The Newbarns Dig

LOCAL AUTHORITY – Dumfries & Galloway
PARISH – Colvend & Southwick
SITE NAME – The Newbarns Project
NAMES OF CONTRIBUTORS – Liz & Alastair Penman
TYPE OF SITE: Two Neolithic Kerb Cairns and one E.B.A. satellite Kerb Cairn with inhumation and cremation burials in cists or boat-shaped cobbled graves. Later Iron Age, Roman civilian settlement, Anglian and Medieval occupation is evidenced on site.

Recent Project Updates are being Posted in our news section.  Please check the news until this section is fully updated.

2012 Abbreviated Report

REPORT: NX 8812 5505: The NORTH CAIRN.

A twelfth season of excavation by volunteer diggers under the auspices of The Stewartry Archaeological Trust (Scottish Charity No: SC 040018) has continued during July and September. Previous excavation has been reported in DES 2003, 44: 2005, 42: 2006, 48: 2007, 60: 2008, 51: 2009, 54-5: 2010, 52: 2011, 59: 2012, 56-7.

Three further Early Bronze Age boat-shaped burials, with the bows of the boats pointing towards the east, which were identified in 2012, on the North Cairn were subject to limited excavation when it was found that a stone founded granite construction had been erected and set into the cuts within their joint perimeters. This later juxtaposition construction had one playing card corner surviving to the north and what appeared to be the remnant of a stone staircase to the south which was constructed within the central original boat burial. A row of stakeholes to the east of the cut hint at some form of fencing in the past most likely relating to the later feature.. Unfortunately heavy rain late in the season prohibited further investigation of this feature.

Further excavation immediately to the east of the above feature uncovered five more medium sized granite capstones which were removed by muscle power as opposed to JCB power. In each of them there was a larger stone set into a cist covering a cremation pit (Burials 72-76). Further excavation is required on these features to determine the reason for their location at this place as opposed to their inclusion within the postulated shrine area.

The western end of the roadway into the above shrine featrure was further investigated and yielded evidence of its having been an imposing entrance – the portal or way to or from life and death with entry which could only have been made, travelling eastwards, from the waters of the loch. Mourners or funerals or both! Within the hypothesised shrine area, after the removal of a large capstone, a further boat shaped burial (Burial No 60) facing north to south was excavated immediately to the east of the E.B.A burial No 30 detailed in previous reports. Both burials shared two large cist side stones in common, those of Burial no 30 to the east and those of Burial No 60 to the west. This points to the fact that those two E.B.A burials must either have been contemporary or one – Burial No 60 – could have been later and the Prehistoric mourners found it to their advantage to incorporate part of the earlier existing burial (No 30) into the later one thus saving both stone and space in an area which may have been becoming overcrowded yet managing to contain it within the environs of the already designated graveyard. A further anomaly was the discovery of a shale stone bearing an incised cross on the upper level of Burial No 30. The incised stone would appear to have been pushed under the capstone of Burial 30 at a later date. This is the second such incised shale stone – an earlier find was a rogues tone found on the site in no particular context, but immediately adjacent the stone founds of a medieval building dated to the 13th century. A heavily cobbled surface was found to have survived in the region of some later burials on the southern part of the cairn. Within this several capstones were in evidence and four of theses were lifted to reveal cobbled cists with cremation deposits set under larger stones. There was also evidence of a later drain having been inserted through the cobbled area.

2012 Abbreviated Report

The NORTH CAIRN & Satellite Cairn.

An eleventh season of excavation by volunteer diggers under the auspices of The Stewartry Archaeological Trust (Scottish Charity No: SC 040018) has continued in spite of being greatly hampered by the wettest summer on record since 1908. A twelve week season was reduced to six weeks and excavation work suffered accordingly. Previous excavation has been reported in DES 2003, 44: 2005, 42:  2006, 48:  2007, 60:  2008, 51:  2009, 54-5:  2010, 52: 2011, 59.

Three further Early Bronze Age boat-shaped burials, with the bows of the boats pointing towards the east, have been identified, but not yet excavated due to the adverse weather conditions as they were flooded. What is now apparent is that a series   of later palimpsest burials have been placed on top of them which have been tentatively dated to the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. These are circular in shape, none have a capstones covering them and all exhibit more than a single cremation pit. This extension of the already existing E.B.A. linear cemetery is indicative of major activity c 2150 BC as shown by artefacts recovered from two of the boat-shaped burials. No cremated remains have been identified although the small individual cremation pits in which the ashes of the dead were deposited are obvious within the cobbled flooring of the larger cist-type graves. A few of these have yielded either flint, quartz or stone artefacts. Many of the original capstones have been removed in antiquity.

A proposed high status burial (No 59) in the Shrine area of the site has yielded three separate cremation pits each of which contained a ritual deposit – two flint tools and a shale rubber.

A cobbled roadway leading from the ancient loch onto the cairn has been further excavated and extended to the eastern bank of Newbarns loch to find the entrance which has had a large timber post at the north and south sides. The post pipes of this putative entrance way yielded a quartz pebble (north) and a flint flake (south). The flint has been identified as being a straight stemmed arrow point blank bimarginal tool with a broken dorsil ridge (Andrevsky). A series of post-holes set into the edge of this feature and leading into the proposed Shrine area. On the southern edge of thisPortal Way– a portal between the living and the dead – there were six posts set at intervals of between 1.10m and 1.80m and on the northern edge there were 5 posts set at between 1.40m and 3.20.m all leading onto a paved area which had been constructed around the burials. A further six postholes delineated the cut of the Shrine area at intervals of approx 1.0 metres. The present speculation is that these timbers once supported a roof covering both the pathway and the paved area around the burials to provide either privacy or shelter.

Two further postulated burials have been uncovered on the southern edge of the cairn and remain to be excavated next season. The capstones are still in place.

On the smaller satellite cairn postholes delineated the rectangular construction mentioned in a previous report, but no dateable artefacts have so far been recovered other than flint and stone items from a prehistoric level under the upper cobbled floor which has been speculatively dated to the medieval era.


A geophysical survey was undertaken in the field to the south of the South Cairn in what was a drained loch. This was to investigate the offsite aspects of this palimpsest. Magnetometry readings were taken for all of the area surveyed while the Electrical Resistance Survey was more targeted due to the very wet August weather and insufficient field drainage preventing any extensive use of this method of recording.

Some of the preliminary findings deducted that drainage was always an issue, with evidence of drainage work from many periods going back to the Bronze Age. The capstones overlying one segment of drain were partially exposed and this revealed a similar construction method to medieval samples already examined across the kerb cairn itself. Further analysis during the winter months will seek to identify earlier features for evaluation trenches and research purposes.


A similar survey was conducted on the site of the Standing Stone half-a-mile to the north of the North Cairn, DES 2009, 55; DES 2010, 54. Due to the variance in magnetic flux density of the bedrock, no archaeological anomalies were apparent round the Standing Stone. The survey results showed no additional features in the vicinity of the monolith.

2008 Abbreviated Report

The South Cairn. A seventh season of excavation by volunteer diggers and students of the Stewartry Archaeological Trust has continued. Previous work has been reported in DES 2003: 44.   2005: 42.   DES 2006: 48  DES 2007: 60.   A 1.50 metre wide sondage was dug into the north-west perimeter of the cairn and continued north-eastwards for 5.50 metres. The cairn construction was revealed. A thin layer of boulder clay had been put down as a cairn-base in the southern, shallow end of Newbarns Loch. A 0.60 metres thick layer of aggregate had been placed on top of that and a further thin layer of clay had been deposited over the aggregate prior to the insertion of the boulders comprising the cairn.In the south-east and south-west quadrants of the cairn a further nine possible Bronze Age cremation burial capstones were lifted and five of those proved to be concealing postulated cremation pits. Due to the deteriorating weather conditions during most of the season these have not, as yet, been subjected to detailed examination.

North Cairn. By the end of the 2008 season a total of one Neolithic Passage Grave, four Early Bronze Age cremation burials set into full size boat shaped pits and thirty later cremation burial pits, some containing twointerments, all of which contained stone tool artefacts of some sort. Most were

covered by a flat-topped capstone ranging in size from several tons in weight to only a few pounds. The early Bronze Age burials have been dated by the presence of a flint barbed and tanged arrowhead in one of the cremation deposit depressions of a burial.The burial levels have been covered by medieval cobbled floors, identified and dated

from artefacts recovered from their surfaces, and further medieval occupation evidence is evident from the presence of a series of channels which have been dug down into the earlier levels and then roughly backfilled with both shale and granite boulders. These cross the southern half of the cairn and travel from south-east to north-west.  A Tentative presumption is that they may be connected with some early medieval industrial work such as bleaching or tanning.   A fifteen metres diameter satellite cairn is in process of excavation immediately adjacent to the east of the North cairn and this has proved to be the site of severalmore Early Bronze Age cremation burials. With the aid a JCB several huge capstones

were either lifted or moved and a burial exposed under one of those yielded another barbed and tanged arrowhead of the period 2150 – 1800 BC. Unfortunately the very wet weather prevented further examination of this cairn.

2007 Abreviated Report

A sixth season of excavation by volunteer diggers and students of the Stewartry Archaeological Trust has continued on the North Site at Newbarns.
By the end of the season a total of eighteen prehistoric burial pits, the earliest having been dated to the Early Bronze Age, have been identified and at least a further five are earmarked for future investigation. To the north-east of the existing north cairn a further, smaller, satellite cairn was recovered from the peat covering the old loch bottom. On its northern perimeter there is evidence of burial in the form of a huge granite capstone sitting on granite cushion stones. There is no evidence of later, medieval, presence as there is on the other cairns being currently excavated, so it can be hypothesised that this feature was still beneath the waters of the then Barnhourie Loch during the later tenure of the cairns at Newbarns by the Colwen family who were Drengs from Workington in Cumbria.

The Neolithic passage grave was further excavated to reveal the 4.2 metres long passage leading from the kerbed edge of the cairn to the entrance of the burial chamber. This has either been filled in after use when the monument was closed for posterity, or has been backfilled in medieval times and a timber building erected over it. Unfortunately subsidence into the passage has occurred, the cobbled floor of the building has tilted to the south and usage would then have been untenable. A dateable cupro-bronze pin head was recovered from this cobbled floor level. The huge capstone has been shifted off the level by violent tree-root action, some of the side stones of the passage have been identified and it would appear that they have suffered a similar fate. These will be lifted next season. One flint tool was recovered from behind the chamber of the burial, the fourth to be found in the immediate vicinity of this feature which has been so badly damaged in antiquity that it may be speculated that a deliberate attempt to destroy this ancient monument may have taken place. A large extent of cobbling level has been uncovered to the north of the passage grave and a number of postholes of varying sizes would indicate that a north-east facing rectangular timber building latterly stood on this part of the site. Speculation dates it to the medieval occupation of the cairn when it was in use as a bailey settlement. Several round Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age burials have been revealed, some of which contain two cremation depressions and all are lined with granite and shale cobbling into which broken stone tools have been inserted. One contained a large shale anvil and the entire pit had been backfilled with small granite boulders prior to a small, flat capstone having been set in position on top of the pit. A further series of pit-like features has been uncovered adjacent to this burial and underneath a further layer of medieval backfilling and these await investigation.

To the north of this feature a series of stake-holes have been found surrounding the cut of another large stone filled pit. Due to the recent Foot & Mouth Disease precautions and the strictures of DEFRA it has not been possible to carry on any excavation of the South Site at Newbarns during 2007. It is hoped to remedy this in 2008.

The Newbarns Project was again selected as a 2007 competition prize by the Young Archaeologists Club and was won by Hannah from Glasgow who spent an enjoyable day on site.

2005 Abreviated Report A fourth season of excavation on two sites, Newbarns South Cairn and Newbarns North Cairn, has confirmed the existence of one Neolithic passage grave on each cairn. Dating from theNewbarns North site was confirmed by the presence of three flint tools in the remnants of the burial chamber which had been shelved during construction. The burial feature on Newbarns South Cairn was robbed in antiquity by builders who, it was recorded, were seeking materials for the construction of nearby houses.The last quadrant, the south-west one, on the South Cairn was removed to xpose the stone surface of the cairn in its entirety. On examination there are fourteen putative Early Bronze Age burials, each under a large capstone, awaiting further investigation next season. Three of these are outside the perimeter of the cairn. To date two of the capstones of the burials have been moved and revealed boat shaped cuts each with a small depression under a cobbled platform into which a representative deposit of cremation material may have been made. Broken stone tools were found integrated into the cobbled surface in both cases.Three parallel linear features running north-east/south-west across the entire cairn were investigated and proved to be field drains, stone lined and covered by capstones one of which was a recycled Iron Age saddle quern. These were silted up and when cleared out actually started to work again. From artefactual evidence recovered from them the dating is medieval and it may by hypothesised that they were constructed by the monks of Dundrennan Abbey during their tenure on the sites during the 12/13th centuries AD. Just what their precise function was has yet to be discovered. Interestingly there are no similar features on the North Cairn. At least one of the drainage features has been cut through an EBA burial and the original capstone had been utilized as part of the drain construction. Further excavation of postholes in the south-west quadrant of the South cairn revealed an increase of from 116 to 143 with the definition of a small circular building, possibly a small grain silo, becoming apparent as well as a larger rectangular building and a roundhouse. The postholes continue in a lesser quantity into the south-east and north-west quadrants of the cairn.

On the Newbarns North Cairn the floor of a medieval building was extended and yielded further dating material in the shape of a 14th century cupro-bronze shoe or spur buckle. The western edge of the wall of the building was defined, as previously,by the remnant of stone founds. The Neolithic burial was excavated as far as was safely possible within the guidelines of Health & Safety rules and when the uppermost, medieval, layers of backfill were removed a shelved area was exposed on top of which was found a flint burin. Two scrapers were found within the confines of the entrance passage and the chamber thus verifying a Neolithic date for the monument.

A large stone in the northern half of the site was investigated and turned out to be a huge orthostat which had been used as a capstone on yet another hypothesised EBA burial. As with the previous EBA burial of last season, which was situated some ten metres away, this too rests on top of cushion stones and the whole has been placed in a boat-shaped pit facing east. Two smaller stones lie in contact with the capstone and there are five depressions which have been formed on the top of the orthostat.

Excavation of this feature will continue during the 2006 season.

From the Interim Report of Excavations in 2002

Newbarns South

The Newbarns Project is on the agricultural estate of Newbarns in the parish of Colvend, Dumfries & Galloway Region, at NGR NX 88155489.

The site is situated in the drained southern end of Newbams Loch, a small loch which lies in a layer of peat which, in turn, overlies a gravel bed with small quantities of clay present. The whole lies on Dalbeattie granite and is interspersed with granite and sandstone glacial erratic boulders of all sizes.

Site Location

The site of The Newbarns Project forms a raised stone platform area in the southern end of what was formerly Newbarns Loch. The area has now been drained and comprises a swampy area of reed-covered grassland abutting onto the raised banks of the original loch. The site is just off the A710 Colvend to Sandyhills road and is situated in the field between the main road and the drive leading up to Newbarns House. The site is visible from the road and car parking is in the field through the farm gate immediately to the left of the entrance road to Newbarns. View of Newbarns South from southern side of the A710.

Excavation in 2002

Excavation was carried out by members of the former Botel Bailey Excavation Team overseen by the professional archaeologists of the Stewartry Archaeological Trust (SAT).

A non-invasive survey was carried out by Rodney Pringle FRICS and a temporary bench mark (T.B.M.) of 36.59 meters above sea level was put into the site to facilitate the recording of features and artifacts.

The feature to be examined was a raised platform overgrown by grass and reeds with some glacial erratic stones protruding from the surface.

Recent drainage operations carried out by the landowner, Lt. Gen. Sir Norman Arthur KCB., HML., has lowered still further the ancient levels of Newbarns Loch and a decision was made, with the co-operation of the Dumfries & Galloway Council Archaeologist Ms Jane Brann and the Curator of the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright, Dr David Devereux, that the site would now be ready for excavation.

Various suggestions have been made in the past, that the feature, which we were looking at, was either the remains of a Stone Circle or the base of a Cairn. It is most unlikely that either such type of monument would have been placed in the shallow waters of a loch so these ideas have been initially, rejected. As this feature appears to be almost circular (North to South – 31.00 meters in diameter. East to West – 30.50m., North-East to South-West – 31.60m., and North-West to South-East 29.50m ) it was decided to expose and excavate it by quadrants.

The target for the end of the season was to have one quadrant, that on the North-East, completely exposed and recorded. Work duly started on the 1st July when a few stalwarts from the previous excavation at Botel and some mature volunteers began the muddy, backbreaking work of removing uppermost layers of turf and peat from the North-East quadrant-After the removal of this uppermost layer the area exposed immediately underneath comprised a profusion of small rounded boulders with several large glacial erratic boulders sitting on top of them. It soon became obvious that we were, indeed, in the process of exposing a stone base.

With the arrival of some fifteen students, in the third week of July, work got on rapidly and the upper layer was rapidly peeled away from the vicinity of a large split granite erratic which exhibited a large amount of “feathering” evidence. The discovery of broken iron “feathers” confirmed that this stone had been worked on in situ and, for some reason, the work had then been abandoned- The void between the two split sections of the stone had been filled with boulders, but whether this had been done in antiquity could not be determined until an empty bottle (plastic) was excavated from the middle of the fill and contained an empty cigarette packet of circa 1970-1980. The question answered, the fill was removed and the top of the water table exposed in the bottom of the void leading to the hypothesis that, at one time, this stone had formed part of a drinking trough for agricultural animals. It certainly became invaluable during the season when the thirsty presence of both the dig dogs and visiting canines and horses attested to its former practical use. Around this feature a number offence holes were excavated pointing to the fact that there had once been a fence surrounding it except at the northern end at which, presumably, the animals had been induced to stand to slake their thirst. View of Newbarns South from the former loch shore.

A Plane Table was set up and the major features recorded and a useful comparison can be seen when viewing Plan 2 which shows the position of the largest surviving granite and sandstone boulders after excavation at the end of the season. The immediate area around the large split stone was rich in the remnants of broken iron “feathers” but the reason for the desertion of this project in the later years of the nineteenth century are not clear.

Information as to the fate of much of the larger stonework was obtained when we were informed that the nearby Thorniehill House was recorded as having been built of stone “from Newbarns”. There is also a profusion of good dry-stane dykes in the immediate vicinity of the site which also delineate all of the adjacent fields to the east, west and to the south. It is not, therefore, difficult to deduce that a great number of the larger stones from the site were taken away in antiquity to be used for building. Some would have been split by the “professional” quarrymen employed to shape them and the surviving evidence does point to their having worked on the granite feature itself. Another large glacial erratic to the west of the split stone also exhibits evidence of “feathering”.

There is no way, now, of calculating just how many boulders have been removed from this stone base now exposed in the recently drained southern end of Newbarns Loch. The sheer quantity of stonework exposed points to this feature having been man made and deliberately placed in the shallow end of Newbarns Loch for some specific purpose relating to either defence or settlement or to both. After discussion with various learned colleagues it was decided to pursue excavation technique with the intention of, at present, deducing that the feature which we have exposed is the stone base of a CRANNOG.

Update:  October 2006 – We are now dealing with a multi-phase excvation site.  The main features are burial cairns  (at current count we estimate 30 cremation burials) all caped with large stones.  The South Cairn as at some point been cut by three field drains (probably in the Medieval period) while on the North site, we have evidence of medieval activity.  A full update on the 2002 -2006 will apeear soon.  check our newsletters for further details.