One aspect of ritual that we can see and say a lot about is the ritual of death in the Bronze Age.The Tweed hills are unsurpassed for the quality and abundance of evidence in the form of burial sites of this period.

We cannot always understand why people did things but we can see and explain what they did. This is especially true of Bronze Age burial practices.

Two basic principles were adopted; inhumation where a body was buried, and cremation and then burial of the remains. Both these methods of disposing of the dead were practised at the same time and even in some cases, in the same place. There does not appear to be any distinction as to whether age or sex is given any priority or special treatment. We know this because human remains often survive in the burials which are found.

There has been only one modern excavation of a Bronze Age burial with human remains in this part of the country. The Biggar Group have also investigated similar types of burials just across the hill from Tweedsmuir at Camps Reservoir.

Near Drumelzier Place Farm and at Woodend on Mossfennan Farm, cist burials have been found. These would originally have large flat stone slabs sealing the stone coffin. In each case, the deceased would be laid on their side in a crouched position. Two or more burials were made in the cairns which covered them. We may guess that these cairns also contain cremation burials as well. Unfortunately these sites were dug when scientific principles were not used and we know little of their contents.

At Weird Law, however, a stony ring enclosure was excavated in the 1960s and found to contain cremation burials in pits; these were of at least one young adult and a child. This site was the first of its type to be excavated and they were named Enclosed Cremation Cemeteries. Since then the Biggar Group have excavated a further two sites in the Camps Reservoir and these also contained cremations, this time of adults of both sexes. However, on fasteners made from coal. These sites all dated to around 3500 years ago.

Since that time the local archaeologists have discovered and recorded numerous other similar sites but even they were astounded when they found a huge complex of these cemeteries at Talla, some above and some below the water. Definite burial cairns are also present in the group of sites there.

Near Broughton there are good examples of ‘barrows’. These are small low mounds of earth, sometimes with a shallow ditch surrounding them and it is amazing to think that these subtle features have survived intact for thousands of years on the upland pastures. It is known from work elsewhere that these contain burials of the Bronze Age period.

The Upper Tweed Valley therefore has a magnificent representation of death in the Bronze Age, allowing us to understand the various methods adopted to bury their dead. At West Water Reservoir near West Linton, a cist cemetery contained the typical decorated pots called beakers and food vessels  which often accompany bodies in cists. Remarkably at that site a unique discovery of a lead bead necklace was found along with another made from coal. Personal items were often placed with the dead, which, along with the contents of the pots  and occasional stone or metal tools, were meant to assist the deceased in the next world, showing us that a belief in after life existence prevailed.

The Upper Tweed Valley has countless attractions for walkers; historical and archaeological sites, and wonderful wildlife, which now includes ospreys, delightful flora, especially the heather clad hills which themselves can tell a tale which stretches back 450 million  years. There is much to learn and enjoy about this landscape; the archaeological story is merely one facet of it.

 

Tam Ward
Biggar Archeology Group   

 

 

 

The stone cist shows a lady interred with some floral tributes and a beaker pot.
Such burials were  found at Drumelzier and Mossfennan and may still be seen.