Ancient Monuments

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Whiteyett, earthworks 575m SSE to 935m south and 650m south to 1060m south of

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

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Latitude: 55.2277 / 55°13'39"N

Longitude: -3.1825 / 3°10'57"W

OS Eastings: 324881

OS Northings: 593244

OS Grid: NY248932

Mapcode National: GBR 676Z.ST

Mapcode Global: WH6X3.2VSR

Entry Name: Whiteyett, earthworks 575m SSE to 935m S and 650m S to 1060m S of

Scheduled Date: 24 March 2010

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12767

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: linear earthwork

Location: Eskdalemuir

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Annandale East and Eskdale

Traditional County: Dumfriesshire


The monument comprises the earthwork remains of two discrete lengths of double linear banks and medial ditch, interpreted as evidence of pastoral agricultural practice dating to the early centuries of the 1st millennium AD. In addition are the earthwork remains of an unfinished settlement adjacent to and potentially contiguous with one of the linear features and likely to date to a similar period. The monument is located at between around 190m and 210m above sea level, on the W-facing flank and across the crest of Slippery Knowe, to the north-west of the fort at Castle O'er and around 250m west of the White Esk.

The linear earthworks measure 4-5m across and up to around 1m from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the bank. The stretch to the east is oriented roughly N-S and is approximately 380m long. It is curved on plan with the convex side facing to the east. The visible traces of the feature run around the E side of Slippery Knowe from a point around 350m NE of the edge of the river terrace on the E side of the White Esk to a stream gully 500m to the north. The westernmost stretch of earthwork is approximately 440m long. It is also oriented approximately N-S, with a dog leg at its S end measuring around 105m. It runs between, and links, the gullies of Birkie Sike and Cleave Sike. On the S side of the dog leg are the earthwork remains of the unfinished settlement, consisting of a 39m-long arc of ditch flanked by low banks. The ditch is 5.2m wide and 1.1m deep at its N end, but only 4m wide at its S end.

The areas to be scheduled are irregular on plan to include the visible remains of the monument, as well as an area around within which evidence relating to its construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. Specifically excluded, to allow for their maintenance, are the above-ground elements of the post-and wire-fence and stone dyke along the line of the E area.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument, situated largely in rough pasture, is clearly visible on the ground and in aerial photographs and, apart from small areas of localised erosion, survives well as upstanding earthworks with marked field characteristics. As an upstanding monument it is likely to overlie and preserve beneath it an original ground surface. This has the potential to retain paleo-environmental evidence. It therefore has the capacity to further our knowledge of when the monument was constructed and the landscape in which it was built. This can answer questions on how the landscape looked and what uses were being made of it.

By analogy and by the way the monument relates to other features in the area, it has been dated to the 1st millennium AD and associated with pastoral activity. More detailed study of the monument and its structure have the capacity to inform our knowledge of its date, construction technique and its function or functions.

The medial ditch is likely to have silted up over time and will also contain valuable environmental evidence with the potential to reveal how the landscape changed over time and how the monument may have functioned and for what length of time. It may also be possible to determine whether the monument belongs to a single episode of activity, if it was added to, altered and developed through time, and if the prehistoric farmers who occupied this area actively maintained it.

The ditch and other subsurface features associated with the monument may also contain artefacts. Such assemblages can inform our knowledge of the people who built, used and maintained these monuments and who lived in associated settlements. The monument therefore has the potential to further our understanding of contemporary society, the daily lives of people, what they ate, did, wore, believed and who they had contact with. The close presence of the settlement to the linear earthworks and its potentially unfinished nature poses further questions. Detailed study of the two different features may shed light on how they relate to one another, their chronology, how the settlement was intended to function and why it was presumably abandoned before completion.

Contextual characteristics

In Scotland as a whole the majority of linear earthworks have been attributed to the marking out of political or economic boundaries. There is notable concentration of linear earthworks in the Border area, specifically the Cheviot Hills, and a stark absence in the rest of the country, marking out this system as particularly rare. A preliminary survey of linear earthwork monuments in the 1990s identified that they tend to occur in groups or clusters, as here.

The monument lies on the western flank and across the crest of Slippery Knowe, at a height of around between 190m and 210m. The land continues to rise to the east to Bank Head Hill 275m high. To the west the land slopes down to the course of the White Esk around 300m away. This area of Eskdale has a particularly marked concentration of ceremonial, domestic and defensive monuments, indicating that the area was a particular focus for activity during the neolithic and early Bronze Age and into later prehistory.

Much of the surrounding landscape is modern forestry, but this monument retains clear views to the east. The forestry was largely planted shortly after the Second World War and has potentially obscured a number of earthwork features in the landscape. However, antiquarian work in the late 19th century recorded a system of linear features in this area, some of which are traceable on the ground today and of which these features form a part. Particularly notable is the 'Deil's Jingle' earthwork around 380m to the east, which appears to form the E boundary of the extent of the linear earthworks. Interpreted as a medieval estate boundary, this probably reuses a pre-existing prehistoric territorial division. This too is oriented N-S and can be traced for a length of over 4km along a watershed. Other lengths of linear earthwork are traceable to the west, around the curious feature at Over Rig, interpreted through excavation and study as a 1st-century AD enclosure having a ritual function, and around the substantial fort and later annexe at Castle O'er, which seems to form a particular focus in the system into which it directly physically links.

Analysis of pollen samples from beneath the enclosure at Over Rig indicate that clearance of the landscape through human agency began in 3100 BC followed by 500 years of pastoral farming. More intensive mixed agricultural activity commenced in around 2000 BC until the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. By the 1st century AD the conversion of wild, tree-covered landscape to treeless, open farmland and settlement would have been complete and farming activity was predominantly pastoral with a species-rich grassland, probably hay meadows, evidenced by pollen data. The surviving remains at Whiteyett have the potential to augment and clarify our knowledge of changes in the environment and this particular landscape in the past.

The linear earthworks appear to be part of an extensive cattle ranch with a series of enclosed parks. The annexe at Castle O'er may form an element of the cattle handling arrangements. Mapping of the system in the 19th century suggested that the system developed over time, expanding northwards from the fort through a series of intakes, and eventually extended across an area at least 100 ha in extent on the West side of the valley. The lack of contemporary settlement evidence in this particular area of Eskdale would appear to support this hypothesis. Linear earthworks on the east of the valley raise the possibility that it extended over a much larger area. The monument forms part of this extension and is part of a series of features dropping away from the Deil's Jingle. The linking of the natural sikes enforces the interpretation that the function was to act as a barrier of some sort. Dating of the system is not simple and the relationship between the linear earthworks and other features, such as the fort and annexe, reinforce the idea that the system developed over a significant period.

The monument therefore forms an integral part of a cohesive land management system dating to the first millennium AD, long before historical records document the first estates. Together with the annexe at Castle O'er the monument represents an evolution in landuse and division. When compared and contrasted to other elements in this system and to similar monuments in the region and further afield, it therefore has the potential to significantly add to our knowledge of land division, management and use in this period. Study into its relationship with the fort and the enclosure at Over Rig could reveal how control over the land was established and maintained. Comparison with similar features, such as at Craighousesteads Hill, could reveal further information on the scale and character of such systems, as well as reasons for their particular distribution in this part of Scotland. Comparison with evidence of later land division may also establish a significant degree of continuity in the organisation of the prehistoric landscape through into the medieval period.

Associative characteristics

William Roy first note the existence of linear earthworks near Castle O'er in the mid-18th century (published in 1793). At that stage they were interpreted as hollow ways. In 1896 a local antiquary named Richard Bell recorded an extensive system of 'trenches' on a map of the Castle O'er estate, now held in Dumfries Museum. The easternmost feature also appears as an unnamed earthwork on early Ordnance Survey maps.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to contribute to the understanding of the past, in particular systems of land division and management and their changes and development in the later 1st millennium AD. With its well-preserved field characteristics and association with the fort at Castle O'er and enclosure at Over Rig, the monument has the specific capacity to inform our knowledge of how this system was planned, constructed and evolved, how it functioned, during what time frame and why and when it was abandoned or superseded. Environmental evidence sealed within and beneath the monument can inform our understanding of the environment in which the monument was built and functioned and artefacts associated with the monument can further our knowledge of the society that built and used it. The loss or diminution of the monument would seriously impair our ability to understand the larger system of which it is a component, and the landscape of settlement, pastoral and ritual activity in Eskdale, as well as the character and scale of similar systems further afield.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NY29SW 41, Castle O'er Estate linear earthwork and NY29SW 68, Castle O'er Estate linear earthwork. Dumfries and Galloway Council Sites and Monument Record assigns the monument the index numbers MDG7694 and MDG 7737.


RCAHMS, 1997 Eastern Dumfriesshire: An Archaeological Landscape, Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 5, 21, 47, 49, 50, 78-9, 166, 280, 308, no 1182.

Barber, J 1999 'The linear Earthworks of South Scotland: survey and classification', Trans Dumfriesshire Galloway Natur Hist Antiq Soc, 73, 70, 120-1.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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