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A friend of the Journal, Eve Boyle, recently documented her visit to Clachtoll Broch in North West Scotland, and has given permission for her story to be published here. So, it’s over to Eve:

Scottish Archaeology is all abuzz just now about the excavation of a broch at Clachtoll, on the west coast of Sutherland. On Tuesday, I was on the phone to Roland Spencer-Jones, chair of NOSAS, who tells me he’s spent a week digging at Clachtoll. “It’s wonderful!” he says, ”You should go”. On Thursday morning, Strat Halliday, once my boss, now retired (as if that were possible!) waltzes into my office to say he’s just been to Clachtoll “It’s fantastic! You should go.” That evening, Matt Ritchie, Forestry Commission Archaeologist, texts me – “Just been to Clachtoll. It’s amazing! You should go!”

So yesterday I drove the 270 miles north and this morning (Saturday) stood on Clachtoll. And you know what? It is wonderful, and it is fantastic, and it is amazing. And you should go!

Why?

Imagine, children, that you are gathered round the TV on a Saturday evening, watching Strictly. Dad’s in the kitchen, cooking dinner (he pretends not to like Strictly, but he’s watching it too, on the wee kitchen TV). And then (perhaps because he’s distracted by Louise Redknapp) a spark catches – your house is on fire – you all rush out – but, before the fire brigade arrive, the roof and the upstairs floor all catch fire, burn and collapse, followed by the walls, which collapse and dump hundreds of tons of stone onto what used to be your living room. Luckily, you all escaped (including sheepish dad), but the house is trashed. And, you know what? It’ll be two thousand years or more before anyone tries to dig it out and find your stuff.

And that, kind of, is what seems to have happened at Clachtoll. Set into the floor is a stone mortar, filled with grain; all carbonised; that was meant to be someone’s meal, but it didn’t happen: they all left in a hurry and the fire burned the grain, still in the mortar.

Fifteen years ago, I spent a tremendous week surveying this broch with my friend and colleague Ian Parker. We peered and poked as much as we could into what was largely a huge pile of stones. I crawled into spaces to take measurements (I was a bit more sylph-like then, but still had to be pulled out by the ankles once or twice), and we wondered what might lie under all that rubble. Historic Assynt, who lured us up there for that survey, have spent years trying to make this project happen, so it was just fabulous to be there today.

Take a bow, then, Historic Assynt, and their professional partners in this project, AOC Archaeology Group. You can read much more (and see much better photos than mine) on their websites:

https://www.facebook.com/historicassynt/
https://www.facebook.com/aocarchaeology/


Many thanks to Eve for that report. If you’ve visited an excavation or heritage site during the summer, why not drop us a line or two about it so we can spread your story?

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

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On the island of Hoy in the Orkneys a massive sandstone boulder (8.5m long by 4.47m wide) sits stranded like a whale at the bottom of a steep cliff. This stone is called the Dwarfie Stane and at some time in the past a tunnel was cut into its western side and a small chamber formed inside the rock. Up until 1935 a broad consensus had emerged that the chamber had been formed to provide accommodation of some sort. However, during a visit to the stone in the summer of 1935 by Charles Calder of the Royal Commission and a Professor Bryce a brand new, a revolutionary idea was born… “that the Dwarfie Stane is the first and only example in the British Isles of a completely rock-cut tomb of the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age”. The evidence to support this radical departure from the established interpretation was two analogies from the Mediterranean, some parallels in “intervening countries” and “certain features in some of the monuments in Orkney itself.” The full justification can found here, but essentially comparisons were made with rock-cut tombs in the Mediterranean and with some of the much closer stone built tombs on Orkney. Calder emphasised the significance of the Dwarfie Stane saying at one point that it may even be more interesting than Maeshowe because it is “absolutely unique”.

The “Absolutely unique” Dwarfie Stane.

The “absolutely unique” Dwarfie Stane.

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Plan of the Dwarfie Stane and the two Mediterranean parallels (After Calder and Macdonald, 1936, 218 and 223).

Plan of the Dwarfie Stane and the two Mediterranean parallels (After Calder and Macdonald, 1936, 218 and 223).

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Actual evidence to support this appealing interpretation is however wholly lacking, but despite this, the site information board boldly states “It was actually a tomb, related to the many chambered tombs found through-out Orkney”.

So in Scotland uniqueness is celebrated or at the very least acknowledged as existing, whilst in Wales anything perceived as not precisely fitting the mould is summarily dismissed. When I asked a Cadw officer what they thought the Bancbryn stone alignment might be, they provided no answer and instead stated that they did not believe it could be prehistoric because Welsh alignments “Are characterised by much larger, upright stones in significantly shorter lengths”. Even if this was true (and it is not) this is not a remotely sound reason for dismissing the alignment. Diversity is at the heart of archaeology and Cadw’s failure to recognise the possibility of differences in the character of the archaeological resource is truly alarming.

At Bancbryn we do not need to go as far the Mediterranean to find precise parallels – they exist on the other side of the Bristol Channel and to ignore them as Cadw have done is both astonishing and indefensible.

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Distribution of single long stone rows composed of smaller stones in Great Britain.

Distribution of single long stone rows composed of smaller stones in Great Britain.

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Bancbryn (green) sits comfortably within the part of Great Britain where single long rows composed of smaller stones are found. It seems peculiar that Scottish archaeologists are happy to accept parallels from the Mediterranean to help them understand their archaeology, but Welsh ones struggle to recognise those on their own doorstep.

Reference

Calder, C.S.T. and Macdonald,G.,1936, The Dwarfie Stane, Hoy, Orkney: its period and purpose. With a note on “Jo. Ben” and the Dwarfie Stane’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 70, 1935-6. Pgs. 217-38.

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

ork[http://orkney-solstice.wikispaces.com/]

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It just couldn’t be better – and is exactly as everyone would like it to be at Stonehenge!

Sadly though it must remain forever an unattainable ideal in Wiltshire – or at least, for so long as there’s an insistence on the “right” of many thousands of people to crowd inside the stone circle in unsustainable numbers thereby creating major Health & Safety and conservation issues.

Oh well.

by Sandy Gerrard

The shambles at Mynydd y Betws could have been completely avoided if Cadw and the Dyfed Archaeological Trust had asked for the vegetation to be cut from the areas that were going to be annihilated by the wind farm development. Both organisations were happy to see areas of high archaeological potential destroyed without any attempt being made to look for visible archaeological remains. When I first contacted Cadw I was informed that:

“the features you have identified have been noted following burning on the mountain, and they are new discoveries which were not visible during the preliminary archaeological investigations due to vegetation cover.”

This comment makes it very clear that the archaeology was not found because it was hidden and therefore not looked for. But why did Cadw and Trust not ask for the vegetation to be removed? After all they had insisted that the soil be removed in places to see if there was anything below. My response to their position was:

“I was also surprised to learn that it is now apparently acceptable practice to ignore areas covered with dense vegetation during an assessment on areas adjacent to scheduled archaeology that are to be destroyed.”  

The answer to this observation was:

“Regarding vegetation clearance, it is not currently standard practice for large areas of vegetation to be cleared in advance of development, particularly in areas of ecological sensitivity”.

Remember the areas in question were about to bulldozed to oblivion which is hardly ecologically friendly. Eventually Cadw conceded:

“It may have been possible to clear within the development footprint without causing ecological concerns and it is possible that this would have revealed archaeological remains. This is something which will be borne in mind for future developments.”

So Cadw have accepted that it might in future be helpful to clear vegetation from areas with high archaeological potential that are about to be destroyed. Clearly this is too late for some of the archaeological remains on Mynydd y Betws and why did they previously feel that it was entirely appropriate to allow the destruction of areas within a few metres of scheduled archaeology to be permitted without first checking properly to see if there was anything there?

By comparison, in Scotland, (where things are probably also far from perfect), care is taken to search areas that are about to be destroyed. For example, south west of Aberfeldy along the line of a proposed new road being constructed to provide access for pylons the vegetation has been cleared along a wide corridor, allowing previously unknown sites to be identified and offered protection.

Bing aerial view showing the large-scale clearance of vegetation along the proposed road corridor. This work has allowed the identification and protection of important archaeology. Seems a sensible approach so why did this not happen at Mynydd y Betws?

Bing aerial view showing the large-scale clearance of vegetation along the proposed road corridor. This work has allowed the identification and protection of important archaeology. Seems a sensible approach so why did this not happen at Mynydd y Betws?

Why is it that in Scotland the archaeological authorities consider it important to have a proper look for archaeological sites within the path of development whilst in Wales they were happy to ignore any archaeological remains that happen to be hidden by vegetation? It seems a very dangerous policy to allow the destruction of sensitive archaeological areas without first checking to see if there is anything there. This is certainly what happened at Mynydd y Betws.

A previously unknown prehistoric round house revealed as a result of vegetation clearance prior to the building of the new road. The clearance of vegetation prior to construction made it possible to safeguard this important site. In Wales this archaeology would have been destroyed.

A previously unknown prehistoric round house revealed as a result of vegetation clearance prior to the building of the new road. The clearance of vegetation prior to construction made it possible to safeguard this important site. In Wales this archaeology would have been destroyed.

 

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A couple of years ago now, Heritage Action member ‘Scubi’ (Chris Brooks) documented his ‘trip of a lifetime, Scottish Adventure‘ around the highlands and islands of Scotland, visiting many of the prehistoric monuments on the islands.

And now, regular reader Mark Griffiths has documented part of his own trip to Orkney on his personal blog.

As Mark says in his introduction:

Prehistoric Britain exists all around us, with standing stones jutting out of the ground all over the countryside, and chambered tombs tucked into shady corners of modern housing estates. But there are several ‘prehistoric landscapes’ where great swathes of the country are kept as once they were, and it doesn’t take much imagination to feel a tremendous resonance with the past. Remote in both time and space, places like Mitchell’s Fold and Bryn Celli Ddu hold a special fascination for me. Larger landscapes, such as the justly-famous Stonehenge and Avebury sites in Wiltshire, even with the close proximity to the modern world, and the super-attraction tourist status they have, still have the power to evoke a certain something.

Certainly words that resonate with us here at the Heritage Journal! He continues:

Orkney, however, is a particular favourite of mine. A collection of 90 islands off the north coast of Scotland, the islands are made of Old Red Sandstone, which is excellent for building with as it can be quarried into blocks with ease. Perhaps it was this very fact that led to prehistoric folks settling here all those years ago. From about 3500BC it is believed the islands were being settled, as the hunter-gatherer way of life settled down into farming.

His account includes some stunning photographs – I suspect the islands are similar to Cornwall with regard to good light, I’ve yet to see a bad photograph of the monuments there!

Mark visits all the usual sites in his blog: Skara Brae, Barnhouse, Stones of Stenness, Brodgar, Maes Howe etc. and it makes a good read. His blog name includes the epithet ‘Heritage Hunter!’ as a tag line, so we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on his future posts…

Visit: marrrkusss – Heritage Hunter!

If you’ve experienced your own ‘trip of a lifetime’ to a British heritage site or sites, why not drop us a line and let us know about it so we can feature your trip here too?

The following story was posted on Orkneyjar.com yesterday, and is so good, we felt it worth repeating!

A new ‘virtual’ tour of Maeshowe at the winter solstice is now available online.

The animation was unveiled at a  special reception in Kirkwall on Tuesday evening.

The virtual tour of Maeshowe has been created using 3D laser-scanning data collected to aid with the conservation and interpretation of the site through the Scottish Ten project – a collaboration between Historic Scotland, Glasgow School of Art and CyArk to document Scotland’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites and five international sites using cutting-edge digital technologies.

The animation can be seen on Historic Scotland TV’s YouTube channel.

Maes Howe © Tim Clark 2004

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