Of Agriculture, Trade, Diseases, Poor, State of Religion, Sepulchral Monuments, &c., Part IV., pp.210-227.

NEITHER the church, nor church-yard, is adorned with large, or expensive sepulchral monuments. The graves are generally covered with stones; but very few of them are ornamented with Coats of arms, or epitaphs for the dead. Nothing is left to distinguish the burying-place, at the old church of Torrance, save a few fragments of human bones, that are occasionally disturbed, when the ground in laboured. A neat burying-place was lately built at Calderwood, in the bank, a little above the house; but it is solely appropriated to the family. It is not ornamented with the emblems or mementos of death: the solitary situation indicates its use, with the most convincing language.

THE practice of raising tumuli over the deceased was very ancient in Kilbride. Public marks of respect, when judiciously bestowed, have been of great use to society. By decorating the tombs of worthy characters, the living may receive instruction from the dead. A considerable number of these tumuli were, till about 30 years ago [1763], remaining in the parish. But they are now almost totally annihilated. To find heaps of gold and silver, or to procure materials for building dykes, and making roads, were the chief causes of destroying these hallowed monuments, which had, in remote ages, been raised by industry and pious veneration. The sacrilege, however, was repaid, not with capacious hoards of money, or coffers of jewels, as were fondly expected; but with urns, and stone coffins, containing nothing but earth, and rotten bones. Some, indeed, have been opened with a more laudable view of tracing, by means of the remains of antiquity concealed within them, the progress of the arts and sciences; and of discovering, more fully, the ancient rites and customs observed in burying the dead.

KNOCKLEGOIL, the former name of Limekilns, and probably the modern pronunciation of the Gaelic Knockillgoill,1 (the hill where foreigners are buried) was perhaps the largest mound in the parish. It was composed of some thousand cart loads of stones, which, on several occasions, answered the purpose of a quarry: but the remains of this large collection were all carried away about 50 years ago. A few urns, nearly half filled with earth and bones, was all the treasure it contained; and were, by the incurious workmen, devoted to destruction.

NOT long ago, another mound, or law, as these barrows are here called, was demolished a little above Kittochside. It was about 10 feet in height, and composed chiefly of stones, but of what dimensions I could not learn. It contained a large urn, in which were human bones. Close by the urn was found what was thought to be an old Spade, of a clumsy shape. The iron, which was pretty thick, and not much corroded by rust, was too considerable an object to be neglected by the workmen, who firmly believed that great treasures were concealed in these burying-places. Being disappointed in their high expectations, for they fancied that the happy moment was come, when their fortunes would be made, they were resolved to make the most of every thing they found. But the difficulty was, how to dispose of the spade, so as to share the prize equally among them. A consultation was held, with all due deliberation: the spade, the urn and the bones were lying before them; nor was any regard paid to the manes of the dead. The equitable division engrossed all their attention. Various methods were proposed. It was, at length, unanimously agreed upon that it should not be sold: it might, for any thing they knew, be uncommonly ominous; especially as it was iron, and taken out of a grave, which was generally believed to be haunted. Their invention was for a while stretched on the rack. At length, after various debates, they came to the following resolution, namely, that the spade should be converted into tackets for their shoes. They thought that thereby an equal division would be made, and, were there any thing ominous, it could affect nothing but their old shoes. This wise scheme (which next day was put in execution) being finally agreed to, the Genius of the tomb had the mortification to see the urn, with its contents, broken in pieces. 

NEAR Rawhead are the remains of a very large cairn, called Herlaw. Some thousand cart loads of stones have, at different times, been taken from it; and some thousands yet remain. The stones seem to have been gathered from the land. Many urns with fragments of human bones were found in one corner of it, but none of them were preserved. It is about 12 feet in height; and covers a base of 70 feet in diameter: but this must have been far short of its dimensions when entire. 

NEAR Nerston, in the year 1788, a small cairn was destroyed, in which was an urn that contained bones which seemed to have been burnt. The consecrated vessel, with its contents, was broken in pieces, and mixed with the materials, which the labourers were collecting for making roads. 

THE lands adjoining to the Mains of Kilbride contain a few of these rude, but durable monuments. Owing, however, to the frequent dilapidations that are daily making on them, they will soon be entirely destroyed. One, that some years ago was totally demolished, was about 12 feet in height, and of a gentle ascent. In the bottom was a coffin of large flags, containing a perfect skeleton, which, on being touched, fell to ashes: the teeth were firm, and the enamel in tolerable perfection. The bones were remarkably thick, but of no extraordinary length. The head was lying toward the east. In the bottom of a very small cairn which, in 1789, was annihilated, in the lands of East Rogertoun, the property of his Grace the Duke of Hamilton, were found five urns, not of the ordinary shape. They were about 18 inches high; 6 wide at the one end, and 4 at the other: both ends were open. They were said, by the workmen, to be glazed, and ornamented with flowers; and narrower in the middle than at either end. They stood upon smooth stones, distant from each other about ¾ of a yard, and placed in a circular form. The top of each urn was covered with a thin piece of stone. They were all totally destroyed, by the rustic labourers, so that not a fragment was preserved. 

History of Ruthergglen

In the boundary between these lands and Cathkin moor, an urn was, in Sept. 1792, discovered a few feet under ground. It was full of earth, mixed with fragments of human bones. It was about 6 inches in width, and 8 in depth. An outline of this sacred repository, pl. V. fig. 1. will give an idea of its peculiar shape, and ornaments.

THE largest at present remaining near the Mains, ins Lawknow. A considerable part of it has lately been carried away to repair the dykes on the estate. None of the stones are so large but that a man can easily carry, and all of them seem to have been gathered from the land. No urns or coffins have as yet been discovered. This cairn is peculiar in having, in the bottom, a circle of large flags, set on edge, not perpendicularly, but sloping a little outward. They are of a hard gritty schistus, found plentifully in the neighbourhood. As part only of the circle has been dug through, its diameter is not exactly known: it appears, however, to be about 8 or 10 yards. Barrows of a similar construction are very rare; what yet exists of this circle should, therefore, be allowed to remain as an example of the peculiarity of this ancient monument. But this, with some entire cairns in the neighbourhood, is devoted to destruction, as soon as the adjoining dykes stand in need of repair.

ON the top of Cathkin hills, about midway between Rutherglen and Kilbride, are a few cairns, which, on account of their elevated situation, are seen at a great distance. Their shape is conical. The largest is called Queen Mary’s, from a report that her Majesty sat on the top of it during the battle of Langside. Several places, in this country, are said to have been honoured by her Majesty’s presence on that memorable event. That she took a view of her army, and the scene of action, from various stations, during the course of the day, is not improbable. As this conspicuous cairn is in the neighbourhood of Castlemilk, where she is said to have staid the night before; there is nothing marvellous that she took a view of her army from this place, which commands a distinct prospect of Langside, and the tract of Clyde from near Hamilton to Dumbarton. This cairn was surrounded with a narrow ditch, and a small dyke of earth. It was about 18 feet in height, and 120 in diameter. The stones, of which it was mostly composed, seem to have been collected from the land; and none of them were very large, except one on the top: it was flat on the upper side, and weighed several ton weight.2

THIS tumulus was intersected nearly in the middle by a stratum of burnt earth, about a foot in thickness. This aged monument afforded materials, these many years past, for building dykes in the neighbourhood. Some workmen, as they were employed, in the beginning of 1792, in taking away what remained of the stones, discovered in the west side about 25 urns, full of earth and human bones. The earth seemed to have been taken from the adjoining soil. The bones were mostly in fragments, and very white, as if blanched. The urns were of coarse clay, rudely formed, seemingly with no other instrument than the hand, and so soft as easily to be scratched with the nail. Externally they were of a faintish brown colour, as if baked by the heat of the fun: but internally they were black. They were of different sizes, mostly about 12 inches deep, and 6 wide at the mouth. None of them were destitute of ornaments; these, however, were extremely rude, and seem to have been done in a hurry, with a sharp-pointed instrument. The urns generally fell to pieces when touched: one pretty entire was, however, preserved. Outlines of two of them are given, pl. 1. fig. 2. 3. They were all placed with their mouths undermost upon flat stones; and a piece of white quartz was found in the center of the mouth of each. These pebbles were larger and smaller, in proportion to the dimensions of the several urns to which they belonged.3

IN one of the urns was found what is supposed to be a Fibula. It is of that kind of mixed metal of which the heads of the Roman spears were frequently made, and of which copper makes a considerable proportion. A draught, according to the true dimensions, is given pl. 1. fig. 5. In another was found the middle part of a comb; which is likewise of the same mixed metal with the former, and overlaid with a beautiful green enamel, pl. V. fig. 2.

IN the bottom of the cairn, and exactly in the center of the area which it occupied, was a Coffin, or Chest, of large flags. It was about 4 feet every way; and a very large stone, that required the strength of 6 or 8 men to remove, was placed over it for a covering or lid. A small quantity of earth was all the treasure it contained. Close to it, however, was a considerable number of small bones, mostly in fragments. Among them was a tooth quite empty within; but the enamel was entire. The want of the offeous substance affords a proof that it was the tooth of a child. Along with them were found two fragments, both of the same shape, but of what ornament is not known, pl. V. fig. 3. They are of mixed metal, like the fibula, and had been overlaid with a green varnish, or enamel, some parts of which retain the original gloss and beauty. They are probably of Roman workmanship. Beside the urns was found a Ring of a hard, black schistus, that burns with a clear flame. It is 4 inches in diameter; but the rim is an inch in breadth, and ¾ of an inch in thickness. Rings of a similar shape, and of the same coally substance, have been discovered in several places of Scotland.4 It is believed that they were originally worn as ornaments, probably the armillæ; and were afterwards used as charms, deriving, no doubt, their virtue from the sanctity of the original possessors. One that was found in a cairn, in the parish of Inchinan, about 40 years ago, has performed, if we believe report, many astonishing cures. It is to this day preserved in the parish as an inestimable specific; and is imagined, by the superstitious, to be more valuable than many ton weight of medicines. Is not superstition so far useful, that it preserves some pieces of antiquity that would otherwise be destroyed?

THERE are a few cairns yet remaining on Cathkin hills. From off one of them a layer of stones was lately taken; but upon the appearance of a stratum of earth the dilapidation was discontinued.

WHEN the sepulchral tumuli, with which this country abounds, were raised, cannot with certainty be determined. The period was, in all probability, prior to the introduction of christianity. The custom of burning the dead was very ancient in the world. Various opinions are given for its origin. Pliny asserts, that it was practised with a design to prevent the dead bodies of soldiers, slain in the wars abroad, from being raised out of their graves, and inhumanly treated by the enemy. For this reason it would appear that the bodies of Saul, and of his sons, were burned by the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead.5 – To prevent the remains of deceased friends from being torn out of the graves, by wild beasts. – To prevent the corruption of the human body. – And to keep the air from being polluted, may be mentioned as reasons for this practice.

ALONG with the body, the ornaments worn by the deceased, the spoils they took in war, their arms, &c. were frequently thrown upon the funeral pile. The bodies being burnt, the fragments of the bones, and as much of the ashes as possible, were collected, and put into urns, or stone coffins; and generally along with Money, Combs, Buckles, Jewels, Amulets, &c. Owing to this it may happen that weapons, &c. peculiar to one nation may be found in cairns that were raised by another.

SOME urns, especially those that are thought to be Roman, are well shaped; and the clay of which they are made seems to have been extremely well prepared, and thoroughly baked. But the urns of all the northern nations of Europe, are of coarse clay, rudely formed, and ill baked. Of this kind are the urns found in Cathkin. The coffins are either single, or many joined to one another in the same row, as those in Baldernock, formerly mentioned. They are commonly composed of large flags; but some are of a single stone hollowed out, as one described by Mr. Wallace in his history of Orkney.

THE construction of the cairns differs considerably. Some are of earth, others of stones. In some the stones are large, in others not; and some are composed of earth and stones. They are of different sizes; whilst not a few urns and coffins have been found buried in the earth, where not the smallest trace of a cairn could be seen. In some places they are oblong, and in others bell-shaped, or conical. Not a few are surrounded with trenches, or rows of stones: and sometimes the top is ornamented with a large stone, thought to have been used as an altar, on which victims for the dead were offered: this probably was the case with the one in Cathkin, already mentioned. Borlase (antiquities of Cornwall) informs us, that Harold employed his whole army, and a great number of oxen, in drawing one vast stone to crown the monument of his mother. Not unfrequently cairns were erected to the memory of some great personage, who may have died abroad, or perished in the sea. This may be the reason why so many empty coffins are found even in the largest; and why these coffins are accompanied with the bones of victims that were slain to the Shades of the person, whose memory was perpetuated by the mound. Not a few have great stones placed on end at the head of the coffin. This was exemplified in the cairn, in Craig-Madden Moor, already described. One somewhat of a similar construction was, a few years ago, demolished in the parish of Strathblane, in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. This ancient burying-place, the origin of which is unknown, was 60 yards in length; 14 feet in height, and of a considerable breadth. It was composed of gravel, and lay east and west. In the bottom were a great many coffins of stone, placed in a row, and separated from one another by a single flag. Every coffin contained an urn, that was full of earth and burnt bones. Beside each urn was a pillar about 3 feet in height, and 8 inches in thickness. They were fragments of basaltic, five-sided columns, a few rocks of which are found in the parish. Most of the pillars are built in a dyke adjoining to the church. The urns on being touched fell in pieces. 

BUT cairns have not always been raised for the honour of the person whose remains they contain. Murderers, &c. have had, on many occasions, their graves distinguished by heaps of stones. This practice has been very ancient in the world.6

THE accumulation of these incredible heaps of stones was not the work of a day. Passengers, honouring the memory of the deceased, and often with a superstitious view, added to the heap, by throwing a stone upon it, every time they passed by. Hence the proverbial expression among the Highlanders, alluding to this practice, Corridh mi cloch air do charne. I will add a stone to your cairn. As each of the stones, thus collected, could not be large, the heap must necessarily have been composed of small stones, which were, probably, gathered from the land. This circumstance leads us to form a more rational account why so many cairns, every where almost in Scotland, are composed of small stones, than the one mentioned in the false, and ill-natured assertions of a Gothic, or rather a Pickish author, who says, “There is no authority, and no reason to believe that the Celts ever used to raise hillocks over their illustrious dead. The plain Cromlech, or little heaps of stones, was more consonant to their savage indolence.”7 And, “Ancient monuments of the British Scots there are none, save cairns of stones, used as sepulchres, and as memorials. These were adapted to Celtic indolence: while the Gothic industry raised vast stones instead of piling small ones: nor are any cairns found in Gothic countries, so far as i can learn, except such as are very large.”8

THE history of the period, when these monuments were raised, is so obscure, that it is not always certain by what people the several kids of them were erected. Among the many conjectures that have been made on the subject, extremely few are conclusive. It hath been alledged, that the cairns, in which are found urns made of fine clay, and well shaped, were Roman: and those containing urns of coarse materials, and ill shaped, were British. The trinkets found in them have been made another criterion. Cairns of an oblong form, and composed of large stones, are supposed to be Danish, or Saxon: whilst those of a conical shape, and composed of small stones, are imagined to be Celtic. Several marks have likewise been given by authors as characteristic of the station of the person over whom these cairns were raised: as a great one for a Prince; and a small one for a person of inferior rank. According to Cooke, (Enquiry into the Patriarchal and Druidical Temples, &c.) they are distinguished into four kinds. 1. “Circular trenches, with a small tump, or elevation in the center, are supposed to be Druidical barrows. 2. Plain round ones, may be Roman, Saxon, Danish, or British. 3. Such as are of a fine turned, elegant, and bell-like form, with trenches round them, are royal sepulchres. 4. Large oblong barrows, with or without trenches, are those of the Arch-Druids. In several of these have been found the Celts wherewith the Misseltoe was cut.”

BUT might not the same people, as occasion served, vary considerably the shape, &c. of their sepulchral monuments? In the same cairn we find the remains of the funeral rites of different nations. The one on Cathkin hills, already described, may be mentioned as an example. An antiquary would not hesitate to say, that the brass ornaments were of Roman workmanship: and that the ring of schistus, and the rudely formed urns were Celtic. The great stone on the top, and the coffin of large flags at the bottom, would lead some to suppose, that it was raised by the Danes or Saxons: but the small stones, of which it is chiefly composed, would lead others to imagine, that it was raised by the Celts. The surest way is, to suspend our positive assertions on so dark a subject, till the more advanced study of antiquity, divested of groundless theories, throws greater light on the ancient customs of our country. Of one thing we are sure, that these monuments carry back our views to very remote periods, when barbarism, idolatry, and superstition marked the character of our forefathers. Serious reflections, when we are discovering the abodes of the dead, and raking up the ashes of the men of former times, have a tendency to abstract our thoughts from the world: to soothe the mind amidst the hurry of business: to beget sentiments of gratitude for our superior advantages: and to improve these for answering the important ends for which they are given us. Thus the living may reap advantage from the dead.9


1  Knoc, a small hill; kill, a cell or grave; and gall, a foreigner; in the plural goill
2  Different opinions have been formed about the original design of these flat stones on the tops of cairns. Toland says, that fires were kindled on them at certain times of the year, particularly on the 1st of May, and the 1st of November, for the purpose of sacrificing. At which times all the people, having extinguished their domestic hearths, rekindled them by the sacred fires of the cairns. In the parish of Blair-Athol there is a sacrificing cairn 60 geometrical paces in circumference, having several large flags on the top, which probably constituted the altar. 
3  A circumstance somewhat similar to this is mentioned in the Scots Magazine, for February 1790, where we are told, “That in the Cairn of Menzie, in Cairn-Moor in Buchan, was found, along with earth and bones, in a stone coffin, a Dart-head of yellow flint, as if intended to furnish the deceased with more darts, should he have occasion for them on the passage!” But what was the original intention is, perhaps, out of our power precisely to ascertain. It i smore likely that the block of flint, and the pebbles, above-mentioned, were deposited more from a superstitious view than any thing else. 
4  Scots Magazine, June 1766.


5  1 Sam. xxxi. 12. 
6  Josh. vii. 26. and viii. 29. 
7  Pinkerton’s Antiq. of Scot. vol. I. p. 412. 
8  Vol. II. p. 140. 
9  When mentioning the abodes of the dead, it would be highly improper to omit the following remarkable phenomenon. Upon digging a grave, on the 12th of November 1792, in the church-yard of Rutherglen, a Scull, retaining a very great quantity of hair, was dug up. the hair, when stretched out, was nearly a yard in length. It was very strong, of a reddish colour, and adhered pretty firmly to the scull. As I had not an opportunity of examining it, I can say nothing about the state of the scalp. The quantity of hair was said to be so great, that three or four persons could, with difficulty, wear it. The grave was in a dry soil, and had not been opened for, at least, 30 years. The scull was little more than two feet below the surface of the ground. It is extremely probable, that this hair must have grown, after the person to whom it belonged was interred. That hair grows after death, is well known. Sometimes the growth, after burial, is amazing. Of this we have some well attested facts.

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