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Cairnderry

Chambered Cairn (Neolithic)

Site Name Cairnderry

Classification Chambered Cairn (Neolithic)

Canmore ID 63003

Site Number NX37NW 1

NGR NX 3159 7993

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/63003

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Minnigaff
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Wigtown
  • Former County Kirkcudbrightshire

Archaeology Notes

NX37NW 1 3159 7993.

(NX 3159 7993) Cairnderry Cairn (NAT) Chambered Cairn (NR)

OS 6" map (1957)

Cairnderry, a Bargrennan group, round cairn, had been very greatly reduced before 1896 when it was recorded in its present condition (F R Coles 1897), it is now a more or less level turf-covered platform 1 ft - 3 ft high. The edges are mainly indefinite, and in places irregular, due to robbing. The cairn has probably had a diameter of about 75 feet but is now spread to over 90 ft N-S and nearly 90 ft E-W. On the W side are four boulders which appear to belong to a peristalith; the S stone has fallen forwards. On the SE side there is one stone just projecting which also might belong to the peristalith.

The cairn has covered three chambers, set radially, built of large boulders which have been split. The "cupmarks" noted on one of the peristalith stones and on the stone inside the S chamber are perfectly clear and suspiciously deep. On the latter stone they occur in rows parallel to the strata of the stone, and can also traced as less well-defined hollows on the end of the stone. They appear to be due to weathering.

The presence of stone alignments has been claimed in the vicinity of this cairn. The line of earthfast boulders running E of N, starting 68 ft from the NE chamber, could not be identified in 1962. The other line of stones, running N and starting about 135 feet NW of the NW chamber, appears to be remains of a wall.

A S Henshall 1972; RCAHMS 1914; A H Johnson 1958

NX 3159 7994 Cairnderry Cairn is now situated within a forestry clearing, and measures 25.0m in diameter. It is otherwise as described. The cup marks are certainly the result of weathering and the surviving line of stones, which extends into the forest, is no more than the remains of an old field wall.

Surveyed at 1:10 000.

Visited by OS (BS) 1 April 1976

NX 3159 7993 In August 2002 a team from the universities of Cardiff and Manchester conducted a survey and preliminary excavation of the chambered tomb at Cairnderry (NX37NW 1). The extent of the surviving cairn was exposed to the W of the monument, and a 5m length of kerb was exposed to the S of the monument. These excavations revealed that the cairn had been heavily robbed in the W. Several courses of cairn stones remained in the majority of the exposed area, but near the centre of the monument the cairn had been robbed to the level of the ground surface in some places. The interface between this ground surface and the topsoil where stones were absent contained clusters of pot sherds which are probably earlier Neolithic in date.

Sponsors: British Academy, Society of Antiquaries of London, Prehistoric Society.

V Cummings and C Fowler 2002

NX 315 799 In 2002 a small team conducted a preliminary investigation of the site (DES 2002, 30). The vegetation and topsoil were cleared from the NW part of the cairn in order to assess the state and extent of the cairn. A small trench was also opened to the SE, which revealed a kerb still in situ. In most places the cairn survived at its lowest level, although it had obviously been heavily robbed in the past. In some areas, however, the cairn had been removed completely. Just to the NW of the southern chamber, where the cairn had been robbed away leaving only stone holes, small fragments of Early Neolithic carinated bowl were found.

Between August and September 2003 the southern chamber at the site was examined. Prior to excavation, what was presumed to be the capstone was lying on one side in the chamber. It was hoped that archaeological deposits might lie underneath this capstone, therefore it was removed and the chamber excavated. The area of the passage was also examined. Unfortunately, it seems likely that the chamber was robbed out prior to the capstone falling into it. A large number of modern finds in the upper fills suggest that the chamber had been robbed or disturbed relatively recently, although it may also be the case that the chamber was initially robbed out in the Bronze Age - as is well documented from sites such as Cairnholy. A few possible paving slabs were found lower down, but it is possible that these were collapsed corbelling stones. A few pieces of flint and Arran pitchstone were recovered from the chamber, for the most part mixed in with the subsoil under the paving/corbelling.

One of the most interesting results of the excavation is that a great deal more is now understood about the construction of the cairn and chamber. The large orthostats of the chamber were not bedded into the ground, but instead sat on 'cushion' stones which were placed directly on the surface of the ground. The implication of this is that the cushion stones, and possibly the primary cairn, were laid out prior to the construction of the chambers. A layer of greyish material was also found under the cairn stones around the chamber, suggesting redeposition of natural subsoils on the prehistoric land surface following clearance of the area (possibly by fire - the layer was rich in charcoal) and prior to the construction of the cairn.

There was only limited evidence from the passage. The socket of another large stone was found on the SE side of the chamber as well as cushion stone sockets to the SW side, supporting the idea that there once was a substantial passage leading from the chamber. However, the entire area had been robbed to the subsoil, leaving no archaeological deposits.

The most surprising element of the excavations was the discovery of a series of secondary deposits around the outside of the cairn. The series of kerbstones around the edge of the cairn in the SE sector were exposed again in 2003 and the area outside the kerbstones was excavated. A series of pits was found containing deposits of cremated bone, two of which were placed right up against the kerb. The first of these was a rather superficial spread of cremated bone and charcoal; the second was a much more substantial deposit. A third feature was found, which seemed to be a much deeper pit, also containing cremated bone and charcoal. The fourth feature was a pit cut into the subsoil just outside the point where the passage of the southern chamber would once have met the kerb. The pit contained an upturned collared urn surrounded by burnt bone and charcoal, and a complete stone battleaxe; it also contained a smaller 'accessory' vessel of poorly fired clay. The uppermost fill of this feature contained large stones, either from a collapsed cairn or capping, or from slipped cairn material.

The southern part of the cairn was also investigated in order to look for pre-cairn activity, but it was found to have been heavily robbed out, probably within the last few hundred years. A number of pieces of flint were recovered from the soil covered by the cairn, but no structures or features. An attempt to trace the line of the kerbstones to the SW of the cairn was unsuccessful, primarily because it seems that these stones were never set into sockets, as all of the major architecture rested on the surface rather than in sockets. It seems this part of the cairn has been so severely robbed and altered over the years that very little survives.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsors: British Academy, Society of Antiquaries of London, Prehistoric Society.

V Cummings and C Fowler 2003

NX 315 799 Following excavation last year (DES 2003, 49-50), the area to the SE of the cairn (NX37NW 1) was examined to ascertain whether additional deposits existed beyond the immediate area of the kerb. No further deposits were found. Instead, a spread of cairn material was discovered plus a small lithic assemblage.

The excavation of Pit 3 of the cremation pits around the kerb was also completed. Bone analysis of the small amount of cremation recovered last year suggested that this burial was that of a 5-year-old child. Excavation in 2004 recovered the rest of this cremation deposit. A separate cremation was also found inserted above this deposit. The bones are very small and friable, and may represent the remains of a cremated infant.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsors: British Academy, Society of Antiquaries of London, Prehistoric Society.

V Cummings and C Fowler 2004

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