Digging Dunragit’s prehistoric past

It could be one of the most significant prehistoric ceremonial clusters in Britain, perhaps on a par with those at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney, Kilmartin Glen in Argyll, and even on Salisbury Plain.

Evidence of extensive prehistoric occupation around the village of Dunragit in Dumfries and Galloway has been unearthed during excavations by GUARD Archaeology in advance of construction by Transport Scotland.

Previous investigations in this area had revealed an enormous ceremonial complex of timber circles and avenues, as well as an artificial hill – known as Droughduil Mound – dating to the Neolithic and Bronze Age. So, when a bypass was proposed around Dunragit, further research to look for any further signs of prehistoric activity was vital. GUARD Archaeology spent 19 months excavating the area, revealing finds spanning more than eight millennia in the process.

Among the most exciting finds was the outline of a Mesolithic hut (RIGHT), found on the edge of what would have been an estuary at the time. Radiocarbon dating revealed that the structure most likely dates to around 6800 BC, with a nearby hearth possibly dating to as early as 7800 BC. These varying dates might suggest that this area was revisited multiple times throughout the Mesolithic. Other evidence of prehistoric occupation included the recovery of more than 17,000 Mesolithic flint microliths and knapping waste, suggesting that this area saw concentrated use.

photo: GUARD Archaeology Ltd
Photo: GUARD Archaeology Ltd

Further along the prehistoric estuary, GUARD archaeologists found a line of early Neolithic post-holes dating to c.3800 BC, which extended in the direction of Droughduil Mound. This feature was first thought to be a medieval motte, but recent OSL dating has shown that it is probably Neolithic in origin and may have served as a ‘viewing platform’ to observe the nearby ceremonial complex of monuments. If these post-holes form part of this larger complex, it would mean the entire site extends for 2.5km across the landscape, making it one of the most significant prehistoric ceremonial clusters in Britain, perhaps on a par with those at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney, Kilmartin Glen in Argyll, and even on Salisbury Plain.

Overall, these recent excavations have added further evidence to support the idea that Dunragit may have been a significant ceremonial centre, reused throughout prehistory.

The full results of the GUARD excavations were recently published and can be downloaded for free from www.guard-archaeology.co.uk/DunragitBlog/DunragitMonograph.html.