3.3.3 South-west Scotland

This encompasses Dumfries & Galloway, the mainland up to the southern mouth of the Clyde and Clydesdale. (A view can also be taken across the Solway to developments in Cumbria – a region with whose inhabitants the farmers of south-west Scotland were evidently interacting.) Major contributions to our understanding of this region have been made by developer-funded archaeology, including pipeline and road work (which has, for example, uncovered several Grooved Ware-associated sites); by the work of Jack Scott (mainly on megalithic tombs), Bill Cormack and Jane Murray (on Dumfries & Galloway); by the Biggar Archaeology Group and Lanark & District Archaeology Society in Clydesdale; by Julian Thomas’ excavations at Dunragit; and by Vicki Cummings and Chris Fowler’s investigations of ‘Bargrennan’ chamber tombs.

The ‘story’ here is one of the appearance of the ‘Carinated Bowl Neolithic’ by, or around, 3800 BC followed by its regionally-specific development, with Impressed Ware pottery beginning to be used perhaps as early as c 3600/3500 BC and Grooved Ware appearing from c 3000/2900 BC. All these developments are echoed in Cumbria.

Early Neolithic evidence for settlement includes the ‘hall’ at Lockerbie, Dumfries & Galloway (Kirby 2011) and various sites uncovered in Clydesdale, as on Biggar Common (Johnston 1997). It appears that Clydesdale and the Nith may have been key routes along which early farming communities rapidly spread. A presence on the sandhills of Glenluce is well represented (e.g. at Knocknab: Coles 2012). Early Neolithic funerary sites include the non-megalithic linear zone sites, covered by trapezoidal long mounds, at Lochhill and Slewcairn; a series of simple megalithic monuments (e.g. at Mid Gleniron and Cairnholy) seem to represent a translation into stone of the ‘linear zone’ idea. These form the basis for the emergence of a regionally-specific (and variable) tradition known as ‘Clyde cairns’, with clear links to very similar monuments in Ireland.

There is a cluster of cursus monuments around Dumfries (Thomas 2008).

A find of immense significance is the Rotten Bottom Bow, a yew longbow dating to c 3800 BC and very probably the possession of a farmer out on a deer hunt. A few Alpine axeheads have also been found in this region – including a broken and burnt piece, found at Cairnholy – and these will have been the possessions of the earliest farming communities in the region.

Middle Neolithic developments are represented at settlement sites on the Glenluce sandhills (McInnes 1964) and at Wellbrae and elsewhere in Clydesdale. Some large timber structures of Middle or Late Neolithic date may relate to similar structures seen elsewhere (e.g. at Balfarg Riding School).

Late Neolithic developments include the appearance of the large ‘palisaded enclosure’ at Dunragit. Finds of Grooved Ware at Alexandria (Suddaby pers comm) and Dreghorn, in addition to the finds at Dunragit and elsewhere, constitute significant additions to our knowledge. Publication of the major sites at Dunragit and Dreghorn will be important in allowing an understanding of Late Neolithic developments.

A very unusual find dating to the Late Neolithic is the pitfall trap at Mye Plantation, near Glenluce, dating to the second half of the third millennium BC. Pottery which was found between two of the pits seems to show a mixture of elements between Grooved Ware and Impressed Ware.

Key research questions for this region are:

  1. When were the Bargrennan tombs – a regionally specific monument type (Murray 1992, Cummings & Fowler 2007) built? Excavations have so far narrowed down the range to between c 3800 BC and c 1800 BC, but this needs to be narrowed, and the significance of these monuments needs to be bottomed out.
  2. When was the ‘Twelve Apostles’ stone circle constructed, and how does it fit in (if at all) with the Late Neolithic stone circles of Scotland?
  3. Overall land use patterns need to be explored. How were the uplands used? Was it only for hunting? How were the sandhills areas used?

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