Ancient Monuments

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Cowburn, burnt mounds 1027m south east of

A Scheduled Monument in Annandale North, Dumfries and Galloway

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Latitude: 55.1804 / 55°10'49"N

Longitude: -3.2381 / 3°14'17"W

OS Eastings: 321256

OS Northings: 588048

OS Grid: NY212880

Mapcode National: GBR 58TJ.RR

Mapcode Global: WH6XG.71BY

Entry Name: Cowburn, burnt mounds 1027m SE of

Scheduled Date: 27 January 2010

Last Amended: 25 February 2020

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12616

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: burnt mound

Location: Hutton and Corrie

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Annandale North

Traditional County: Dumfriesshire


The monument comprises the remains of two burnt mounds, visible as grass-covered mounds, likely to date to the later prehistoric period. The monument is located at around 230m above sea level on the sloping W flank of Woodhill Edge, between two burns.

The monument consists of two earthen mounds, one overlying the E end of the other. Beneath they are composed of a mixture of reddened stone, soil and charcoal. The upper mound is larger and is crescentic in shape, with the open side facing south towards the burn. It measures 12m E-W by 10m transversely and up to 1m high and is significantly higher on the east. The mound beneath is also crescentic but faces towards the burn on the north. It measures 8.7m N-S by at least 5.3m transversely and is 0.6m high.

The scheduled area is circular, to include the remains described and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument survives as an upstanding earthwork, in which the forms of the two distinct mounds are clearly visible. Burnt mounds are heaps of fire cracked stone within a matrix of dark soil and/or charcoal and ash, and often set beside a stream. A trough or pit may be set into the inner curve of the crescent, facing the watercourse, and excavation of some examples has shown that clay, wood or stone may line the trough. Most examples date to the Bronze Age but others have dated to between the late Neolithic through to the early historic period. The exact function of these monuments is not clear and they may relate to a number of different processes. The favoured interpretation in Scotland is that they were domestic in origin and probably used to heat stones to boil water, probably for cooking. However, a ritual or less functional use, or variety of uses, is also possible.

There is no evidence that the site has been excavated and it is very likely that the mounds have not been disturbed. The monument therefore has an inherent capacity to inform our understanding of the date and nature of construction of burnt mounds as well as to help us understand how they may have functioned, the duration and possible phases of use. The potential presence of associated artefacts within and around the mounds reinforces this potential. The mounds may have been directly deposited onto the land surface and may therefore preserve important environmental information beneath and within them. This may have the potential to further our knowledge of the contemporary landscape and land-use practices at the time.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is located between two unnamed burns at a height of around 230m above sea level in a wide river valley, around 1390m ESE of the Corrie Water. The location is a typical one for burnt mounds, which tend to cluster along river valleys and coastlines in close proximity to watercourses, on S-facing slopes and between 100-300m above sea level. There are around 1900 recorded examples within Scotland with notable concentrations in some areas, Dumfries and Galloway being one. However, these concentrations often correlate with areas that have been surveyed so may not reflect true groupings. The concentration in eastern Dumfries and Galloway may also reflect good survival due to the locations chosen. These are often rural and on the edges of water courses and are unlikely to be disturbed by construction or development.

In this case the nearest recorded example is around 1.2 km to the NNE. However, the wide, open river valley has a dense concentration of prehistoric remains with many enclosures, settlements and cultivation remains found within 1.5 km of the burnt mound. Further study of these monuments may further our understanding of the nature of any relationships between them and increase our knowledge of the way in which different parts of the landscape may have been used by contemporary society.

Study has also identified a trend in the average size of mounds; smaller mounds tend to be located in the south and larger mounds further north in mainland Scotland, and the Northern and Western Isles. In eastern Dumfries and Galloway the size of mounds tends to vary between 2m to 12.5m in diameter; up to 1.2m in height and the majority have a diameter between 4-10m. Two distinct groups have also been identified in the area: smaller mounds often appear in concentrated groups and may have had a single or limited use. Larger examples tend to have the classic kidney shape and may have been reused on many occasions over a significant period. These two types may have served different social functions.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular prehistoric society and the construction and use of such monuments, and their placing in the landscape. The good preservation and the exceptional survival of marked field characteristics of the two separate mounds, indicating longevity of use of the site, enhance this potential. The loss of this monument would significantly impede our ability to understand the nature of later prehistoric ritual and domestic practice, both in eastern Dumfries and Galloway and in Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as Woodhill Edge burnt mounds, NY28NW 32. The Dumfries and Galloway Sites and Monument Records identifies the monument as MDG11011.


Buckley V 1990, Burnt Offerings: International Contributions to Burnt Mound Archaeology, Dublin: Wordwell Ltd.

Halliday S P 1990, 'Patterns of fieldwork and the distribution of burnt mounds in Scotland'. In Buckley, V 1990, Burnt Offerings: International Contributions to Burnt Mound Archaeology, Dublin: Wordwell Ltd, 60-1.

RCAHMS 1997. Eastern Dumfriesshire: An Archaeological Landscape, 293, No. 392. Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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