found in the B horizon of the spoil at the S end of the trench.

Sponsor: HBM, CEU.

P Hill 1985.

Ground Survey (28 May 1985 - 7 June 1985)

Detailed topographic survey of the main enclosure and the small, adjacent one at Blackhouse Burn.

Note (3 April 1998)

The discovery by Hill of a row of pits containing the stumps of posts beneath the bank of the larger of the two enclosures suggests the presence of an earlier timber-built perimeter. Such an enclosure would be comparable to those pit-defined enclosures recorded as cropmarks by aerial photography. Thus, it has been plotted as a large ritual enclosure on a distribution map of Neolithic monuments covering southern Scotland.

Information from RCAHMS (ARG), 3 April 1998.

P Hill 1985; RCAHMS 1997.

Note (4 May 1998)

This monument is situated on the boundary between the parishes of Pettinan, and Covington and Thankerton; the greater part of its area falls within the former parish.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 4 May 1998.

Non Invasive Techniques (1998)

NS 953 396 As part of a survey of the prehistoric upland landscape around the large Late Neolithic enclosure at Blackshouse Burn, several concentrations of monuments were recorded by total station survey in October 1998. A survey was carried out of the circular, double-banked and ditched enclosure on Chester Hill (NS 953 396). Geophysical survey (including fluxgate gradiometer and electrical resistivity) was also carried out of the interior of the enclosure, and found evidence for an interior ditch or series of quarry scoops, as well as a possible former entrance on the S.

The large and small enclosures in the basin at Blackshouse Burn (NS 953 405) and at Meadowflatts (NS94SE 12) were surveyed by total station, along with small cairns and possible building platforms in the vicinity. Geophysical survey in the western part of the large Blackshouse Burn enclosure revealed a series of magnetic anomalies which may represent burning events or waterlogged posts used in the bank construction.

A concentration of archaeological remains on the SW-facing slope of Cairngryffe Hill, to the SE of Cloburn Quarry (NS 947 410), was also surveyed including several hut circles, many small clearance cairns, cultivation traces, hollow ways and a sub-rectangular scooped building. Archaeological remains surveyed on the NE facing slopes of Swaites Hill included clearance cairns, hollow ways, cultivation traces and, on the summit of Swaites Hill, what is probably a large ring-cairn.

A full report is lodged with the NMRS.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

O Lelong and L Sharpe 1999


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions