Last week, Mr Antony Page reported the discovery of a possible cist within an area of recent felling in Dundonald Woods. As exposed, the feature appeared to be a square or rectangular chamber formed from stone slabs, an arrangement that would certainly conform to that of a cist. Further investigation confirmed the presence of a small stone-built chamber, though a number of factors suggest that it was not constructed as a cist.
The chamber isformed of sandstone slabs around 0.12m thick, measures 0.9m by 0.8m internally, and is at least 0.35m deep, though the bottom was not reached. Regular vertical lines were visible on the internal faces of the stones forming the front and back of the compartment, these being the upslope and downslope sides. These markings suggested that the stones had been artificially shaped, and indeed, may have been artificially dressed. The remains of a fallen slab was also present in the interior of the compartment; this measured 0.62m by 0.40m by 0.09m, and is likely to represent part of a capstone.
In addition to the chamber itself, a small dressed sandstone pillar immediately upslope of the compartment. This appeared to have been dislodged by forestry operations, but was around 0.54m high, with the upper 0.27m being basically square in form with chamfered edges, while the lower section, which had presumably been embedded in the ground, was more crudely shaped. The upper section appeared to have been shaped using a saw, and measured 185mm by 195mm square, though chamfering of its corners had reduced its overall size . A finely-carved letter 'P' was present on the top of the pillar, suggesting that this face was intended to remain visible, rather than being connected to an upper course. This pillar appeared to have been dislodged fairly recently by forestry operations, as there was evidence for it having been dug into the earth behind it. The presence of this pillar in the immediate vicinity of the compartment would suggest that they may have been related, with the pillar having been set up to mark the position of the feature, and with the 'P' perhaps identifying the name of the landowner.
The feature was located in an area of very steeply-sloping ground that would not be typical for a cist. When found, the interior faces of the stones that form the compartment were covered in moss, suggesting that the feature had been exposed to the light for some time (if it had been a cist whose capstone and covering of earth had been removed by recent forestry operations, the moss growth would likely have been less advanced). The parallel vertical markings visible on the interior faces of the stones forming both the front and back of the chamber look likely to be markings left during the shaping of the stones, and indeed, may suggest mechanical dressing. Stones used to form cists would not typically demonstrate this level of artificial shaping, and indeed, if they were dressed mechanically, this would tend to suggest a relatively recent date. It is noticeable that the ground downslope from the feature was fairly boggy, while the compartment appeared to have been cut back into the natural hillslope to some extent, with the lower edge reasonably close to the natural ground level, and it could be that it was formed to collect water from a natural spring or to formalise what would have otherwise been a boggy hollow. As the woodland formed part of a designed landscape that formerly existed in the vicinity of Dundonald Castle and Auchans, it is possible that it may have been constructed in the 18th of 19th centuries as some sort of folly or 'rustic' visual feature, though it does not appear to have been shown on any available maps.