Abbey Knowe: excavation and interpretation
Many members of the congregation will know the prominent wooded knoll known as Abbey Knowe, which lies just west of the church at Lyne. On it there now stands a drystane plinth containing an information panel designed to introduce visitors to nearby archaeological and historic sites. Unveiled by Lady Elizabeth Benson one chilly day in April 2005, the plinth and its splendid information panel represent the culmination of a project which first began in the summer of 1998…
After climbing the knoll to obtain a better view of nearby Lyne Roman fort, archaeologists Sharron Corder and David Cowley made an exciting discovery when they noticed the remains of a cist (or stone-lined grave) eroding out from the gravel at their feet. Biggar archaeologist Tam Ward was contacted and a rescue excavation was undertaken, with the kind consent of Wemyss and March Estates and Messrs Waddell of Lyne Farm. Members of Lyne and Manor Youth Group also helped out!
Excavation eventually revealed the remains of three cists on top of the knoll. No human remains survived in the acid soil, but the size of the cists suggests the burials had been those of children. They may have formed part of a larger cemetery removed without record during quarrying of the knoll in the past. At first the cists were thought to date to the Bronze Age but their construction, east-west alignment and the lack of any grave goods soon showed they were more likely to be so-called ‘long cists’, a form of grave mostly associated with the ‘Dark Ages’, between the 5th and 8th centuries AD. This period saw the increasingly widespread adoption of Christianity by communities in southern Scotland.
Despite the absence of finds, the excavators were delighted with their discoveries. Early Christian burials, ranging from small groups of one or two graves to sizeable cemeteries have been found at a number of sites in the Lothians and the Borders but only a few such cist burials have been found in Tweeddale.
Discussion soon turned to their possible preservation and it was agreed that it would make an ideal site for reinstatement and interpretation. For hundreds of years, visitors to the fort have probably made their way up to the summit of Abbey Knowe in order to appreciate the view of the ramparts of Lyne Roman fort, little knowing that they were actually standing on the site of an Early Christian cemetery! Now they can find out about both sites, as well as other sites and finds from the locality.
Designed by Steven Ward from Biggar, the interpretive panel was commissioned with the aid of a very generous donation from Dr John Hooper, former chairman of the Society, together with funds from the Russell Trust. Through the good offices of Lady Elizabeth Benson, Wemyss and March Estates kindly arranged for the erection of a fence around the knoll and the provision of stiles to facilitate access. Visitors are requested to use the stiles provided and to observe the country code at all times.
Lyne Church and the way ahead
From Abbey Knowe, our attention was naturally drawn to the church itself. A better understanding of the church and its story would fit in well with this aim of low-key interpretation of the Lyne sites - not so as to encourage hordes of visitors, but to give those who discover the church for themselves a fuller and better appreciation of its significance.
Within the churchyard, the grave monument of greatest significance is the Janet Veitch memorial. The stone is an unusual piece of early 18th century symbolic folk art known as an ‘Adam and Eve’ stone, depicting a carved scene of the Temptation in the Garden of Eden. These stones, once common in the Scottish Lowlands and Borders, are now rare examples of the religious fervour of this period of Scotland’s history, where emblems of sin, death, and resurrection were common features of gravestones.
Graveyard recording in progress at Lyne Churchyard,
As many members of the congregation will be aware, this local jewel of folk art is unfortunately now suffering from the effects of well-meant but ultimately unsuitable protection within a perspex box, which has latterly been doing more harm than good.
Having established that the monument requires appropriate conservation to ensure its long-term well being, we have sought professional advice to see what this would involve - ranging from assessment of the present damage, the remedial treatment required through to possible solutions to the problem of its re-display and interpretation. By coincidence, the Council for Scottish Archaeology has recently launched what is being termed the Adopt-a-Monument scheme. As the name suggests, this is a nation-wide scheme set up with the express aim of encouraging local archaeological societies or other community groups with an interest in their local heritage to engage with sites and monuments of particular local interest.
Following a meeting with your Church management board towards the end of last year at which the proposal was given a warm welcome, PAS has submitted Lyne Church - and in particular the Adam and Eve stone - as an Adopt-a-Monument project. With the welcome assistance of Helen Bradley, CSA’s Adopt-a-Monument Officer, this will - at no financial cost to the Church - facilitate our applications for funding and access to professional help with the project.
Assuming all goes according to plan, the outcomes of the project will include
- a record of the whole graveyard to ensure that the entire site is properly recorded, understood in context, and managed in the future. The longer-term management of the site is an aspect of the project where voluntary help from members of the congregation would be especially welcome.
- the proper conservation and display of the Adam & Eve stone.
- provision of interpretative material setting the church in its historical and local archaeological context, for example as part of a wider heritage trail of local archaeological sites.
One primary task is to raise the funding that will allow us to commission the specialist stone conservation work on the Adam and Eve stone. However, there are other aspects of the project which we will be undertaking ourselves - starting as soon as weather conditions permit! As an essential part of the project, we are undertaking a proper graveyard survey ranging from the preparation of a ground plan to recording of the present condition of the individual memorials.
Further progress reports will appear from time to time.