Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Westhills, altar stone 35m north of

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

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »
Street or Overhead View
Contributor Photos »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.

Coordinates

Latitude: 54.9792 / 54°58'45"N

Longitude: -3.1385 / 3°8'18"W

OS Eastings: 327230

OS Northings: 565544

OS Grid: NY272655

Mapcode National: GBR 6BJV.9X

Mapcode Global: WH6YG.R3NQ

Entry Name: Westhills, altar stone 35m N of

Scheduled Date: 16 August 2007

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM11980

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Roman: altar

Location: Gretna

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Annandale East and Eskdale

Traditional County: Dumfriesshire

Description

The monument comprises a Roman altar stone, surviving as a rectangular carved stone pillar within a cultivated field, currently under improved pasture. Altar stones are religious monuments dating to the Roman occupation of this part of northern Britain, between the 1st and the 4th century AD. The monument is earthfast and is no longer in its original setting. It sits on a low south-facing ridge, overlooking the eastern Solway Firth and occupies a locally prominent position at approximately 15 m above sea level.

The altar stone, which takes the form of a column with a capital, is approximately 1.1 m high and 0.7 wide (across the capital) and 0.5 m deep. It is positioned in the ground using a socket and packing-stone arrangement and now has a westwards lean. The column is plain and rectangular in section, with cattle-eroded edges. On one side are the very faint remains of incisions, probably modern and the carvings seen by the RCAHMS during fieldwork in 1912 and described as a figure resembling a benchmark beneath what appear to be the letters L L placed back to back and separated by a square compartment containing a cross. The top of the altar has a central concavity with bolsters on either side. There is no visible evidence for the base.

The area to be scheduled is circular on plan, centred on the stone, to include the remains described and an area around for the support and preservation of the altar stone, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The altar retains a significant portion of its original shape and extent. It therefore has the potential to tell us about the nature of sculpting and stonemasonry during the Roman occupation of SW Scotland, as well as the general nature of worship and religious activity. Its relocation reflects the subsequent reuse and different significances placed upon such monuments by later peoples. In this case, the altar apparently became a landscape feature.

Contextual characteristics

Altars were very much a part of Roman military life for those stationed at the northern extremes of the Empire. They were part of an expression of religious belief and worship that was central to the lives of military troops stationed in what is now Scotland. The progress of military campaigns northwards across the Solway Firth to as far north as Aberdeenshire is reflected in visible remains such as forts, marching camps, the road network and smaller, religious monuments such as this sacrificial altar. Sacrificial altars were places where individuals and groups could gather to watch or participate in votive gestures, believing they would prompt good luck or recognition from a particular god or goddess or reflecting back on some success or prosperity. Each altar honoured a specific deity and would normally be formed and inscribed with a pedestal, column and capital, imitating architectural features. A number of camps and forts to the north of Westhills still survive. At an unknown point in time, someone almost certainly moved the altar at Westhills from one of these forts. We know of around 50 altars that survive among the totality of Roman carving in Scotland (including gravestones, statuettes, slab decorations and inscribed stones). Most are in collections, virtually none survives in their original location and only very few survive in a later, unrelated landscape context. They are limited geographically to the broad areas of garrison and military works of the various Roman campaigns in Scotland. Their distribution is broadly to the north and north-east of the Solway Firth, the Clyde-Forth corridor, Perthshire and the north-east of Scotland.

Associative characteristics

We can speculate that someone deliberately moved this stone from its original location, possibly from the Roman forts at Birrens or Burnswark. Large-scale clearance of stone material in the early 19th century, or the later antiquarian excavation at Birrens in 1856, may have uncovered the altar stone and prompted its relocation to Westhills. We know two further altars moved from Birrens to nearby estates and properties. First Edition Ordnance Survey mapping also suggests that its surveyors used the stone as a benchmark or trig point by the late 19th to early 20th centuries. That one of the carvings found on one face of the column looks very similar to a benchmark tends to support this view.

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 nature of religious worship during the Roman military occupation of Scotland. Both the inherent characteristics of this altar, and its later reuse as a landscape marker, signify a wider national importance. It is a relatively uncommon and well-preserved example of carved Roman stonework surviving as a field monument. The loss of this monument would impede our ability to understand the practice of religious worship and the skills of Roman stonemasonry.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS record this site as NY26NE 9.

References:

Christison D 1895, ?Account of the excavations of Birrens, a Roman station in Annandale, undertaken by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1895?, PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 30, 81- 199.

Collingwood R G and Wright R P 1965, THE ROMAN INSCRIPTIONS OF BRITAIN, VOL. I: INSCRIPTIONS ON STONE, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Keppie L 1998, ROMAN INSCRIBED AND SCULPTURED STONES IN THE HUNTERIAN MUSEUM UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW, Britannia Monograph Series 13.

Keppie L 1983, ?Roman inscriptions from Scotland: some additions and corrections to RIB I?, PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 113, 391-404.

Macdonald J 1896, ?III. The inscribed stones?. In Christison D 1895, ?Account of the excavations of Birrens, a Roman station in Annandale, undertaken by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1895', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 30, 121-169.

RCAHMS 1920, SEVENTH REPORT WITH INVENTORY OF MONUMENTS AND CONSTRUCTIONS IN THE COUNTY OF DUMFRIES, Edinburgh: HMSO.

RCAHMS 1997, EASTERN DUMFRIESSHIRE. AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE, Edinburgh: HMSO.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Other nearby scheduled monuments

AncientMonuments.uk is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact AncientMonuments.uk for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself.

AncientMonuments.uk is a Good Stuff website.