In south-west Scotland there is little evidence for the
permanent farming settlements found in other parts of the country.
The local economy may have been essentialy pastoral with family
groups following their animals from winter to summer pastures.
Marine resources - fish, shell fish, seals - continued to be an
important part of the local diet.
The best known sites from this period are the massive stone cairns
where these first farming communities buried their dead. These were
communal tombs used over hundred years for the burial of family
groups. They were also memorials to a family's ancestors and a
place where the living and dead could come together for religious
There are various types of tombs across our region. In
Dumfriesshire and eastern Kirkcudbrightshire the most common tomb
type was the unchamberd long cairn; one of these has been excavated
at Lochill near Castle Douglas and dated to the early years of the
4th millennium BC. Around Newton Stewart and the Cree Valley the
preference was for a round cairn covering one or more burial
chambers with simple entrance passages; a good example to visit is
the White Cairn, Glentrool. .Elsewhere in Galloway, on Arran and in
Ayshire huge wedge-shaped cairns, known to archaeologists as Clyde
cairns, were built. A burial chamber was set into the broad end of
the tomb and the area in front was often marked by a wall of large
stone slabs. Some of the best examples of Clyde cairns are at
Cairnholy near Newton Stewart and the Giant's Grave, Whiting Bay,
Arran. The Clyde cairns are very similar in style and use to
chambered tombs in northern Ireland, south Wales and south-west
England and show that tomb building in this part of Scotland was
belonged to a much wider tradition.
Towards the end of the Neolithic, around 2500 Bc, local groups were
joining together to build huge ceremonial monuments. One of the
most dramatic was at Dunragit near Stranraer where three enormous
timber circles were built one with another. The largest circle was
over 100m in diameter, five times the size of Stonehenge.
Excavation has revealed evidence within the timber circles of
feasting, human cremation and the ritual burial of stone axes and
exotic pottery. Dunragit was a huge ceremonial centre, the
prehistoric equivalent of a modern cathedral. It would have been
used by communities from across south-west Scotland.
Rock art is another aspect of the later Neolithic. Enigmatic,
abstract designs - mainly concentric circles and curving lines -
were deliberately carved onto rock outcrops throughout the region.
Two of the most dramatic examples are at Balochmyle near Cumnock
and at Drumtroddan in the Wigtownshire Machars. No one knows the
meaning of these strange stone symbols. Some archaeologists think
they were landscape markers, dividing the land of the living from
the shadow world of the ancestors and the dead.
A range of distinctive objects were made and used in the Neolithic.
Pots, normally round bottomed baggy-shaped bowls made from local
clay, appear for the first time. Local flint was used to make a
range of large heavy knives, multipurpose scrapers and leaf-shaped
arrowheads. There is also evidence for long distance trade in high
quality tools. Axes and knives made from a beautiful grey flint
were imported into the region from the Yorkshire Wolds and
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of polished stone axes were traded
across the Solway from quarries and workshops high in the Cumbrian
fells. Polished stone axes were also being made at Cushendall and
Rathlin in County Antrim but, despite the relatively short sea
crossing, very few of these Irish axes have been found in