A closer look - the shiny object is a 50p piece.

Plunton has provided food and shelter for humans for at least 4,000 years, despite its apparent remoteness. On Thursday we had a visit from Andrew Nicholson, Dumfries and Galloway’s Historic Environment Record Officer. Andrew is responsible for all the regionally important monuments in the county; a mere 25,000 sites. Before calling in on us in the early afternoon, he’d travelled down from Corsock and the Glenkens by the Dee, looking in on various sites along the way. These range from Neolithic sites to castles and Roman camps. As an aside, if anyone ever says the Romans didn’t really try very hard to conquer Caledonia, point them towards the Glenlochar barrage on the Dee near Townhead of Greenlaw. The remains of a Roman Fort discovered there could accommodate 22,000 soldiers.

As Andrew arrived at the same time as the fish van, he patiently waited until we had bought our tea and grabbed our wellies before heading into the field en masse. As soon as he saw the stone he pronounced that, as we suspected, we had “a very nice example” of an early Bronze age cup-mark stone. Probably dating from 2500-1800BCE, no-one really knows why these stones were marked but theories range from alien landing sites(!) to star charts and markers for certain mineral deposits. This being the bronze age, minerals were increasingly important to the people. They are carved in bedrock, usually on the lateral face, and vary from the very ornate (there are ones near Whithorn with carved horses) to extremely plain.

Dumfries and Galloway has the third highest concentration of Neolithic monuments in Scotland; only beaten by Orkney and Kilmartin Glen in Argyll. In Borgue there are other notable stones at Kirkandrews and Senwick, but ours is the first one discovered in our area and is interesting because potentially it links up with the others to create a network of monuments.

What does all this mean for us? Well, Andrew has created an official record of our site (NX 6184 5080) which describes it as; ”An exposed bedrock outcrop, revealed by livestock activity and notified to the Council’s archaeology service in 2015, was found to have at least 33 cup markings on its north-eastern face. Another smaller outcrop two metres to the north-west has a further minimum nine cup marks, and another 1.5m beyond that has at least six cup marks.”

aerial view of stone

Handily, the outcrop was also visible on Andrew’s aerial imagery. He said we could return the soil we’d cleared to the southern side of the rocks but it was fine to leave the rest of it exposed; given it’s survived 4,000 years there’s little fear that marauding children and natural forces will do major damage. Leaving it exposed also makes it easier for people to come and take a look at it.

Now our WWOOFer Veronika has her eye in, she thinks she may have seen other cup markings on stones near the lochan in the Barharrow field (Barharro [sic] is on maps dating from the early 18th century). There’s also thought to be an iron age farmstead somewhere in the field on the other side of Pulwhirrin Burn which no-one has found much trace of yet. So, basically, we’re slap-bang in the middle of archaeology heaven. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled when we’re on walks in the area. We’ll also make a sign for the field gate so passing walkers and cyclists know they can come in to take a look.

In fact, Veronika has been so inspired by the process that as we walked back to the house (with me lamenting the fact that I’d made a more interesting discovering in six months of keeping pigs than I had in a 4-year history degree) she announced that she’s pretty much settled on studying archaeology when she goes back to Austria. We waved off Andrew together (he was in a hurry to get to the museum where he was scheduled to dress up as a Viking for a photo shoot) thinking what a lovely job he had, charging round the countryside looking at rocks in fields.