Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

All our staffed properties, sites and offices, including the HES Archives and Library, are currently closed, but we’re working on plans to gradually reopen. In the meantime, you can access our services online. Find out more.

West Water Reservoir

Cist(S) (Period Unassigned), Awl (Copper), Bead(S), Beaker(S), Disc(S) (Cannel Coal), Food Vessel(S)

Site Name West Water Reservoir

Classification Cist(S) (Period Unassigned), Awl (Copper), Bead(S), Beaker(S), Disc(S) (Cannel Coal), Food Vessel(S)

Canmore ID 72107

Site Number NT15SW 37

NGR NT 1181 5256

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

Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Linton (Tweeddale)
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Tweeddale
  • Former County Peebles-shire


Excavation (1992 - 1994)

NT15SW 37 1181 5256.

A combination of wave erosion and low water level led to the discovery of an early Bronze Age cemetery on a low hillock (now an island) in West Water Reservoir, near West Linton, Peeblesshire (NT 1181 5256) in July 1992. The reservoir keeper, Mr Andrew Moffat, found some pottery which was brought to the attention of the National Museums of Scotland. A rescue excavation was mounted immediately by the NMS in view of the site's vulnerability: on the evening of the discovery some looting had occurred with serious damage to cist 3 and minor damage to other cists. The individuals concerned were identified but denied finding anything - nothing was recovered from their spoil.

The site is a flat cist cemetery, covering an area of 15m by 7.5m, which had been invisible on the surface until its exposure by the erosive action of the reservoir (constructed during the 1960's). The water had stripped all the topsoil and up to 30cm of subsoil from most of the site, apart from a small surviving knoll. The erosion had caused some of the cists to collapse and had destroyed all other features apart from two possible non-cist graves. Other cists towards the edges of the island may have been lost, but this is considered unlikely in view of the topography.

The remains of seven cists were recovered. In addition, two shallow scoops c2m by 0.7m may be the last tracees of grave-cuts for non-cist burials, although their destroyed state and the absence of surviving finds make it impossible to be certain. The area between and around the cists was cleaned but no other features were found.

The surviving knoll was excavated and two small shallow pits were found. These had been extensively disturbed by root action and ploughing - possibly also by the military use of the site during the Second World War. Feature 1, an approximately triangular pit 0.95m by 0.45m in plan and 0.20m deep, produced no finds. The presence of large stones in the fill, and the sharp edge on one side where disturbance was less severe, suggest it is a genuine feature of unknown date. Feature 2 was a sub-oval pit 0.90m by 0.65m in plan and 0.30m deep. A large stone, which may originally have been the capstone, had been displaced and the feature had filled with soil. Sherds from two different Beakers were found in the primary fill. This feature probably relates to the funerary use of the site although the general non-survival of unburnt bone makes it uncertain whether it ever contained skeletal material. From its size and shape it cannot have held a complete inhumation and no cremated bone was found. It suggests, perhaps, a more complex range of funerary rites than simple cist burial.

The cists survived in varying conditions. Given the depth of erosion all must originally have been set in deep pits so that the capstones would not have shown above the ground; the best-preserved cist, 7, was cut about 0.8m into the subsoil. There was no evidence of surface markers (with one possible exception), nor of any covering cairn or barrow. All the cists were of single-phase construction and use, with an unlined floor cut into the natural clay subsoil. The structural slabs appeared to be predominantly of local sandstone. Large slabs were not always available and both capstones and sides were often made of multiple smaller slabs. No unburnt bones were preserved but tooth enamel did survive, demonstrating the former presence of individual crouched inhumations. One deposit of cremated bone was found with an inhumation in cist 7 but both interments could be contemporary. All the intact cists (1, 3, 4 and 7) were filled with soil. In cists 1 and 3 the nature of the fills, with a layer dervied from subsoil and another from topsoil, strongly suggested that the fill had filtered in after the cist was closed. The evidence is not as clear for cists 4 and 7 but deliberate filling cannot be ruled out.

Cist 1 oriented ENE-WSW (071 degrees), contained an unaccompanied crouched inhumation, with head to the W.

Cist 2 oriented NNE-SSW (028 degrees), had largely collapsed due to erosion, but originally held a burial (probably a crouched inhumation) accompanied by a Food Vessel at the S end, a retouched flint tool and a fragment of chert with signs of use. The latter two finds had been moved from their original positions by water action.

Cist 3 oriented E-W (088 degrees), had been extensively disturbed in its eastern half by looters, who had removed the capstone and part of the fill. Fortunately, the bulk of the information lay at the W end, where the teeth indicated the crouched inhumation of an adult, lying on its right side. Round the body's neck had been either a two-strand necklace or two separate necklaces. One strand consisted of 180 disc beads of cannel coal. The other had both organic and lead beads. The 31 lead beads seem to be the earliest evidence for the use of metallic lead in Britain. Their original shape has been distorted by corrosion, but they appear to have been approximately cylindrical, c5mm long and 3mm diameter, with transverse perforations.

Cist 4 oriented slightly N of E-W (080 degrees), lay adjacent to cist 3 and also contained an inhumation with head to the W, accompanied by a Food Vessel and a copper alloy awl with traces of an organic handle. Both of these lay beside the head on the S side. The stratigraphic relationshiop between cists 3 and 4 had been destroyed by erosion.

Cist 5 oriented approximately ESE-WNW (roughly 110 degrees), consisted of a scatter of large slabs, suggesting a destroyed cist, but here was no trace of a pit or of any grave goods. If it was a cist, it was smaller and shallower than the others.

Cist 6 oriented slightly N of E-W (077 degrees), had been heavily damaged by erosion, with the side and end slabs collapsed. No skeletal material or grave goods survived. It was similar to cist 5, less well constructed and smaller than cists 1-4.

Cist 7 oriented ENE-WSW (065 degrees), was the best preserved cist. It contained two burials: an inhumation with head to the W, accompanied by a Food Vessel, and a cremation accompanied by a Food Vessel, a retouched flint tool, and two beads of bone or tooth. The burials may have been placed in the cist at the same time; the sequence cannot be determined because the bones of the inhumation were not preserved, but there were no clear indications of the cist having been reopened. A quartz flake (probably struck) and a small broken flint blade were not clearly associated with either burial. They were recovered from higher up in the fill, and may have been accidental inclusions. A very large boulder nearby may originally have been a marker for this grave.

Immediately NE of cist 7, a collection of large slabs may represent the destroyed remains of another poorly constructed cist similar to cist 5. However, there seems to be rather too few stones for this and the slabs are more likely to be the capstones from a destroyed feature similar to feature 2.

Sponsors: HS, Borders Regional Council, Lothian Water Board.

F Hunter 1992.

NT 118 525 Further water erosion over the winter exposed two more cists from the cemetery. These lay in the upstanding knoll, to the NE of cists 3 and 4, but had not been visible when this area was stripped in 1992 because the upper part of the pits was backfilled with subsoil.

Cist 8, oriented ENE-WSW, consisted of a pit 1.40m by 0.70m in plan, lined with small stones and covered with several small capstones. Erosion had damaged the SW end, removing some capstones and fill, but the bulk of the grave was undistrubed. A cremation deposit had been placed in the centre of the cist. The evidence of this burial suggests the poorly-constructed cists (5 and 6) which were noted in an eroded state in 1992 may originally have been similar.

Cist 9, oriented ENE-WSW, was a small, well-constructed cist which contained a cremation deposit. A small upright stone to the NE was probably a marker for this burial.

Sponsor: National Museum of Scotland

F Hunter 1993

NT 118 525. A long dry spell in 1994 exposed further features in West Water Reservoir (F Hunter 1992; 1993), which were reported to National Museum of Scotland by the reservoir keeper, Mr A Moffat and excavated in November 1994. Six areas (D-I on fig.3, 1995) were investigated; G turned out to be natural.

Erosion since 1992 had stripped topsoil and subsoil from the island E of the original cemetery. In 1992, nothing had been visible; in 1994, six clusters of stone slabs, perhaps the collapsed remains of archaeological features, were revealed (are F, fig.3). One overlay a shallow pit, and was clearly not a burial. The others, on the summit of the island, may be the remains of destroyed cists, covering an area of some 10m by 15m, in a similar setting to the 1992 cemetery. Interpretation is uncertain due to the presence of large flat slabs in the glacial till, although the clustering would be unusual in natural features, and by the lack of associated aretfacts, although given the damage this is unsurprising.

On the island immediately W of the 1992 site, a rectangular orhtostatic chamber just under 1m in length was partly revealed at its southern tip (area H, fig.3), but rapidly rising water levels prevented investigation.

Two sites were examined further W in the reservoir, where the valley narrows; part of a curvilinear wall (area E, fig.3) and an orthostat-lined feature interpreted as a hearth or cooking pit (area D). The wall was only partly exposed, and had been damaged by meandering of the burn. A knife-sharpening stone in its makeup suggests an Iron Age or later date. Its function is unclear, but is probably agricultural. The hearth comprised a sub-rectangular pit, 2.2m by 1.1m by 0.35m in size, orthostat-lined on three sides, with a shallow scoop at the W end leading into a deeper pit, filled with charcoal-rich soil and fire-cracked stones. There was no evidence of associated structures in the small area examined.

At the W of the reservoir, a shallow-sloping area has been partly stripped of turf by water action, exposing stone walls underlying the peat (area I), possibly prehistoric field walls. Time did not permit full study, but he remains were photgraphed and sketched.

Sponsors: National Museum of Scotland, Historic Scotland, Borders Regional Council

F Hunter 1995

Sbc Note

Visibility: This site has been excavated.

Information from Scottish Borders Council


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions