Discovering D&G’s Past – Conference, 9th February 2013

We are pleased to announce that, to celebrate the end of the Development Phase of Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past, we are holding a day of talks and activities celebrating community archaeology in the region.

When? Saturday 9th February, 10.30-3.30
Where? The CatStrand, New Galloway

DDGP Conference - 9th February 2013

The day is not only to say a big thank you to all project volunteers but will be a chance for those who have not previously been involved to find out more about the project.

There will also be guest speakers telling you about other archaeology projects in the region that you can get involved with.

All are welcome, but please RSVP by the 4th February so that we can sort catering arrangements.

To find out more please contact Giles on or 01387 702056.


Interim results from Castledykes Park, Dumfries; Innermessan, near Stranraer and Corehead, near Moffat

We are pleased to announce that interim results from our first three surveys are now available to download – all the links are below.

These are technical reports – but they present the results in a wider context, and there’s plenty of background information telling you about what we were hoping to find. Brief summaries of the results are below, but please feel free to contact us if you would like any further details.

All go in Castledykes Park, Dumfries

Have you ever wondered how archaeologists interpret this data? We have written a new page to try and explain it all. See Mapping the Past.

Castledykes Park, Dumfries
Resistance survey showed a number of interesting features across an area where the Royal Castle of Dumfries once stood  – mostly rubble associated with landscaping across the park . One area on top of Castle Hill was of particular interest, as survey suggested a defined building foundation, a circle of stonework measuring 5m across.

Download pdf [Castledykes Park, Dumfries: Interim Report on Resistance Survey]

Innermessan, near Stranraer
Volunteers undertook a week long programme of resistance and magnetic survey over two areas at Innermessan, to the north of Stranraer. Around the base of the upstanding motte, a number of features of interest were recorded, including an apparently double-ditched feature which may be cut by the 12th-century motte ditch.

Download pdf [Innermessan, near Stranraer: Interim Report on Resistance and Magnetic Survey]

Corehead, near Moffat
Volunteers undertook a single day of resistance survey to the immediate North of Corehead Farm, near to the head of Annan Water. A range of historic documents as well as a map of 1590 provide evidence for a tower at ‘Ye Corhead’, although the site for this tower remains unlocated, and it is not depicted on further mapping. The main aim of the survey was to test the suitability of resistance survey as a prospection technique across this area.

Download pdf [Corehead, near Moffat: Interim Report on Resistance Survey]

We hope you enjoying reading these reports – if you would like to find out more please don’t hesitate to contact us.

We are also very interested in receiving any feedback we can on the project- please see our survey here:

Upcoming event on 21st November: Survey at Langholm Castle

On Wednesday the 21st November, volunteers and local schoolchildren will join forces to explore the area surrounding the upstanding remains of the Castle at Langholm, with a day of geophysical survey, with the results presented in an evening talk.

The standing end-wall on Castleholm is all that now remains of Langholm Castle, built in the early 16th century by the famous Border Reivers, the Armstrongs, which served as a stronghold for 200 years.

Volunteers from across the local community as well as pupils from local schools will come together to find out more about what remains of the castle across this triangle of land between Ewes Water and the Esk. The day will be a chance to explore what might lie below the ground, without picking up a spade, using geophysical survey equipment.

Geophysical survey, or ‘geofizz’ made famous through TV’s Time Team is an ideal way to map buried remains without having to excavate them. By measuring small electrical changes in the soil, it is possible to, very rapidly build up a picture of where buried stonework might be – and this could be related to stone foundations associated with the castle.

Between 10am and 4pm, there is a chance to ‘have- a-go’ at this type of survey – it’s a great way of ‘seeing beneath the soil’ – doing archaeology without getting your hands dirty! No previous experience is necessary – just enthusiasm. Please contact Giles Carey, using the details below, so that we have an idea of numbers taking part. During the day, there will also be the chance for all visitors to chat to archaeologists on site about the survey and see a small display on what is known about the Castle.

On a single day of survey it is hoped that the standing remains of the Castle can be placed in a wider context. The results, the fruits of volunteers’ labour, will be included in a talk in the evening, at 7.30pm in the Buccleuch Centre, to which all are invited. Entrance to the talk will be £3, with under 18s being admitted for £1.

The event is being run by archaeologists from the University of Glasgow, in partnership with Eskdale and Liddesdale Archaeological Society.

For more information please contact Giles Carey at the University of Glasgow Crichton Campus on 01387 702056 or email

The project launches: Join Us for Survey of Dumfries’ Royal Castle on Friday 7th September

To celebrate the ‘official’ launch of Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past, we are pleased to announce that we will be running a day of geophysical survey in Castledykes Park, Dumfries on Friday 7th September, running 10am to 4pm.

This is a free event. No booking is required – just drop in and join in! You will receive full training in how to use the equipment to ‘see beneath the ground’.

Dumfries and Galloway Council archaeologist Andrew Nicholson will be joining us, offering visitors a guided tour through the park to explore its earthworks. Who knows – you might even spot a Medieval knight?

A bit of background
Survey will be focused on the top of ‘Castle Hill’ very close to the Glencaple Road entrance to the park. This substantial earthwork is the site of Dumfries’ Royal Castle. The castle was built in 1185, and was strengthened in the 1260s, and again by Edward I in 1300, when the great ditch was dug and the earthwork was enclosed with a wooden palisade. The castle was seized by Robert Bruce in 1306 after he murdered John Comyn at Greyfriars in Dumfries, but held for only three weeks. It was surrendered to Bruce again in 1313 by Sir Dugal M’Doual, and was one of the castles in southern Scotland whose slighting was ordered on the release of David II in 1357. It was described as still ruinous two centuries later and appears to have never been rebuilt.

Over the other side of Castledykes Park stands ‘Paradise Motte’, the site of an earlier castle, probably erected about 1173 by William I of Scotland (‘The Lion’).

How geophysical survey can help

By carrying out a small survey on the top of the mound, we are hoping to add detail to what may once have stood on this spot. A few small trenches have previously been excavated on top of Castle Hill, and they recorded a few bits of wall as well as some Medieval pottery.

Resistivity survey will be used. This technique is very good at mapping buried walls – so we hope to get a better idea of the plan of buildings on top of the mound. These could be related to the stone-built castle, or to the ‘Chapel of Our Lady of Castledykes’ which later sat on this site.

For more information, please contact Giles on 01387 702056 or

Birrens: putting a Roman fort in context

We had a great week of survey at Birrens Roman Fort, near Middlebie, earlier in the

Tom and Ron carrying out resistivity survey

month. Overall, volunteers, together with University of Glasgow students and staff walked nearly 35km, collecting some fascinating data that has really helped to put the Roman fort into context.

We had a number of visits from the local media. Giles Carey and Dr. Richard Jones explain here a bit of background to the fort and what the survey hoped to achieve.

Courtesy DNG Media

And the results were definitely worth braving the weather for. Dr. Richard Jones, who led the work, is excited by the results. He said:

The results of this survey at Birrens are exciting because they seem to show a fort lying next to, and probably earlier than, the known (excavated)  fort.  As well as the defences, there is a lot of  detail within this new fort which we want to understand.

Whilst the results will undergo further analysis and interpretation, a number of features are already apparent.

To the west of the fort
A large scale magnetic survey was conducted to the West of the earthworks of the fort, where a series of ramparts and the line of the Roman road are visible on aerial photographs. This field is currently under pasture, and gives little indication of what lies beneath.

Magnetic survey gets underway – little survives above ground

However, the results are quite staggering. Below is a greyscale view of the results. The readings taken as the equipment is walked across the ground surface are all plotted together, and have been placed on a map to reveal a buried ‘plan’ of archaeological deposits. Areas of positive magnetic response are shown as black; areas of negative magnetic response are shown as white. These results show a series of features which correspond well with the aerial photographs of the site.

Initial results of magnetic survey to West of fort.

A series of buildings are visible, aligned along north-south and east-west streets, within a fort with considerable ramparts to the North and West. A number of other features can be suggested – a line of circular anomalies close to the intersection of the roads could be a series of ovens. What is clear is that there was a sequence of rebuilding here, and what survives today is only a small part of a much more extensive military landscape in use over at least 100 years.

Initial interpretation: yellow: road, purple: defences; green: weak features to the west of the fort/annexe; light blue: narrow positive magnetic anomaly running from the fort interior approximately westward into the annexe.

Volunteers also carried out some resistivity survey in this western annexe – and the roads are immediately obvious in this data.

To the north of the fort
A resistivity survey was carried out to the north of the surviving fort earthworks, covering 22 grids in an area which aerial photographs suggested the via principia  (the main road) of the fort might run through.

The results are a bit harder to interpret, but there are certainly features here which are suggestive of large ditches. It is likely that we will be returning to carry out some more magnetic survey in this area – it might help us clear up exactly what is going in this northern area.

The resistivity survey detects changes in the moisture level of the soil related to archaeological deposits below the ground. The greyscale below shows initial interpretation – the white areas indicate areas of low resistance. Here electrical current passes through the soil more easily, indicating that buried deposits are damper – such as might be found in a ditch. The black areas indicate high resistance. These might indicate buried stonework – electrical current cannot pass so easily through the soil around a wall for instance, because it is drier.

Initial interpretation of resistivity survey. Yellow: drains; red: low resistivity anomalies some of which may represent ditches; blue: higher resistivity anomalies of uncertain identity.

Overall, this data has really helped to show that there’s more to Roman activity in this area than meets the eye. A lot is buried below ground, that we just can’t see any more above the surface. The results of the geophysical survey are very important therefore in finding out more about this complex military landscape.

A huge thank you to all our volunteers – who braved some challenging weather and sheep! We would also like to say thanks to the 50 or so people who turned up to see the results on the Open Day – it was a very enjoyable day.  

The small display receives its first Open Day visitor

We would also like to thank Middlebie Parish History Group for their support, particularly Janet Foreman and Ian Aitken-Kemp, and to our project funders as well as to the Mouswald Trust and the Dumfries & Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society and the landowner, Mr Denis Martindale.

A tired but happy team

Would you like to be part of the volunteer team next time? Please contact us to find out about upcoming surveys.

Welcome on Day of Archaeology 2012

Together with over 700 archaeologists across the world, we are telling the world about Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past on the Day of Archaeology website. It’s a great opportunity to find out more about what archaeologists get up to on a ‘typical’ day – see the website and you can read our post here.

In honour of the day, let me tell you about more about Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past, and how you can get involved.

Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past is an exciting new community archaeology project based in south-west Scotland, providing training in using geophysical survey to help volunteers record, understand and interpret the region’s fascinating archaeology. There’s going to be plenty of opportunity for local people right across the region to get involved in the surveys – it’s a great way to find out more about buried archaeology without having to excavate.

What is geophysics, and what can we find out using it?

Not all archaeology is about excavation – you may have come across ‘geofizz’ on TV’s Time Team where it’s often used to plan where to put the trenches in. Geophysics is a way of mapping buried archaeological deposits – be they ditches, pits or building material – without ever breaking the ground surface.

There are two main techniques for geophysical survey:

Glasgow University Archaeologists undertaking resistivity survey

Resistivity: By passing a small electrical current into the ground, and measuring the amount of resistance that results, it is possible to locate buried remains of archaeological interest.

Resistance is related to the amount of moisture in the soil. Around buried walls, for example, the surrounding soil will often be dryer. The current cannot pass so easily through this dry soil, so stonework can often show up as areas of higher resistance. This technique is therefore ideal for locating building walls and foundations.

Glasgow University Archaeologists undertaking magnetic survey

Magnetometry:  This technique detects extremely small variations in the earth’s magnetic field, caused when the ground has been disturbed by previous activity. Burning, for instance, will often leave a significant magnetic trace.

Magnetometry is excellent for locating ditches, pits, middens, hearths and kilns – and is great at covering large areas quite quickly.

The great thing about geophysical survey is that the results can be rapidly downloaded on site to a laptop, and even with minimum processing it is possible to define ‘anomalies’ which can represent buried archaeology. For volunteers on the project surveys this is great – they can see the fruits of their labours in the field. We are aiming to get these very quickly into reports which will be uploaded onto our website, to share them with as wide an audience as possible.

Our next survey
It’s all a bit hectic in the office today as we put the finishing touches to our programme for next week’s survey. We’ll be undertaken both magnetic and resistivity survey at the nationally important site of the Roman fort at Birrens. This continues work that the University of Glasgow have been concentrating on – looking in and around Roman military sites in Eastern Dumfriesshire.

Seeing beneath the soil: the results of magnetic survey at the Roman Fort at Bankhead, Dalswinton

This has looked at fabulous sites around Lockerbie, such as the Roman fort at Dalswinton. As you can see this has added loads of detail (as you can see on the right) to both the inside of the fort of Bankhead and the surrounding area – which aerial photographs have shown to be really interesting.

At Birrens Roman fort, near Middlebie, we’ll be focusing on similar things. A group of 6 volunteers will be joining us for 3 days next week to carry out some resistivity survey on the interior – hopefully we’ll get detail of the street pattern, as well as an idea of how the buildings – both the barrack blocks and administrative headquarters of the fort – were laid out.

You can find out more about Birrens fort – known to the Romans as blatobulgium (literally the ‘flour sack’) here.

We’re having an Open Day on Saturday July 7th – it’ll be a great chance to show the public the results as well as an opportunity to show just how geophysics ‘works’ – including the amount of walking in straight lines that’s involved! The response has been fantastic locally – so here’s hoping for some sunshine!

You can find out more about our work at Birrens in a previous post. We are also hoping to post the results up very shortly – so watch this space!

That’s all for now – we look forward to seeing you at Birrens next Saturday, but you can always contact us if you have any questions or comments at all!

Birrens Roman Fort, Middlebie

Seeing beneath the soil: the results of magnetic survey at the Roman Fort at Dalswinton

Our first survey project is happening at Birrens Roman Fort, near Middlebie , Annandale, described as

“a site with a unique role in Romano-British frontier history”.

We have places available on the resistance survey for volunteers on Tuesday-Thursday 3rd-5th of July. If you would like to put your name down for one or more days, please contact Giles – or 01387 702056. Find out more about what will be involved on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

We will also be running an Open Day between 10 and 4 on Saturday 7th July. Meet at Middlebie Community Hall – there will be a small display about the site, and the chance to see archaeology in action – with guided walks to see the current surveys in progress. Hopefully, there will also be a sneak preview of the current results!

Download a poster with all the details (PDF).

Why not find out more about the fort on Canmore? 
Interesting fact – its Roman name – Blatobulgium – literally means “flour sack” (presumably because it had 3 granaries instead of the usual 2).

As ever, any queries or questions – just drop us a line!