A report has been received, outlining the results of archaeological monitoring carried out by Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) in February of this year, on a site proposed for coal extraction at Newmains Farm, east of Douglas in South Lanarkshire. This followed on from initial evaluation of the site, undertaken in May and June 2009, which identified the survival of significant archaeological features in two areas. In the north-west corner of the site, a possible ditch was found, which contained medieval pottery along with nineteenth century remains. In addition, a sherd of pottery of Middle Neolithic date was located in a pit at the southern end of the site, while a second pit in the same area was found to be filled with carbonised material. This work was undertaken as a condition of planning consent, imposed by South Lanarkshire Council on the advice of the West of Scotland Archaeology Service.
Specialist analysis of material recovered from the two areas of archaeological survival has now been completed. This revealed that of the two features identified at the southern end of the site, the single pit is a sunken hearth, possibly dug for a camp fire. Wood from the local area was used in the pit, and local foods including hazel nutshells, crab apple, rowan and wild rose and cereals were cooked on or in the fire along with meat - a possible wild or domestic animal. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal recovered from this pit indicates that this may relate to a single event, which occurred sometime between 1400 and 1520 Cal AD. The fire may have been prepared by people working in the nearby fields or more likely travellers, who during harvest time took advantage of the abundance of available food species (both plant and animal) for a short stay in the area.
This pit is a rare find in Scotland, and as a medieval feature has provided a picture of an isolated event which otherwise would have been lost. The fact that it was not accompanied by any artefactual or structural evidence emphasises the ephemeral nature of these type of feature.
The prehistoric pit identified from close to this medieval hearth can be clearly dated to the middle part of the Neolithic period. A sherd of Impressed Ware and the possible chert knife found during the excavation concur with the radiocarbon date of 3330 - 3230 Cal BC. Its function is uncertain, but the amount of charcoal from oak, hazel and birch as well as a hazel nutshell found within it could suggest either a domestic or a structural use. As with the medieval hearth, this pit did not have any associated features or structures.
The northern part of the evaluation area was most productive of ceramic wares, possibly a result of manuring using domestic waste as part of the yearly farming cycle. Here, sherds dating from the 13th - 15th to 20th centuries were found, indicating a long period of continued farming practice. It is quite likely that the farm or settlement from which the wide range of pottery was derived was nearby: the settlements of Castle Mains or Coalgill to the east are likely contenders. The former is the most likely being of a higher status than the latter and more likely to have used a wide range of traditional Scottish wares. The early date for some of this pottery is not unusual given the construction of the 12th century St Brides Church and the 13th century castle in nearby Douglas.
Although lacking in structural evidence, the evaluation of this area produced a snapshot of medieval and later rural life that is generally not found and adds a little to the documentary evidence of the period.