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Dunragit Excavation

Dunragit Final Mould Distance

Four seasons of excavation took place on the Neolithic ceremonial complex at Dunragit during 1999-2002, directed by Julian Thomas in collaboration with Historic Scotland. These investigations demonstrated that the principal element of the complex had been an enclosure composed of three concentric rings of timber. The largest of these rings had a diameter of around 300 metres, while the innermost had a diameter of perhaps 120 metres. Both the outer post-ring and the middle were composed of large uprights interspersed with smaller members, forming a continuous palisade and comparable with the structure of the Late Neolithic enclosure at Meldon Bridge in Peebleshire. Both of these post-rings had been single-phase structures, and in both cases the posts had eventually rotted out and been replaced by silting and collapsed gravel packing. These two outermost rings of post-holes also produced very little in the way of material culture. By contrast, the inner ring had been made up exclusively of large, free-standing posts, most of which had rotted away, but some of which had been deliberately removed. These post-holes were considerably larger than those of the two outer rings, and it is possible that their digging had involved a conspicuous expenditure of effort. Where posts had been pulled out, a number of elaborate deposits had been placed in the crater left by the post-removal. These included the cremated remains of a woman and a sheep, sherds of Grooved Ware in a matrix of dark, burnt organic material, a deposit of Beaker pottery, and a mass of charcoal containing fragments of burnt bone, possibly representing a pyre deposit.

The enclosure had been preceded on the site by a post-defined cursus monument, one end on which was excavated during 1999-2002. The post-holes of the cursus were easily distinguishable from those of the enclosure, for in every case the post had been burned in situ. The existence of earlier Neolithic cursus monuments and later Neolithic enclosures on the same site is known from a number of other sites, including Dorchester on Thames in Oxfordshire, Llandegai in Gwynnedd, and Thornborough in Yorkshire. This suggests that the relationship is not coincidental, and that the significance that a location achieved through the construction of a cursus was a significant factor in the positioning of later enclosures.

Dunragit 2001 View

The aerial photographs taken by RCAHMS that were responsible for the identification of the Dunragit enclosure also show two possible sets of entrances, both located in the area immediately to the south of the modern railway line. As the owner of this field is presently not disposed to allow excavation the character of these entrances must remain conjectural. However, it is notable that the entrance through the outer post-ring does not respect that which is connected with the middle ring. The outer entrance opens to the south-west, while the middle ring entrance is aligned to the south. Given that both of these palisade-rings are single-phase structures, while the central post-circle has two phases of construction, it may be that the three concentric circles are not all contemporary. On the contrary, an interpretation is preferred in which the monument as a whole had two phases of construction, in each of which a timber circle was surrounded by a palisade, and in which the middle post-ring succeeded the outer, or vice-versa.

The more monumental of the entrances, connected with the middle post-ring, aligns on a large mound at Droughduil, some 600 m to the south of the enclosure. Excavation on this mound in 2002 demonstrated that it was of step-sided construction, possibly built onto an existing sand dune. A series of optically stimulated luminescence dates taken by Dr David Sanderson of the SURRC demonstrated that the mound dates to at least as early as 2500 BC, and thus probably had a role in the later Neolithic monumental complex comparable to that of Silbury Hill in the Avebury area in North Wiltshire.

The more monumental of the entrances, connected with the middle post-ring, aligns on a large mound at Droughduil, some 600 m to the south of the enclosure. Excavation on this mound in 2002 demonstrated that it was of step-sided construction, possibly built onto an existing sand dune. A series of optically stimulated luminescence dates taken by Dr David Sanderson of the SURRC demonstrated that the mound dates to at least as early as 2500 BC, and thus probably had a role in the later Neolithic monumental complex comparable to that of Silbury Hill in the Avebury area in North Wiltshire.