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Cairnholy

Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Axehead (Jadeite)

Site Name Cairnholy

Classification Chambered Cairn (Neolithic), Axehead (Jadeite)

Alternative Name(s) Cairnholy I; Cairn Holy 2; Kirkdale

Canmore ID 63716

Site Number NX55SW 2

NGR NX 51760 53890

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/63716

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

Administrative Areas

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

Archaeology Notes

NX55SW 2 51760 53890

(NX 5176 5389) Chambered Cairn (NR)

OS 6" map (1957).

For chambered cairn (Piggott and Powell Cairnholy I and Henshall KRK 3) situated uphill and to the N, at NX 51820 54045, see NX55SW 1.

(Piggott and Powell Cairnholy I). This Clyde-type chambered cairn is a conspicuous monument measuring axially 170' x 50', with a monumental cresentic facade and a ruined chamber. Excavated by Piggott and Powell, the forecourt blocking was found to cover hearths, a stone-hole, and western Neolithic sherds. The chamber is bipartite, the outer section contained a fragment of a jadeite ceremonial axe, probably attributable to the earliest burials, together with sherds of western Neolithic pottery and a leaf-shaped arrowhead. Late grave-goods comprised Peterborough and Beaker sherds and a plano-convex flint knife. The rear compartment, though robbed, contained a secondary cist, with food vessel sherds and a cup-and-ring carved stone.

Finds from the excavation are in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS Accession nos. EO 810-830).

Under guardianship.

S Piggott and T G E Powell 1951; R W Feachem 1963; J G Scott 1969; A D Henshall 1972, no. KRK 2.

As described and planned.

Resurveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (RD) 23 March 1972.

The jadeite axe (finds no. 563) is held in the Royal Museum of Scotland under accession number NMS EO 826.

T H McK Clough and W A Cummins 1988.

Activities

Publication Account (1986)

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).

Watching Brief (21 February 2008)

NX 5172 5389 To allow the placement of a sign a small trench was excavated in the car park WSW of Cairnholy Chambered Cairn 2 on 21 February 2008. Nothing of archaeological interest was noted.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Paul Fox (Kirkdale Archaeology), 2008

References

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