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Birrens Hill, enclosure and farmstead 750m west of Carruthers

A Scheduled Monument in Annandale East and Eskdale, Dumfries and Galloway

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Coordinates

Latitude: 55.1153 / 55°6'54"N

Longitude: -3.1853 / 3°11'7"W

OS Eastings: 324490

OS Northings: 580737

OS Grid: NY244807

Mapcode National: GBR 6969.EN

Mapcode Global: WH6XP.1PGF

Entry Name: Birrens Hill, enclosure and farmstead 750m W of Carruthers

Scheduled Date: 4 August 1937

Last Amended: 13 March 2010

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM645

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: enclosure (domestic or defensive); Secular: farmstead

Location: Middlebie

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Annandale East and Eskdale

Traditional County: Dumfriesshire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of an enclosure likely to date to later prehistory (most probably the end of the first millennium BC or early centuries AD). It also includes the remains of a later farmstead and the upper boundary dyke of a field system. The enclosure is subrectangular in shape with rounded corners and a probable entrance to the south. The later farmstead remains cluster at the S end of the enclosure and the boundary dyke follows the line of the enclosure's E side. The monument is located in rough pasture on the crest of Birrens Hill at about 250m above sea level. Birrens Hill is a ridge projecting south from Carruthers Fell and the monument has long views to the south over the Solway Plain.

The inner bank of the enclosure is a grass-covered earth mound, its top about 1m above the level of the interior. It encloses an area measuring about 67m NNW-SSE by 56m transversely. An external ditch is largely infilled on the E side but is clearly visible to the north, west and south and a low counterscarp bank lies beyond. The crests of the two banks are about 8m-9m apart and the base of the ditch lies about 2.5m below the top of the inner bank and about 1m below the top of the outer bank. Beyond the NE corner of the enclosure, three parallel banks extend around 125m to the northeast across the moorland. The SE and central banks are about 0.5m high and lie about 3m apart; the NW bank is smaller. The features represent the head dyke defining the top of a field system on the E side of the hill. The NW bank crosses the enclosure ditch and extends south along the E bank of the enclosure, the central bank terminates at the enclosure, and the SE bank follows the line of the E enclosure ditch, continuing southwards for about 60m. After a break, two slight banks then extend SSE for a further 170m. At the south end of the enclosure are remains of buildings that probably represent a pre-Improvement sheep farm dating to the Middle Ages or the post-medieval period. The remains include a rectangular platform immediately north of the probable enclosure entrance, a second rectangular platform to the south-west and several hollows immediately south of the enclosure.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of a post-and-wire fence and gate immediately north of the enclosure to allow for their maintenance. To the west, the scheduling extends up to a stone wall, the above-ground elements of the wall being specifically excluded to allow for their maintenance. The monument was first scheduled in 1937 but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the archaeological remains: the present rescheduling rectifies this and improves the associated documentation.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

Part of this monument is a well-preserved rectilinear enclosure with double banks that show a measure of defensive intent on the part of the builders. It may represent the boundary of a settlement, although evidence for internal features that are likely to be contemporary with the earthworks has not been identified. The date at which the enclosure was constructed and used is not well understood at present, but researchers consider that drawings and photographs of a small excavation trench suggest a timber palisade may have preceded the earthwork defences, implying an origin in the late 1st millennium BC or more probably the early 1st millennium AD. The visible earthworks and associated buried remains can help us to understand more about the date, phasing, design, construction and use of defensive structures. Potential also exists for the survival of buried land surfaces beneath the enclosure banks. These could preserve information about the environment before the monument was constructed, adding to the time-depth represented by the remains. The upstanding banks may contain evidence relating to the creation, use and abandonment of the enclosure, helping to inform our understanding of the character of late prehistoric defended settlement, including local variations in rampart construction. Additional buried remains may also exist within the interior of the enclosure, masked by low rig and have the potential to tell us more about the monument's occupation and use. Building remains may exist and negative features, such as postholes, pits, ring-grooves and ring-ditches, may contain archaeologically significant deposits that can further our understanding of society, ritual, economy, agriculture and domestic architecture.

The later remains show that this site had a long development sequence, which allows comparison of evidence from different phases. The layout of rectangular structures appears relatively irregular, perhaps suggesting a relatively early date for the farmstead. The associated triangular and subrectangular enclosures may have been for penning stock, or keeping animals out of garden areas. Buried archaeological remains also have the potential to inform the date and character of the later farmstead and reveal details of the building ground plans and functions, as well as details of the techniques used in their construction. Again, artefacts and ecofacts may enable partial reconstruction of the material culture and economy of the settlement. While both the original earthworks and subsequent farmstead are interesting in their own right, the multiphase character of the occupation adds significance to the site. There is potential to study the extent to which the former use influenced the latter, to quantify the lengths of occupation and to define the length of periods of abandonment.

Contextual characteristics

Enclosures and defended settlements were built at various times from at least the end of the late Bronze Age (around 800 BC) until probably the end of the early Middle Ages (around 1000 AD). It is clear that at some sites the first defensive systems began to appear in the Bronze Age. However, researchers suggest that there may be a pattern of rectilinear earthworks succeeding rectilinear palisades, and that many sites of this form were occupied in the first centuries of the 1st millennium AD.

Birrens Hill is one of six known rectilinear enclosures in the east of the former county of Dumfriesshire where earthworks remain visible. Some 40 rectilinear enclosures have been identified as cropmarks, but few of these are directly comparable with the upstanding examples; most enclose less than 0.1 ha and have relatively narrow ditches, whereas the Birrens Hill enclosure takes in 0.38 ha. In addition, many of the cropmark examples may date from the Middle Ages. Thus, it seems that Birrens Hill is one of a distinctive group of monuments and may differ from the many enclosures of similar shape known in the lowlands. The existence of five comparable sites in the vicinity enhances the research potential of the monument, helping it contribute towards a better understanding of prehistoric enclosures and defended settlements, particularly those sited in upland positions. The construction and layout of enclosures, including size, number of entrances, design and placement in the landscape are all important in understanding this type of monument. The monument also complements the other types of prehistoric sites identified in the vicinity, to provide a fuller picture of the development of prehistoric landscape and society in the region over time. Nearby monuments include an area of cord rig that survives immediately beyond the NE corner of the enclosure, and may be contemporary or near contemporary.

The farmstead is one of comparatively few in the uplands of Annandale known to survive as an upstanding monument. Farmsteads in the area show considerable variation in the arrangement of their buildings, adding to the significance of each surviving example. Some sites show an orderly plan, with buildings laid out on a rectilinear pattern of alignments and may be late in date. This farmstead appears less regular in plan and may be relatively early. Researchers believe it was succeeded by another farmstead, itself now in ruins, that lies 325m downslope to the south. The significance of this example is enhanced by its physical relationship with the head dyke of a field system.

Associative characteristics

The Ordnance Survey 1st Edition map surveyed in the mid-19th century depicts the upstanding remains and labels the site as a 'fort'. The 2nd Edition map also maps the upstanding remains, labelling the site 'earthwork'.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular the study of enclosures and defended settlements in later prehistoric SW Scotland. It survives in good condition above ground and is one of only six upstanding rectilinear enclosures known in the east of the former county of Dumfriesshire. Extensive and complex archaeological remains probably also exist below the surface and may include evidence for a primary palisade enclosure. The enclosure banks and ditches have high potential for survival of buried material such as structural remains, artefacts and ecofacts that were either buried when the monument was built or relate to its use or abandonment. The monument has a particular capacity to inform debate on changes in the character and distribution of enclosures and settlements through time. It has the potential to tell us about wider prehistoric society, how people lived, where they came from and who they had contacts with. Its importance is increased by proximity to other monuments of potentially contemporary date such as an area of cord rig and the capacity it therefore has to inform us about the nature of relationships between monuments of different function. Spatial analysis of sites may inform our understanding of patterns of landholding and the expansion of settlement. Its loss or diminution would impede our ability to understand the placing of such monuments within the landscape both in Dumfries and Galloway and in other parts of Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS record the site as NY28SW 9 and NY28SW 73. The Dumfries and Galloway SMR records the site as MDG7558.

Aerial Photographs

Prints from RCAHMS collection: DF 3713 PO, B 46929

References

RCAHMS, 1997, Eastern Dumfriesshire: An Archaeological Landscape. Edinburgh, The Stationery Office.

RCAHMS, 1920, Seventh Report with Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Dumfries, HMSO: Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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