Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Flagstaff Hill barrow, 725m ENE of Blinkbonny

A Scheduled Monument in East Neuk and Landward, Fife

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Latitude: 56.2339 / 56°14'2"N

Longitude: -2.8836 / 2°53'0"W

OS Eastings: 345323

OS Northings: 704945

OS Grid: NO453049

Mapcode National: GBR 2N.C63G

Mapcode Global: WH7SJ.PK2W

Entry Name: Flagstaff Hill barrow, 725m ENE of Blinkbonny

Scheduled Date: 18 January 2023

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13770

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: barrow

Location: Kilconquhar/Kilconquhar

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: East Neuk and Landward

Traditional County: Fife


The monument is a barrow, a type of prehistoric earthen burial monument likely to date to the Bronze Age (around 2,500 BC to 800 BC). It consists of a large earth and stone grass covered mound on the summit of a gently sloped hill, northwest of Colinsburgh, at around 210m above sea level.

The barrow measures around 31.8m east-west by 29m transversely and up to 5m in height. A trench measuring 17.9m in length has been dug into the barrow from the east, exposing a core of earth containing some loose stones. This trench is 3.5m wide and up to 0.9 deep, with little upcast visible.

The scheduled area is irregular and includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes all gates, post and wire fences and the above ground elements of stone field boundaries, for maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17): 

a.  The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the past as a prehistoric burial monument most likely dating to the Bronze Age. It adds to our understanding of prehistoric society in Scotland and the function, use and development of barrows and other ceremonial sites.  

b.   The monument retains structural, architectural, decorative or other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past.  The monument is a large and well-preserved example of a Bronze Age barrow. The plan and form of the monument is clear and understandable. There is also significant potential for the survival of buried archaeological deposits within the monument that are not visible above ground. The monument can significantly add to our understanding of burial practices and possible ceremonial activities in prehistory.

c.   The monument is a rare example of a large earthen barrow. There are few comparable sites in Scotland with upstanding remains of this scale. 

d.   The monument is a good example of a barrow, a less common type of prehistoric burial monument in Scotland, and is therefore an important representative of this monument type. 

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past.  It can tell us about the character, development and use of barrows. Buried archaeological remains within the barrow could add to our understanding of the nature of society, economy and social hierarchy in this area of Scotland and further afield during prehistory. Further research and investigation of the surviving buried remains have the potential to explain the chronology of this site and in relation to contemporary sites in the area. 

f.   The monument makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the historic landscape by its association with other prehistoric sites in the area, its prominent hilltop location and relationship with the surrounding area. 

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The monument is a well-preserved example of a prehistoric burial monument; earthen barrows are a characteristic form of Bronze Age monument in Scotland. The barrow survives as a flat topped, conical mound with a sunken trench feature across its top. The trench has exposed part of the inner structure of the barrow, comprising a mostly earthen form with some small stones – typical of a Bronze Age barrow. The trench may relate to a historic triangulation point mapped by the Ordnance Survey in 1855 and 1896 or could be an undocumented excavation. The surrounding historic field boundaries, built as stone dykes, respect the edge of the barrow and take a curvilinear route around its outer circuit. 

As a substantially intact earthen barrow, the monument is likely to contain one or more burials or cremations. There is also good potential for associated grave goods and environmental or palaeobotanical remains within and underneath the barrow. Such archaeological deposits can help us to better understand beliefs around death and burial in the Bronze Age, as well as funerary rites and practices, trade and contacts, social organisation and the climate and local vegetation at the time of construction and use. There is also good potential for the survival of secondary or 'satellite' burials and related archaeological evidence for funerary pyres or other funerary activity in the area surrounding the barrow. 

The archaeological excavation of similarly large barrows has demonstrated a complex construction sequence to create the final form of these monuments. This evidence indicates how large barrows were constructed and in in some examples, how they were used as a place of interment. 

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

This monument is a well-preserved and substantial, example of an upstanding barrow, an uncommon monument type in Scotland. There are 34 other examples recorded on Canmore within a 20km radius of the monument. However, many are only classed as possible barrows and some survive as cropmarks seen in aerial imagery. Two barrows at Edenwood, 10km northwest of Flagstaff Hill, (scheduled monument SM4761 & SM4762, Canmore IDs 31517 & 31518) are geographically the closest comparable examples of upstanding barrows but are significant smaller in scale. The survival of the barrow at Flagstaff Hill as a substantial upstanding monument is rare and is of particular note in the region. The certainty of the classification of the monument as a barrow is also less common for similar sites in Fife.

Other examples of barrows of a similar scale exist elsewhere in Scotland. These include the excavated example at North Mains, Strathallan, Perth and Kinross (Canmore ID 26005). North Mains no longer survives as an upstanding monument but was of a very similar shape and size to the barrow at Flagstaff Hill.  The excavation at North Mains demonstrates the archaeological potential of these monuments. It revealed complex phasing of the site, with two timber circuits, and a total of 31 cremation deposits were discovered in and around the enclosure. Other examples of upstanding large barrows include an example near Blairdrummond, (scheduled monument SM6555, Canmore ID 46065), Eastmore, South Lanarkshire (SM13694, Canmore ID 358638) and Court Hill, Loak (scheduled monument SM1524, Canmore ID 27025).  Such large and well-preserved examples are uncommon, adding to the significance of the barrow at Flagstaff Hill. 

Historic mapping confirms the presence of a mound at Flagstaff Hill prior to Ordnance Survey activity at the site. Ainslie's maps of 1775 and 1801, the Sharp, Greenwood & Fowler map of 1828 and the James Fraser map of 1841; all depict the mound. This evidence helps rule out the possibility that the Ordnance Survey constructed the mound for their trig point as a survey location. The Ordnance Survey did build a trig point on the barrow, making use of the wide and expansive views of the area that it offers. The OS First Edition map of 1854 depicts the parish boundary and the trig point on top of the barrow. Related to this historic mapping data, Grass Law barrow lies directly on the Newburn-Kilconquhar Parish boundary. Newburn and Kilconquhar parishes were probably first mapped in the early 12th century (c.1130s). However, it's possible that the medieval ecclesiastical territories were planned in relation to earlier, possibly even prehistoric, boundaries. Grass Law was most likely deliberately chosen as a notable landscape feature to help define the Newburn-Kilconquhar Parish boundary and this may also apply to earlier boundaries that used the barrow as a landmark feature. 

The barrow is surrounded on the south, west and north by improved fields and the on the east by lightly wooded parkland. It is located on the highest point of a gently sloped hill with a spine running generally east. The barrow has been located to be visually prominent. There are wide ranging views from the barrow; particularly to the south, where there are views of the Firth of Forth, west and north.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

There are no known associative characteristics connected with this monument.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 374001 (accessed on 03/11/2022).

Ashmore P J (1996). Neolithic and Bronze Age Scotland. Batsford: London.

Barclay, G J. (1984) 'Sites of the third millennium BC to the first millennium AD at North Mains, Strathallan, Perthshire', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 113, 1983. Pages: 122-81


Ordnance Survey (published 1855). Scotland, Fife, Sheet 19. 6 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (published 1896) Scotland, Fife, Sheet XXI.NE. 6 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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