From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Cairn Holy

Dumfries and Galloway
54°51′ 33.26″ N 4° 18′34.48″ W

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Cairn Holy is the site of two Neolithic long barrows, overlooking Wigtown Bay, located close to the village of Carsluith in Dumfries and Galloway.

Stones from the long barrows were removed from the site and used to build field walls sometime in the past. The tombs were excavated in 1949 by Stuart Piggott and Terence Powell. Finds from the excavations are in the National Museum of Scotland.

The first barrow, known as Cairn Holy I, is the more elaborate of the two tombs. It measures 50 by 15 metres and has a monumental curving façade, that formed the backdrop to a forecourt in front of the tomb. Excavation has showed that several fires were made here.

The tomb itself is made up of two chambers. The outer chamber, which was entered through the façade, contained a fragment of a jadeite ceremonial axe, together with sherds of Neolithic pottery and a leaf-shaped arrowhead. Late grave-goods comprised Peterborough-ware and Beaker-ware pottery sherds and a flint knife. The inner chamber was built as a closed box, and was inaccessible from the outer one. It probably pre-dates the outer chamber and was blocked off as the long barrow was enlarged. It was probably originally roofed by a great stone slab resting on the two taller end-slabs. The inner chamber contained a secondary cist, with food vessel sherds and a cup-and-ring carved stone.

The second barrow, known as Cairn Holy II, is located to the north of Cairn Holy I. Local tradition maintains that it was the tomb of Galdus, a mythical Scottish king. It measures 20 by 12 metres, and is less than 60 centimeters high. It has been robbed of stones but there are still two portal stones in front of the chambers, with a very shallow forecourt at the front. The barrow contained two chambers, but the rear chamber had been robbed, and the other disturbed, an arrowhead and a flint knife were found within the filling, along with secondary sherds of Beaker pottery

Cairn Holy is now in the care of Historic Scotland.