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The Council for British Archaeology’s Local Heritage Engagement Network are holding an event in London on 20th June, entitled ‘Activism, Advocacy and Supporting your Heritage’. The event is designed to help attendees gain skills and confidence to begin to engage in local advocacy and activism to support their local historic environment, or to increase the impact of their present advocacy work.

Speakers will provide up to date background information to threats facing local authority archaeology and heritage services. They will discuss what can be done to protect and advocate for these services, as well as present examples of best practice from community groups currently engaged in campaigns. The programme also includes workshops which will allow for discussion of attendee’s present work and how it could be adapted or used for advocacy impact and will provide information on how to get in the media, and get your message across to members of the public and decision makers.

Anyone is welcome to attend this event – you do not need any previous experience of heritage advocacy. There is a small cost to attendees (£5), to cover refreshments during the break and speakers travel expenses.

Bookings can be made via the Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/local-heritage-network-training-activism-advocacy-and-supporting-your-heritage-tickets-16747136135 web site, but be quick! Tickets are going fast!

Once again, CASPN‘s  ‘Pathways to the Past’ event, a weekend of daytime walks & evening talks among the ancient sites of West Penwith is rapidly approaching. 2015 is the ninth year of this event, which has only gone from strength to strength. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several of the previous year’s walks, but sadly my holiday dates don’t coincide this year – poor planning on my part!

CASPNlogo

There is a good mix of items this year, so to help you plan your time, here’s the full line-up for the weekend of May 30th/31st 2015:

Saturday May 30th

10.00-12.30pm Catching the light of the sun and moon

A guided circular walk with Cheryl Straffon & Lana Jarvis to visit prehistoric sites that were aligned to the sun and moon, including the Mên-an-Tol, the Nine Maidens barrow & stone circle and Bosiliack barrow.

Meet at Mên-an-Tol layby beside Madron to Morvah road [SW418 344]

2.00-4.30pm Living at the Edge

A guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings to visit the lesser-known Nanjulian courtyard house settlement, perched at the edge of the land between St. Just and Sennen.

Meet at Nanjulian off the B3306 St.Just to Sennen road [SW360 294] TR19 7NU

8.00-10.00pm Hot Metal: the discoveries that changed the world

An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington about the invention of metal making and the effect this had on the Bronze, Copper and Iron Age societies.

At the Count House at Botallack. TR19 7QQ

Sunday May 31st

11.00-12.30pm Sites on the Scillies

An illustrated talk by archaeologist Charlie Johns, exploring some of the unique and beautiful ancient sites on the Isles of Scilly and the prehistoric people who built them.

At the Count House at Botallack

2.00-4.30pm Stories in the Stones – the Merry Maidens and more

A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda to sites in the Lamorna area, including the Merry Maidens stone circle, associated standing stones and Tregiffian entrance grave.

Meet at Boleigh farm on the B3315 Penzance to Lamorna road. [SW436 349] TR19 6BN

8.00-9.00pm Community Archaeology

To round off the weekend, Richard Mikulski will chat about community archaeology projects. At the North Inn, Pendeen.

Each individual event is £5 but free to members of FOCAS (Friends of Cornwall’s Ancient Sites). You can join FOCAS (Friends of Cornwall’s Ancient Sites) at the beginning of the individual event, by telephoning 07927 671612, or by e-mailing: focus@cornishancientsites.com

It’s amazing what you can find when you look. Back in 2007, Dartmoor expert Alan Endecott discovered an arc of recumbent stones high up on the moor, some 1700 or so feet (525m) above sea level.

Initial investigations of the area are now completed, and what Alan discovered has been identified as a previously unknown stone circle, some 112 feet (34m) in diameter, and consisting of 30 or 31 stones with extensive views in all directions. This is the highest stone circle recorded on Dartmoor thus far.

sittaford circle

The stones were previously all thought to be upright, due to the surviving presence of packing stones and the large stones themselves, all of a similar size, may have been quarried from nearby Sittaford Tor. The location of this new circle places it within an arc of known circles in the NE moor, which includes Buttern Hill, Scorhill, Shovel Down, Fernworthy and the Grey Wethers double circles, described by some as a ‘sacred arc’ which suggests some measure of wider landscape planning by the circle builders. Preliminary radio-carbon dating of samples taken from underneath the stones suggests that they had fallen close to the end of the 3rd millenium BC, some 4000 years ago.

Geophysical work at the site has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Funded scheme, Moor Than Meets The Eye. Although full results are not yet available, initial results have identified a possible linear ditch just outside the eastern side of the circle.

The find was announced in the announced in the January 2014 edition of the Devon Archaelogical Society Newsletter, No.117. Further investigation is planned later this summer, we’ll be watching this one with interest!

Useful Links:

We continue our, now long-running, ‘Inside the Mind‘ series with a peek into the head of author and historian Craig Weatherhill.

Brief Bio

Craig is an author, historian, novelist, artist, and an authority on the Cornish language. He worked for many years as a planning officer for West Penwith and has undertaken a number of surveys for the Cornwall Archaeology Unit amongst others. He lives near St Just and plays an active part in many activities celebrating the Celtic revival of Cornwall and its people.

Craig

The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

When I was “discovering” prehistoric monuments on the West Penwith Moors at the age of eight, and finding that my school couldn’t tell me anything about them.  I was the sort of kid who had to know, so I set out to find out.  I never stopped!

How did you get started?

In 1971, the late Vivien Russell produced a catalogue list of known archaeological sites in the Land’s End peninsula (which is stuffed full of them).  I realised that few of these sites had ever been recorded by means of accurate measured and drawn surveys, so I tasked myself with doing that.  I surveyed over 300 sites, from large to small before professional archaeologists were ever appointed in Cornwall to do that.  And they were paid to do what I was doing for nothing.

Who has most influenced your career?

The late Vivien Russell that I’ve mentioned, and the late Peter (P.A.S.) Pool, both outstanding local archaeologists and historians and who became close friends.  I still feel very sad at losing them both in the 1990s.  Peter was also a champion of conservation in West Cornwall, using his legal training to take on the mighty and win.  Also, the work of Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, who I met for the first time recently.  What a thoroughly nice man he is, too!

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

My survey of all (then) known Late Iron Age courtyard house sites, which are confined to the Land’s End peninsula, with a single example on Scilly.  It had been called for in the 1930s and no one had done it.  This sort of work was a spare-time pursuit, so it took me 4 years.  Sadly, it was never published, but a copy can be found in the Cornish Studies Library in Redruth.  It would now need updating and adding to.

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

It sounds rather parochial of me, but it’s the courtyard house settlement of Bosullow Trehyllys, north-east of Chun Castle.  It’s an amazing site, with such an atmosphere of peace which is so hard to find in the modern world.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

Never having been able to make archaeology a professional career.  I couldn’t open doors: no letters after my name, you see.  And I’d upset “English” Heritage.  Several times.  I was the old Penwith Council’s Conservation Officer from 1988-98, in charge of listed buildings and conservation areas, but that wasn’t the same.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

I’d abolish the national quango “English” Heritage which, in Cornwall, has been an ongoing disaster.  It cares only for the “honeypot” sites it manages and for nothing else.  It suspended all new scheduling in West Penwith in 1987, lied about that for years, and has never resumed to this day.  In any case, there’s no call for a financially irresponsible two-tiers of administration in the heritage field.  I would devolve all its responsibilities and funding to existing county and regional heritage agencies, on the grounds that you can’t do better than local knowledge and the deep love and respect for the sites and monuments that results.  I feel exactly the same about the natural environment quango, Natural “England” which, like EH, has caused great damage to local landscapes and habitats in recent years – and to archaeology too.  NE’s activities in West Penwith damaged the scheduled Tregeseal stone circle no less than 13 times in 5 years, with neither of the quangoes appearing to care.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

Exactly the same as I’ve said in my previous answer.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I’ve gloriously retired a year early from freelance architecture, but I never really had an archaeology/heritage career.  So, I do what I’ve always done:  research and write.

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

My favourite relaxations include reading and playing music on a mellotron, that legendary, haunting keyboard instrument from the 60s and 70s, and made famous by bands like the Moody Blues. I finally managed to acquire one 3 years ago after decades of wanting one.  They’re quite rare and difficult to play effectively.  I’ve even played it on three songs recorded by others.  The most rewarding relaxation I have comes from my lifelong love of horses and riding them on the moors and cliffs of West Cornwall.  My current steed, Shogun, is a fabulous guy, a gentle giant who stands at 17.3 hands high and is truly amazing to ride and work with.

We’d like to express our thanks to Craig for being so forthright and passionate with his answers.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

Our next ‘victim’ for our ‘Inside the Mind’ series comes courtesy of David Jacques, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute and Project Director at Blick Mead, near Stonehenge, which is featured in the May/June 2015 issue of British Archaeology magazine..

Brief Bio

David was educated at Middlesex University and Wolfson College, Cambridge. He has been a 6th Form College teacher, and combined that role with working for the Open University between 2001-2013. Since then he has been a Senior Research fellow for the University of Buckingham.

David Jacquesitmp

David’s field of research explores the use of the Stonehenge landscape in the Mesolithic period (8500BC-4000BC). Since 2005 he has been the Project Director of Blick Mead, a nationally siignificant Mesolithic site, about 2 km from Stonehenge. His team has discovered the oldest settlement in the Stonehenge area, the longest continually used Mesolithic site in the United Kingdom, as well as the communities which built the first monuments at Stonehenge. These discoveries have started to contribute to a new understanding of the initial settlement patterns and practices in the Stonehenge landscape, and to a broader understanding of the sense of place, ritual and memory such hunter-gatherer societies had more generally.

As a Fulbright alumnus, David worked extensively to improve the education system of the Republic of Georgia, setting up and running a charity which stimulated an investment of $12 million into the Georgian education system between 2005-08. In 2011, he was chosen as one of two ‘Outstanding’ British Fulbright Teacher Program alumni of the past 60 years by the US Embassy in London.

The Ten Questions

What sparked your interest in Archaeology/Heritage Protection?

I can’t remember when I wasn’t fascinated by objects by the past and their stories. I loved ‘Time team’ and the way they were brave enough to show there were lots of different interpretations. Over the years my interests have broadened and deepened and I feel really privileged to have been able to follow my enthusiasms through into a career in such a fascinating area. It has taken a long time, but it is all so worth it.

How did you get started?

Getting involved on a slave plantation site in America when I was on a teaching scholarship supposedly studying varieties of African American English! After I returned to the UK I applied to do an Archaeology Masters at Cambridge directly as a result and then started to get my hands dirty.

Who has most influenced your career?

Ian Hodder, for the way his ultra close engagement and care when thinking about artefacts from the past has helped establish more detailed ‘biographical’ social histories of individuals and communities. Tom Phillips and Tom Lyons; brilliant field archaeologists, project partners and friends.  Tony Legge’s interest in our bone assemblage at Blick Mead, plus his support of us and what we were trying to do as a team, really helped put the site on the map.

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

Blick Mead. Not only is it exciting to be involved in a potentially paradigm shifting excavation, but it has been great seeing the way the project has engaged people in the town of Amesbury in such a genuinely meaningful way. A museum/History Centre has come out of this interest, I’m told the Amesbury downtown has re-generated partly as a result, and people’s sense of themselves and their town has been lifted. This is most evident when large numbers of people from the town process to the site just before Christmas by torch light. It really shows what archaeology can do. Many of our most knowledgeable volunteers come from the town and long may it remain so!

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

Mule in the Isle of Man. This Neolithic chambered tomb was excavated just after the war by a German prisoner of war. It is located in an absolutely stunning position which overlooks Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. It is also the only point on Man where you can see right across it. This site, like the Isle of Man itself, is a sleeping archaeological giant in the Irish Sea. It was clearly an enormously important, but now largely ‘lost’ place in the British Neolithic.

What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?

1) That archaeology barely took off as a subject at school and is now already on the decline. It could not be more of an important – it should be a national curriculum subject. There are huge benefits for people’s individual and collective sense of identity.

2) That sometimes new ideas can be given a rough time because people don’t like change. The new needs friends. There’s a need for outsiders in most walks of life.

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

That full assessments of sites and landscapes (including hydrogeology) always need be done before plans are drawn up. The Stonehenge tunnel policy is a case in point. It is based on a pretty limited assessment of a limited area in that landscape (only the WHS has been assessed) and would have benefited from broader assessment criteria and broader assessment full stop.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

There are enormous public benefits which come from understanding the historic environment we all live and work in and I think the earlier we can get to excite people about it and get them involved the better. Speaking as someone who has been a teacher, I think that archaeology, including hands-on excavation, should be an integral part of the school curriculum. It really is a subject for all – we have disabled people, the young, the old, people from all different walks of life on site at Blick Mead. What we have found is that people find discovering things and being part of a non hierarchical team enabling and empowering (learning about team skills and the different ways that teams can be structured would be another learning opportunity). I am sure that archaeology in school would vitalise children’s enthusiasm for learning in a way that nothing else can match. It is the ultimate mixed ability subject and it suits and empowers different mentalities. We see it on site all the time. It can also connect well with other disciplines.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I would be working in teaching, or for a charity I should think. I am truly lucky to be working as an archaeological researcher and say that to myself most days!

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

I’ve got a lovely 7 year old, who’s stimulating in a way that is ultimately relaxing. I love reading a bit of fiction when I get the time. I can really recommend ‘” target=”_blank”>Skippy Dies’ by Paul Murray, If anyone is looking for something to read at the moment (it is better than it sounds!).

We’d like to express our thanks to David for taking part during what has been a busy few months for him.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

If you’re looking for something to do on this coming Bank Holiday weekend, the National Trust invites you to help ‘Chalk the Uffington White Horse‘ May 3–4.

Once a year the famous Bronze-Age horse, that watches over the Vale of White Horse in Uffington, needs re-chalking. To take part, booking is essential, and can be done by calling 01793 762209.  30- minute time slots will be allocated to volunteers from 10am onwards. Car parking at the site is free for permit holders, NT members with valid stickers and disabled badge carriers. Otherwise, charges for up to two hours are £2.00, all day £4.00.

Painting of the White Horse, bu Heritage Action member, Jane Tomlinson. See http://www.janetomlinson.com for more of her work.

Painting of the White Horse, by Heritage Action member, Jane Tomlinson. See http://www.janetomlinson.com for more of her work.

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. After a brief Introduction, part two discussed the Greenland rock carvings. We then considered the Sheep Hill forts. In this final part, we now look at the evidence for a link between the two sites, and what the future may hold.

Were the two sites linked?

The construction of the timber-framed dun is such an obvious explanation for the prehistoric damage suffered by the cup-and ring rock that it may reasonably be adopted as a working hypothesis, albeit one that has to be tested (below). One clear implication of it is that the great double disc symbol on a flat surface exposed by the ancient quarrying had to date to the 10th or 9th centuries BC at the earliest and this is extremely surprising if the majority of such rock carving took place in Neolithic times (Burgess 1990). Yet it is not impossible; such skills could have been handed down for many centuries by families of specialist carvers who could have practised their skills occasionally on existing carved rocks; it would probably be quite hard to detect such additions under normal circumstances. Also there is no doubt that the double disc symbol was known in the Late Bronze Age as it occurs on a few socketed bronze axes in Scotland and NE England (MacKie 1991, 147, pl. 10); these are known as the Sompting type (Schmidt & Burgess, 1981, 243-44).

However the most exciting aspect of this hypothesis is surely the social one. It is hard not to infer that the damaged and re-carved rock means that there were two distinct social groups in the area in the Late Bronze Age – namely the timber-framed fort builders and the descendants of the Neolithic peoples who had venerated the rock carvings for centuries and who retained some of their carving skills. The fort builders could have been a new elite – either local or immigrant but armed with new bronze weapons and evidently with little respect for the local traditions. The re-carving of the rock with a fine double disc after it had been badly damaged suggests a defiance of the new order but in a relatively harmless manner. A parallel with invading Normans and defeated Saxons might be appropriate. The phenomenon of Sheep Hill and the Greenland rock carvings is to my knowledge unique in the British Isles and the sites should surely be preserved for that alone.

Testing the hypothesis

Fortunately the hypothesis can be tested and clear proof of it could be forthcoming. If it is correct there should be on Sheep Hill many fragments of the heated sandstone of which the carved rock is formed, a few perhaps with cup-and-ring carvings on them. A thorough rescue excavation before Sheep Hill is quarried away should find this evidence. However I hope it will never come to that; it might be awkward for archaeologists to find such evidence who had been hired by Thompsons of Dumbarton, especially when there is a suspicion that it was such a group which in 2013 wrote (anonymously) and circulated an attempted refutation of my views on the two sites. In fact it would be easy to find the evidence without disturbing the interiors of the forts. There is just under the turf a vast pile of stone debris at the foot of the cliff-like northern side of the summit the lower part of which should be the debris of the timber-framed wall; it could be explored quite easily. It is already known that rocks were imported on to the site to build the timber-framed wall. Its boulder foundation was exposed during the original excavations and two of the boulders were identified as imports, one of quartzite and the other of sandstone (MacKie 1991, 146 & pl. 9).

Illus. 7. Map of the area westwards from Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire, showing how the proposed heritage trail might be laid out. [1] is the Roman fort, [2] the length of Antonine Wall on relatively low, flat and open ground where a section might be excavated add the barrier reconstructed, [3] is the proposed footpath connecting the Roman remains to Sheep Hill fort [4] and the cup-and-ring carved rock [5].

Illus. 7. Map of the area westwards from Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire, showing how the proposed heritage trail might be laid out. [1] is the Roman fort, [2] the length of Antonine Wall on relatively low, flat and open ground where a section might be excavated add the barrier reconstructed, [3] is the proposed footpath connecting the Roman remains to Sheep Hill fort [4] and the cup-and-ring carved rock [5].

A possible archaeological heritage trail at Old Kilpatrick?

If Sheep Hill can be preserved from being quarried, the cup-and-ring rock – now stored in the National Museums in Edinburgh – could eventually be re-assembled in its original position and this unique pair of sites could be brought together again. Alternatively a replica could be built there. The quarry’s licence apparently expires in the early 2030s so their future should be safe after that. The existence only 2.5 km to the east of the western end of the Antonine Roman wall – now a World Heritage Site – suggests that the West Dumbartonshire Council could then organise what would surely be one of the most interesting archaeological trails in the country. Illus. 7 shows how it might be laid out; the numbered points on the map are identified below.

The fort at the western end of the Wall [1] is in Old Kilpatrick and, though excavated, is largely inaccessible under a housing estate. However a visitor centre could surely be set up nearby with a car park and could house some of the finds from the site and replicas of the Roman inscribed stones which were found there. A footbridge over, or a tunnel under, the dual carriageway immediately to the north (the A82) could be constructed to lead to the open ground there where the Antonine Wall and its ditch curve round to the east [2]; about 100m of it there might be excavated and reconstructed, thus providing (so far) an unique insight into what the northernmost frontier of the Empire looked like when it was intact. A footpath [3] could then run for 2.5 km westwards along the lower slopes of the Kilpatrick Hills up to Sheep Hill [4] with a short extension northwards to the Greenland 1 rock carvings [5]. Needless to say signposts and explanatory notice boards would be essential.

One intriguing aspect of such a tourist trail is that it could be presented as a step-by-step journey into the past. The Antonine Wall was built during the second Roman invasion of Scotland, from about AD 140 onwards, and was the northernmost formal frontier of the Empire in Europe. The fort at Old Kilpatrick defended the western end of the Wall where it ran down to the river Clyde and this may well have been the time at which the second fort on nearby Sheep Hill was abandoned – either out of caution or because it was attacked and destroyed by the Roman Army. Any future excavations could look for signs of that. Thus Sheep Hill 2 is a vivid example of a later native stronghold of the pre-Roman Iron Age. The primary timber-framed fort takes us back to the Late Bronze Age – perhaps in the 9th century BC – with all the various possibilities of the arrival of newcomers armed with bronze swords. We now know that cup-and-ring carving skills were very probably still present in the area at the time and were exercised then, possibly in defiance of the newcomers after the carved rock had been damaged by them. The original carved surface takes us right back to Neolithic times.

The present situation concerning quarrying.

Sheep Hill was scheduled as an ancient monument by the then Dept. of the Environment in 1970, after brief accounts of my excavations were published. I do not know when the cup-and ring rocks were scheduled but they were de-scheduled by Historic Scotland at the quarry firm’s request, probably soon after 1984 when I was asked to record them. In 1994 the carvings were sawn off and taken to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. Sheep Hill was de-scheduled in about 2005, again at the quarry company’s request. At a meeting with Historic Scotland in Edinburgh Thompson’s representative apparently argued that there were no signs of human activity on Sheep Hill. My verbal assurances that there were, and the preliminary account of the excavations I published in 1976, were evidently not enough and a member of Historic Scotland was sent to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow University to examine the finds and the records. Descheduling went ahead anyway, but the quarry failed to take advantage of this and the hillfort automatically became a scheduled monument again five years later. Now Thompson’s have to re-apply for de-scheduling prior to quarrying and there does not seem to be any doubt this will be granted again; if it is not granted the quarry firm will demand full compensation and it seems that no-one is willing to pay this. One understands that Historic Scotland is expected to accede to what the Scottish Government wants and the Minister for Local Government and Planning – Derek Mackay – has made it quite clear that no compensation will be forthcoming from that quarter. The only obstacle now is that West Dunbartonshire Council now have legal powers to issue a ROMP (Review of Mineral Permission) in which it could set new conditions that the quarry firm would have to abide by – for example to limit the environmental damage in some way. The only realistic hope now is that the archaeological uniqueness of the sites becomes more widely known and appreciated, and that consequent protests from the public will cause the Minister to think again. In the year of the referendum for an independent Scotland it would be sad if the present Scottish government allowed the destruction of such a unique pair of Scottish sites.

Our foremost chronicler of prehistoric rock carvings in Scotland, Ronald Morris, wrote of the Greenland carvings, “This is one of the finest examples of these carved rock surfaces in Scotland.” (1981, 103). It is surely nothing short of a national scandal that this priceless treasure was broken up and removed to make way for heaps of quarried rubble and I fully accept that I should have objected much more strongly about it at the time. The whole episode is an interesting example of how even professional archaeologists can simply assume that the public bodies that are supposed to protect our heritage are always able to do so. I have learnt the lesson and – being retired and less vulnerable – do not propose to let Sheep Hill go without vehement objections.

Bibliography

  • Bruce, J 1896 ‘Notice of remarkable groups of archaic sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot 30 (1895-1896), 205-209.
  • Burgess, C 1990 The chronology of cup-and-ring marks in Atlantic Europe. Revue Archaeol Ouest, suppl. no. 2, 157-71.
  • Cowie, T (forth) Ceramic material associated with metalworking from Sheep Hill, Dumbarton. In MacKie forthcoming.
  • Davidson, J M 1935 A Bronze Age cemetery at Knappers, Kilbowie, Dunbartonshire. Proc. Soc. Antiq Scot 69 (1935-36), 352-82.
  • Davis, A 1991 Part 2: the metrology of the carvings. Pp. 150-55 in MacKie 1991.
  • MacKie, E W 1976 The vitrified forts of Scotland, in D.W. Harding (ed) Hillforts: later prehistoric earthworks in Britain and Ireland. Academic Press: London. 205-35.
    –– 1991 New light on Neolithic rock carving: the petroglyphs at Greenland (Auchentorlie), Dumbartonshire. Glasgow Archaeol Journ 15 (1988-89), 125-56 (with A Davis).
    –– 2008 The broch cultures of Atlantic Scotland: origins, high noon and decline. Part 1: Early Iron Age beginnings c. 700 – 200 BC. Oxford Journ Archaeol 27(3) (2008), 261-79.
    –– forth. Trial excavations on Sheep Hill, West Dunbartonshire,in 1966-70; a possible timber palisade, a late Bronze Age timber-framed dun and a small Iron Age hillfort. Scott. Arch. Journ.
  • Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway). Oxford.
  • Schmidt, P K & Burgess, C B 1981 The axes of Scotland and northern England. Prahistorische Bronzefunde, ab IX, band 7. Munich.

We are indebted to Dr MacKie for permission to help build awareness of this remarkable site.

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. Please read the Introduction first. Part two discussed the Greenland rock carvings. We now move on to consider the Sheep Hill forts.

The Sheep Hill forts

Timber-framed hillforts tend to be situated on the north-east, south-east, south-west and western fringes of the Highland zone and Sheep Hill is one of the few close to the urban areas of Central Scotland (MacKie 1976, fig. 6). In addition an analysis of the strongholds by size shows that most are true hillforts, even if occasionally quite small (MacKie 1976, 233 ff). There are three situated within the highland zone, where arable land is in much smaller patches than in Aberdeenshire, which are of roundhouse size and enclose from about 100 to 200 square yards. The primary stronghold at Sheep Hill is not as small as that and encloses about 1350 square metres but it is better classed as a largish stone dun rather than a hillfort; it was probably roofed along the inside wall face and was doubtless suitable for the residence of a chiefly extended family and its followers. The destruction of this dun by fire and probably by later demolition was complete; a small length of vitrified wall core was found on the south-west margin of the area enclosed (marked ‘v’ in Illus. 5) and this gave a clue to how far the dun had extended in that direction; it seems only to have occupied the summit of the hill, an area marked in yellow on Illus. 5. A trench across the probable northern part of the wall, at the top of the north cliff of the hilltop, failed to find a clear occupation layer.

My limited excavations of 1967-69 revealed that a larger and more complex hillfort defended by ramparts, was built after the dún was destroyed and that masses of the heated stones from the original building were used in it. In 1969 there was no reason to study the geological origin of this debris but I recall that it was – as one would expect – mostly of basalt fragments. The later hillfort is not easy to date (as explained below two C14 dates for it probably relate to the first fort) but it may well have gone out of use when the Roman Army established itself on the north bank of the Clyde nearby. Finds were fewer than in the dún midden (below) but included a large number of fragments of shale bracelets, as well as many pieces of shale which showed that a bracelet workshop existed on the site – a very rare find. Shale ornaments can be given a black shiny surface by polishing and were popular in the Iron Age.

Illus. 5. Contour plan of Sheep Hill showing the positions of the fortifications and enclosures. The approximate outline of the Phase 1 vitrified (timber-framed) dun is in yellow and the ramparts of the Phase 2 hillfort are in blue. The southern entrance of the second fort is protected by a triangular annexe with its own entrance, which is itself protected by a short traverse. The excavated trenches are marked. The wall of both fort seems to have run along the same track at the top of the steep northern edge of the Hill.

Illus. 5. Contour plan of Sheep Hill showing the positions of the fortifications and enclosures. The approximate outline of the Phase 1 vitrified (timber-framed) dun is in yellow and the ramparts of the Phase 2 hillfort are in blue. The southern entrance of the second fort is protected by a triangular annexe with its own entrance, which is itself protected by a short traverse. The excavated trenches are marked. The wall of both fort seems to have run along the same track at the top of the steep northern edge of the Hill.

The southernmost rampart of the hillfort was cut through and revealed a midden underneath its core, which evidently continued in use after vitrification, presumably by survivors who seem to have camped on the southern part of the hill top for a while. The reason for supposing this, and for not inferring that the midden was simply a refuse tip for the dun, is that a rim sherd of gritty Dunagoil ware was found in the midden which had itself been partly vitrified by intense heat; in other words the sherd had been heated when the dun was set on fire and partly vitrified and was then swept into the midden with other later material. The date of the midden was ascertained by two methods – a C14 date and dateable mould fragments.

Firstly another Dunagoil ware rim sherd was recovered of the kind of Early Iron Age carinated pottery that has been well dated to about 700-500 BC in Orkney (MacKie 2008, 265). Organic residue on this sherd gave a date of 2490 ± 30 bp, or 780-500 BC (SUERC-26969) at a 92.1% level of confidence).

Illus. 6: rim sherd of Dunagoil ware from the midden under the rampart on the southern edge of Fort 2. It has been severely burned and vitrified into a coke-like substance, presumably when the timber-framed dun was destroyed by fire.

Illus. 6: rim sherd of Dunagoil ware from the midden under the rampart on the southern edge of Fort 2. It has been severely burned and vitrified into a coke-like substance, presumably when the timber-framed dun was destroyed by fire.

This seems likely to reflect the destruction of the timber-framed dun. Secondly there were fragments of moulds for casting bronze tools and weapons in the midden, including types consistent with the Ewart Park phase of the Scottish Late Bronze Age metalwork sequence, which is dated to about 1000-800 BC. (Cowie forthcoming) (MacKie 1976, Fig. 3. This suggests that the bronze moulds date from a an earlier time than the carinated sherd – to one when the timber -framed dun was intact and occupied. The midden was therefore probably used both during and after the occupation of the dun.

That the actual construction of the timber-framed dun took place during the Ewart Park phase of Late Bronze Age metalworking is shown by one of two more C14 dates obtained in 2012 from charcoal which was actually found on the floor of the second hillfort, just within its southern main rampart. Since one date was slightly older than that for the stratigraphically earlier sherd in the sub-rampart midden it would seem to follow that large amounts of charcoal from the burnt wooden elements of the original dun were strewn about the site and became incorporated into the later floor levels. The charcoal could either be from wooden parts of the original building or from later constructions; the extensive timber-framing of the stone wall surely makes the former more likely (all date spans are expressed in terms of a confidence level of 93.5%). The dates are 2485 ± 30 bp, or 780-490 BC (SUERC-20968) and a more accurate one of 2605 ± 30 bp, or 830-760 BC (SUERC-26966). In addition a charcoal sample resting on rock, and which probably belongs to an earlier occupation (perhaps a palisaded enclosure ), gave a date of 3095 ± 30 bp, or 1440-1290 BC (SUERC-26967). All things considered a date for the construction of the timber-framed dun in about the 9th century BC, or perhaps the 10th, seems most probable.

Next: Were the two sites linked? 

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. Please read the Introduction before we look closer at the Greenland rock carvings.

The Greenland rock carvings

The recording work for Historic Scotland undertaken in 1984 involved de-turfing the outcrop and was the first time that the full extent of the Neolithic cup-and-ring carvings had been exposed, although much of the turf had been rolled back by John Bruce in 1895 (Bruce 1986, 205-08: MacKie 1991 Plate 1) who found them while examining the nearby vitrified fort (then called Ardconnel Hill. He also commented on the fresh appearance of the double-disc symbol which contrasted with the weathered condition of many of the others. The late R WB Morris exposed many carvings probably in the 1970s; indeed his map of the site is very similar to the one made in 1984 (Morris 1981, Fig. 64; MacKie 1991, Fig. 3). Details of the kinds of symbols present, and their numbers, are in the latter report. A statistical study of the sizes of the carved rings was carried out and it appeared likely that a unit of length of 2.07cm had been used to lay out the symbols of both phases of carving (Davis 1991). This study was based on tracings of the carvings and on the assumption that most of the rings consisted of a number of carefully drawn arcs rather than true circles.

Illus. 3. The two phases of carving on Greenland 1. The left view is of the double disc symbol with, on the right, one of the rock surface immediately to its right. The slight overlap between the pictures can be seen in the appearance in both of the rather rough cup-and ring mark immediately to the right of the double disc. The much fresher appearance of the double disc is apparent, as is the more weathered condition of the symbols to its right. Likewise the surface on which the double disc is carved is flat and has clearly been exposed by the splitting off of slabs; the more rounded and uneven glaciated original surface is clear on the right. Slight damage to the double disc was caused later, evidently by more slab removal 

Illus. 3. The two phases of carving on Greenland 1. The left view is of the double disc symbol with, on the right, one of the rock surface immediately to its right. The slight overlap between the pictures can be seen in the appearance in both of the rather rough cup-and ring mark immediately to the right of the double disc. The much fresher appearance of the double disc is apparent, as is the more weathered condition of the symbols to its right. Likewise the surface on which the double disc is carved is flat and has clearly been exposed by the splitting off of slabs; the more rounded and uneven glaciated original surface is clear on the right. Slight damage to the double disc was caused later, evidently by more slab removal

The most important feature of Greenland 1 was not appreciated for some months after the fieldwork had been completed – namely that the carvings had been done in two distinct phases; this is a good example of how orthodox views – and deductive reasoning based on them – can subconsciously prevent even an archaeologist who prides himself on being unorthodox when necessary from seeing what is right in front of him. The general view of the sandstone raft in Illus. 2 shows the two phases clearly. The original surface of the rock, on which most of the symbols occurred, had been smoothed and rounded by glacial activity, presumably during the last ice age; the symbols on this surface were somewhat weathered.

At an unknown later date the rock was subjected to extensive quarrying which removed some of that primary surface and exposed, flatter fresher surfaces, reflecting the horizontal stratification of the sandstone. A few carvings were found on these later surfaces, including the finest on the site – a large double disc symbol which had presumably come into fashion after the first phase of carving (Illus. 3, left). But that was not the end of the story; a further episode of damage took place which opened up an even lower rock surface next to the double disc and removed a small part of it . Several clear illustrations of the two phases of carving have been published (MacKie 1991 Plates 4a and 4b, Plates 6 & 7), and the first two are reproduced here (Illus. 3: the original captions were reversed.

Illus. 4. General view of Greenland no. 1 being de-turfed in 1984 with the quarry in the background.

Illus. 4. General view of Greenland no. 1 being de-turfed in 1984 with the quarry in the background.

As far as I am aware this is an unique situation among the cup-and-ring carved rocks of Britain, and it immediately raises the question of when the quarrying, and the second phase of carving took place. The obvious solution is, assuming the original carvings to be of Neolithic age (Burgess 1990), is that the arrival in the area of the fashion for single grave burial in the Early Bronze Age created a demand for a large number of flat slabs from which to make the short, lidded cists (stone boxes) which the new rite required. This explanation has the advantage of not needing the secondary carvings to be much later than the primary ones. This option was considered in the report but there are no such cists close to the Greenland rock carvings; the nearest known (poorly recorded because of destruction) were in a sand quarry at Knapper’s Farm about 5km to the SSE (Davidson 1935). This hypothesis could of course be tested by examining the composition of the cist slabs of any other reasonably near single graves but as far as I am aware this has not been done.

There is a more obvious alternative explanation for the damaging of the carvings which is that it coincided with the construction of the timber-framed dun on Sheep Hill about 200m to the south. A timber framed drystone wall needs skilful construction anyway but the availability of the hardened sandstone nearby may have led the chief for whom the stronghold was being built to require the certain parts of the wall – around the entrance passage perhaps – were built particularly neatly. The implications of this hypothesis, if correct, are profound, not least because the secondary carvings have to be many centuries later than the primary one..

Next: The Sheep Hill forts

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction.

Quarrying may destroy two uniquely linked prehistoric sites of different eras

Summary

On the north bank of the Clyde a few miles west of Glasgow there are two scheduled prehistoric sites of considerable archaeological interest. Sheep Hill is a small two period hillfort on a prominent volcanic plug which is threatened with destruction by the local quarry; one of the finest cup-and ring carvings in Scotland used to be two hundred metres to its north but at the demand of the quarry the carvings were sawn off in 1994 and are now stored in the National Museums in Edinburgh. Historic Scotland allowed that to happen and is now prepared to let the hillfort go. In theory the carvings could be restored to their original site when the quarry’s licence expires. It seems that neither the local authority in West Dumbartonshire nor the Scottish Government is willing or able to pay the required compensation to the quarry company to save Sheep Hill. I carried out excavations on Sheep Hill in 1966-69 and recorded the rock carvings for Historic Scotland in 1984 and am convinced that not only are the sites worth saving in their own right but that they were actually connected in ancient times. It seems that when the first, timber-framed, stronghold was built in about 900 BC the nearby carved rock was quarried for building material, destroying many carvings; however the Neolithic tradition of cup-and-ring carvings was still alive locally and new ones were cut on to the freshly exposed surfaces, including a very fine double disc symbol. This hypothesis could be tested in any future excavations and if correct would make the two sites unique in Britain. The mere possibility of such a relationship means that Sheep Hill must be preserved.

Euan W. MacKie

Illus. 1: view of Sheep Hill fort – on the flat-topped summit in the centre – from the village of Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire. The scene shows how devastating to the environment the quarrying of the volcanic plug would be; the view of the Kilpatrick Hills from the south has remained unspoiled until now. Dumbarton Rock is just to the right of the church tower.

Illus. 1: view of Sheep Hill fort – on the flat-topped summit in the centre – from the village of Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire. The scene shows how devastating to the environment the quarrying of the volcanic plug would be; the view of the Kilpatrick Hills from the south has remained unspoiled until now. Dumbarton Rock is just to the right of the church tower.

Introduction

Sheep Hill is a two period hillfort situated on a volcanic plug of basalt on the Kilpatrick Hills north of the river Clyde in West Dunbartonshire, Central Scotland; it was partially excavated by the me in the late 1960s (1976). This conspicuous site (Illus. 1, above) overlooks the western end of the Antonine Wall at Old Kilpatrick – the northernmost frontier of Roman Britain which was built in about AD 140 under the emperor Antoninus Pius and functioned for about twenty years. The fact that neither of the two phases of Sheep Hill produced any Roman finds, despite the proximity of the Old Kilpatrick terminal fort, suggests that the hilltop was abandoned before the Romans established the frontier in about AD 80, using a line of forts more or less along the track of the later wall. The original fortification on Sheep Hill was a small dun with a timber-framed stone wall, enclosing a roughly oval area on the summit of about 40 by 43m; the stronghold came to a violent and fiery end when the timber -framed wall was burned. The consequent ‘vitrified fort’ was, according to the available radiocarbon dates, probably built in the 9th century BC and destroyed perhaps two centuries later.

The vast quantities of heated basalt fragments which were on the hilltop after the fire were later re-used to build a larger enclosure with earth and stone ramparts. The builders of Sheep Hill 2 made use of the natural terraces of the basalt summit to produce an enclosure containing several smaller enclosures; the central part of the hillfort seems to have been the summit of the hill, more or less the area enclosed by the earlier timber-framed wall. The southernmost rampart – together with a rubble stone pavement immediately north of it – was found to overlie a midden which had evidently accumulated downhill from the timberframed dun after it had been destroyed, this providing useful stratigraphical proof of the two distinct occupations. No signs were seen suggesting that the hillfort had been destroyed; it seems just to have been abandoned. Sheep Hill was scheduled as an ancient monument in 1970, and a summary account of the excavations was published a few years later (MacKie 1976, 211-14). The full excavation report will appear soon in the Scottish Archaeological Journal.

The Kilpatrick Hills slope steeply upwards from the Clyde and Sheep Hill is at the top of this slope (Illus. 1 & 7); immediately to the north however is a slightly lower area of flat ground, itself surrounded by slightly higher hills. In this natural amphitheatre was an outcrop with one of the most complex and spectacular cup-and-ring markings in southern Scotland, known as the Greenland (after a nearby farm) or the Auchentorlie (after a nearby house) cup-and-ring carvings (Morris 1981, 98-103). This may seem surprising in view of the prevailing basalt rock – highly unsuitable for carving – but the two groups of cup-andring marks are in fact on what are known as ‘rafts’ of sandstone which floated into their positions on rivers of lava in the eruptions of millions of years ago. The sandstone blocks of course were heated and hardened in the process and thus made more suitable for carving.

Illus. 2: high angle view of the main Greenland carved rock (no. 1) – a metamorphosed sandstone raft which was detached from its parent outcrop and floated to its present position by volcanic activity in Carboniferous times. It can be seen that the outcrop has been quarried in ancient times, presumably because the heat-hardened sandstone – which clearly breaks off into flat slabs – was useful for building. The old glaciated surface of the rock, bearing the more weathered carvings, occupies most of the rock next to the vertical edge at lower right. Pieces have clearly been hacked away on the left hand side (and probably also along all the lower edge), leaving flatter surfaces on which are the fresher, younger carvings. The most spectacular of these is the double disc symbol at top left which is shown in close-up in Illus. 3. Further damage to the rock was evidently done after this symbol was carved; part of one of the discs is missing at a step which defines an even lower area of rock on the left.

Illus. 2: high angle view of the main Greenland carved rock (no. 1) – a metamorphosed sandstone raft which was detached from its parent outcrop and floated to its present position by volcanic activity in Carboniferous times. It can be seen that the outcrop has been quarried in ancient times, presumably because the heat-hardened sandstone – which clearly breaks off into flat slabs – was useful for building. The old glaciated surface of the rock, bearing the more weathered carvings, occupies most of the rock next to the vertical edge at lower right. Pieces have clearly been hacked away on the left hand side (and probably also along all the lower edge), leaving flatter surfaces on which are the fresher, younger carvings. The most spectacular of these is the double disc symbol at top left which is shown in close-up in Illus. 3. Further damage to the rock was evidently done after this symbol was carved; part of one of the discs is missing at a step which defines an even lower area of rock on the left.

Unfortunately for the national archaeological heritage, in about 1972 the quarry firm Thompsons of Dumbarton acquired the Auchentorlie estate from its previous owner, Cdr. Alexander-Sinclair, presumably because of the availability of the hard volcanic rock. A few years later operations began just to the north of Sheep Hill and the owners eventually applied to Historic Scotland to remove the main carved outcrop as they wished to use the space for storage. This was agreed to and in 1984 I was asked to record the rock carvings (MacKie & Davis 1991). In 1994 the carvings were sawn off and the pieces taken for storage to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Now Messrs Thompson wish to quarry away Sheep Hill itself and Historic Scotland has also agreed to this in principle. I am trying to prevent this on the grounds that, if the Hill is preserved, then when the quarry’s license runs out in about 2040, it would be possible to restore the rock carvings to their original position close by, using either the originals or exact replicas of them, and thus to preserve an unique pair of sites. Their uniqueness is not just a matter of the propinquity of two radically different types of prehistoric monument just north of the Roman wall – although this alone should make them an interesting attraction for tourists if proper access was arranged – but because there might well have been a link between the two sites in ancient times which, if genuine, would make the pair the only one of its type in Britain.

Illus. 3. The two phases of carving on Greenland 1. The left view is of the double disc symbol with, on the right, one of the rock surface immediately to its right. The slight overlap between the pictures can be seen in the appearance in both of the rather rough cup-and ring mark immediately to the right of the double disc. The much fresher appearance of the double disc is apparent, as is the more weathered condition of the symbols to its right. Likewise the surface on which the double disc is carved is flat and has clearly been exposed by the splitting off of slabs; the more rounded and uneven glaciated original surface is clear on the right. Slight damage to the double disc was caused later, evidently by more slab removal 

Illus. 3. The two phases of carving on Greenland 1. The left view is of the double disc symbol with, on the right, one of the rock surface immediately to its right. The slight overlap between the pictures can be seen in the appearance in both of the rather rough cup-and ring mark immediately to the right of the double disc. The much fresher appearance of the double disc is apparent, as is the more weathered condition of the symbols to its right. Likewise the surface on which the double disc is carved is flat and has clearly been exposed by the splitting off of slabs; the more rounded and uneven glaciated original surface is clear on the right. Slight damage to the double disc was caused later, evidently by more slab removal

Next: The Greenland rock carvings

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