Whithorn & The Machars

Image reproduced with permission of Trustees of National Libraries of Scotland

The Machars is the area of Galloway between Newton Stewart and Glenluce, to the south of the modern A75. The area is diverse, with upland moorlands, low-lying pasture and both steeep rocky cliffs and sheltered sandy bays along the coast.

The archaeology of the Machars is equally varied, and archaeological sites and monuments show influences from the north of Scotland, Ireland and northern England. The Machars can genuinely be thought of as a ‘cultural crossroads’, and has been at the centre of communication routes across the Irish Sea in prehistory and history.

Evidence of human activity has been recovered from the Machars dating to the Mesolithic period, in the form of middens and flints left by hunter-gatherer groups. In the following Neolithic period, the first farming communities built chambered cairns and stone circles, many of which are still highly visible monuments in the landscape. The massive ramparts of Iron Age forts still dominate the landscape, and many coastal fortifications dating to this period can be found along the rocky coastline.

One of Scotland’s most important archaeological sites, the early Christian settlement of Whithorn, is found in the east Machars. The town has a long history of archaeological research, and through the 1980s and 1990s excavations by the Whithorn Trust uncovered evidence for the development of the settlement from the early 5th century AD through to the medieval period, as the settlement grew as a trading centre in commodities including luxury imported goods and high quality manufactured products. The settlement became a major monasterium through the middle ages, and a centre for pilgrimmage to the shrine of Saint Ninian. Through time, the various influences of Irish, Northumbrian, Viking, Hiberno-Norse, Anglo-Norman and Scottish settlers on Whithorn reflect in microcosm the varied and diverse character of the Machars.

The MAP project marked a new phase of archaeological research in south west Scotland. Led by the Whithorn Trust, the project aimed to continue research into the history one of Scotland’s richest landscapes, and to contribute to the interpretation and promotion of its archaeology.