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Looks just like Old Oswestry Hillfort. Yet treated with far more respect by English Heritage!
Old Sarum has two advantages over Old Oswestry. It has the sense to be in Wiltshire, where EH wouldn’t dare to do what they’ve done in Shropshire. And it hasn’t been a Rotten Borough since the nineteenth century whereas Shrewsbury patently still is.
In a word, yes (along with “Rescue”). Yesterday Shropshire Council voted unanimously to damage Oswestry Hillfort’s setting, (inexplicably ignoring this overwhelmingly powerful last minute appeal). The Inspector had attached “great weight” to English Heritage’s failure to stand up for the Hillfort, so effectively if it ends up done for it will be English Heritage that did for it. What a thought!
Meanwhile, this year Historic England has actively lobbied for the bulldozing of massive new dual carriageways over the World Heritage landscape at Stonehenge. Last time, when EH called for that 10 years ago, The National Trust fought against it tooth and nail. This time, the Trust is supporting it (a u-turn it is still to convincingly justify, even to its own employees). The Government said the Trust’s support had been “decisive” , so effectively if it ends up done it will be The National Trust that did it. Another amazing thought!
By contrast The Campaign to Protect Rural England tends to be logical and consistent in it’s attitude towards heritage protection (for proof see their recent masterful demolition of the Government’s Green Belt “myths”). They urged Shropshire Council to “think again” on the Hillfort. They opposed the Stonehenge short tunnel the first time AND the second time. Unlike English Heritage (“We pursue the highest standards in all our work”) and Historic England (“Championing England’s Heritage”) they always say what they really think, not what pleases the Government, and unlike The National Trust they never have a day off from their core beliefs.
PS, if you wish to express your opposition and incredulity regarding The National Trust’s (“Forever, for Everyone”) and English Heritage’s (“our role is guardians of Stonehenge”) joint ambition to cause massive damage to the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape you can sign the Stonehenge Alliance’s petition here.
PPS, Councillor Malcolm Price, portfolio holder for regulatory services, housing and commissioning, said: “No-one in this council wants to do anything that is detrimental to the hillfort, that’s why we removed two of the sites from the plan.” If it was true that “no-one in the council wanted to do anything detrimental to the hillfort” they would have followed the advice of the national experts and removed the third one. But they didn’t, so it’s not true, is it Councillor Price? Please withdraw your false claim, it reflects as badly on you as some of the previous Leader’s statements did on him and people in the wider world will think absolutely nothing has changed in Shropshire.
PPPS, As “Chirkmabel” has pointed out in our Comments : “Shrops Council would have happily kept the first 2 sites for development if it hadn’t been for all OUR efforts to campaign against them.” It’s true. They fought like tigers to keep the 2 sites, Councillor Price can’t deny that, so his words turn out to be blatant whitewashing of the reality. There’s something absolutely rotten in the state of Shropshireland as Private Eye has now picked up on. But just about everyone has realised that for some time. Now that Shropshire Council has risen above the metropolitan horizon could the time have come for an independent examination of its behaviour? Investigative reporters, judicial or legal bodies – feel free!
(BTW, many years ago my father was on the old “Shropshire County Council”. He was immaculately honest all his life and he felt a very strong sense of duty to the public, as did his colleagues I believe. He would be appalled to see what has been going on at the new “Shropshire Council”. He would have told the press exactly what he knew and what he felt about the cowboyism, not kept totally quiet or actively denied it, as is mostly happening there now. )
By Thelma June Jackson, Heritage Journal
After much delay, West Kennet Long Barrow has been closed for conservation work. The entrance is fenced off while a small team of what looked like three people work on the drainage and 1950s concrete skylight. I was over there on Monday and spoke to someone who said he was an archaeology-engineer. The work appears to being carried out with care and precision, has been jointly commissioned by NT and EH.
At the same time a very strong plastic webbing ‘road’ has been laid on the grass pathway leading up to the barrow and a portacabin is up there behind the fencing.
The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) is extremely active all year round, monitoring and looking out for many of the prehistoric sites on the West Penwith peninsular. Once a month they organise a clearup session, staffed entirely by volunteers, to cut back growth on designated sites and ensure they are not entirely lost to nature.
October’s scheduled clearup coincided with my visit to the area, so I decided to once again go along and lend a hand. The designated site this month was the courtyard settlement at Bosullow Trehyllys, in the shadow of Chun Castle. The site lies on private land, so this was a chance to see a site that is not usually accessible to the public. I have been here once before, at a previous clearup session a couple of years ago, and it’s a wonderful site.
When I arrived, the clearup was well under way with half a dozen people dotted around the site, clearing bracken and brambles away from the stones to more easily discern the layout of the buildings. As usual, Luna, organiser Dave Munday’s dog was keeping a guarding eye out. Although she’s a softie at heart, she has a ferocious bark and growl when any strangers approach, and I got the full treatment!
After saying hello, I took some time to look around the site, orient myself and take a few photos. It’s quite a difficult site to photograph, especially when so overgrown. There’s no real viewpoint to get an overall picture of the layout of the settlement – I’ll have to invest in a drone one day…
Bosullow Trehyllys comprises of four identifiable courtyard house structures, with additional circular structures which may predate the courtyard structures. I was told that the settlement was much larger, but historical field clearance destroyed at least half of the original settlement. A large mound of stones in the adjoining field may attest to this.
Having had a look around, I was then put to work with a pair of shears, helping to cut back a section of one of the houses. I didn’t go too mad, being a novice and not wanting to cause any unintended damage. All too soon it was time to pack up for the day, and the piles of cuttings were evidence of the work that had been put in during the day. A nice tradition was the goblet of mead passed between the participants at the end of the day, with a small libation for the site itself too.
If you find yourself in the area, check out the CASPN web site or Facebook page to see if a clearup is scheduled – there’s one every month in Penwith, with additional clearups on The Lizard run by a separate team. It’s worthwhile work, helping to preserve some of our largely forgotten heritage for future generations.
Can you guess who said this?
“I still find Stonehenge rather dull. When it comes to prehistory, I am more for picturesque Avebury or Brittany’s stupendous Carnac. Wiltshire’s henge is small and fragmentary, and I wish someone would replace the fallen lintels and fill in the gaps.
Another “Stonehenge sensation” this month revealed that the the henge had been a complete circle. Given its astronomical precision, why not put it back as intended by its builders? We do not leave sundials out of line or clocks without escapements. We know where the sarsens and bluestones came from. We rebuild churches and cathedrals. A reconstructed Stonehenge might make sense, and not just to archaeologists.
But there we go. Like Obama and the rest, I have communed too long and am probably going mad.”
Someone in long flowing robes, high on a hill, hands outstretched to the moon? No, it was the NT’s outgoing chairman, here just weeks before announcing he – and you – were going to support the short tunnel! But that was then and this is now and he has left and you haven’t.
If you feel that supporting a short tunnel conflicts with the Trust’s mission and spirit you’ll be pleased to know it has just invited its members to say how it can stay true to its core purpose (could it be asking you to urge it to change its mind?) You can tell them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like, you could mention that when they boasted on World Heritage Day that “we’re proud to protect eight World Heritage Sites” you think they should have said seven!)
You could also follow Dan Snow’s advice: “Great that the National Trust has given members a vote on the Stonehenge tunnel. Please help to Save Stonehenge“
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.
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).
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  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 ; 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  could then run for 2.5 km westwards along the lower slopes of the Kilpatrick Hills up to Sheep Hill  with a short extension northwards to the Greenland 1 rock carvings . 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.
- 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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Next: The Greenland rock carvings