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'Makes Skara Brae look like a shanty town.'
The Ness of Brodgar excavation continues:
"The earliest stage we have is about 3300BC - about 5,300 years ago - and we have evidence this particular site was in use for over 1,000 years."
Sunday Express article
Early brewing in Perthshire...
Preparing the perfect prehistoric pint
By Elizabeth McQuillan
Academics have pondered over why we began to cultivate cereal, and in particular barley, crops alongside our livestock around 4000 BC. Common sense dictates that these grains provided an ideal source of carbohydrate, and it allowed some welcome additions such as bread, porridge, and sugars into the larder. But archaeological findings also suggest that we were partial to a bit of ale to wash down our supper, and that we have been home-brewing for quite some time.
In fact radiocarbon dating of residues found in a drinking vessel in Strathallan, Fife, identified the alcoholic tipple as having been fermented as early as the second millennium BC (1540BC to be exact; at a time when the ancient Egyptians were erecting gargantuan pyramidal structures). Next to this archaeological find lay the body of a young woman, so perhaps it had been a bad pint, or there was some refining still to be done with that particular recipe.
Fast-forwarding to our crop-growing Neolithic and Bronze Age years, at a ceremonial site in Balfarg/Balbirnie, Tayside, fermented grain and plant residues were found in large buried earthenware vessels – evidence that the cultivated grain was being used for more than making porridge and bread. The sample also contained the pollen of Deadly Nighshade, which may have had hallucinogenic properties, or perhaps was designed to poison all the party guests. Again, the recipe maybe just needed a bit of tweaking.
But then, without the benefit of a biochemistry degree to understand the processes involved, these early brewers could only experiment and learn through trial and error how to achieve the best brew. Shared with their neighbours, they probably drank the good with the bad, and slept off the effects to come back and try another day.
So, what would the brewing process have involved in 4000BC?
Malting (germination) could be achieved in watertight vessels with frequent water changes or by placing the grain in a tied bag in a running stream so the water remained fresh and didn't require changing. Soaked grain would then be laid on a flat floor away from the outside elements and regularly raked and watered. Once the grain reached an early stage of germination, the grain would be dried with a kiln to preserve the sugars.
Mashing (when starch is converted to sugar) involved grinding the grain with quernstones. This would help release natural enzymes and speed the conversion of the remaining starch to sugar. The gentle heat needed could have been provided by hot stones or by using the ash from the fire.
Sparging is washing through the mash with hot water to produce sweet wort that can then be fermented. Our ancestors would have probably used their woven baskets for this job, and let the watery soup filter into an earthenware vessel. The spent grain provided quality fodder for the livestock.
Fermentation needs yeast, and there are a number of possible methods to explain how this yeast was introduced. Airborne yeast could be enough but, in the Western Isles, a hazel "wand" was traditionally used to stir the brew during fermentation. Each time the wand would stir a new batch, the dried yeast on the wand would reactivate the process. Perfect.
A couple of mystical, biochemical hocus pocus weeks later, and a tantalising pitcher of ale with supper was a reality. And a party a racing certainty.
Scotland's most ancient home found
Scotland's most ancient home found – at 14,000 years old
Date: 10 April 2009
By Jenny Haworth
AMATEUR archaeologists have uncovered evidence of Scotland's oldest human settlement, dating back 14,000 years.
The team dug up tools that have been shown to date from the end of the last Ice Age.
It is the first time there has been proof that humans lived in Scotland during the upper paleolithic period.
This was a time when nomadic humans hunted giant elk and reindeer using bows and arrows, and when mammoth and rhino also roamed the land.
Flint arrowheads were discovered in a field by the Biggar Archeology Group. The tools had been made in a way that identified them as belonging to about 12,000 BC.
At that time, the North Sea was an expanse of land, around which the nomadic humans roamed. Similar tools have been found in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, but never before in Scotland.
Dr Alan Saville, a senior curator at the National Museum of Scotland, who helped identify the objects, said he was "very excited" when he saw them. "This is the breakthrough," he said. "Now we are able to say for absolute certain that we had human settlement at that time in Scotland."
He added: "Of course, it must be remembered that most of the North Sea was dry land at 12,000 BC, probably supporting a human population that would have links both east and west.
"But to have found our first British site of this period right in the middle of southern Scotland is remarkable."
Previously, the earliest evidence of human habitation in Scotland was thought to be at Cramond near Edinburgh, which had been radiocarbon dated to around 8,400 BC.
Next month, the archaeologists will return to the spot at Howburn Farm, near Elsrickle, to carry out a larger excavation and see what else they can find.
Tam Ward, project leader from Biggar Museums, said he was "gobsmacked" when he found out how old the tools were.
The team led by Mr Ward, an electrician who has been an amateur archaeologist for 30 years, spotted the site when they noticed a large number of artefacts on the surface of the ploughed field.
This was in 2005, and at first it was assumed the items belonged to the neolithic period, dating to about 3,000 BC, making them far less extraordinary.
It was not until now that they have been officially identified as belonging to a far earlier age by Dr Saville and his colleagues, after they caught sight of a few particularly unusual tools in the collection.
A technique used to fashion the blades known as "en eperon" made it clear they belonged to the upper paleolithic period.
Aileen Campbell, south of Scotland MSP, said the find was "just incredible".
"To know there is hard evidence that human beings had settled in the Biggar area some 14,000 years ago is quite inspiring, and helps put modern life into a bit of perspective," she said.
Archaeologists Rise to Solstice Circle Discovery
Archaeologists working on a remote Scottish island have discovered an ancient stone ceremonial enclosure that is perfectly aligned to the winter and summer solstices.
The find was made by members of the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society (Bacas) working on the island of Foula.
The stones were found on the last day of an extensive geophysical survey at an area called Da Heights. The group found stones rising from the ground in a curve which did not look like they were placed naturally.
Extensive research has shown the stones were part of an early Bronze Age ceremonial enclosure. The structure would have been built some time between 3500 and 2000BC.
Jayne Lawes, the director of excavations, said: "This excavation has proved conclusively that the stone enclosure is man made and similar in construction to others of the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. The actual date of the construction has yet to be proved, though one shard of pottery has been found buried under 60cm of peat on the floor of the enclosure and should help to provide evidence of a date when the site was in use."
John Holbourn, a Bacas member from Wiltshire, said: "The alignment of the stone ring to the midwinter sunrise is of real significance. While in the summer the island is bathed in light throughout most of the day and night, in the winter daylight lasts for only a few hours. The knowledge that the days will lengthen and get warmer is very cheering."
Isobel Holbourn, who owns the land in Foula where the discovery was made, said: "We knew there was something there, and the archaeologists found an egg-shaped circle of stones. It turns out that the winter sunrise goes right up the middle, while the summer solstice rises at right angles to it. The circle is egg shaped, and in the centre they dug a trench and found a paved area and a bit of black pottery in between the stones. This has been sent away to be dated. The team watched the summer solstice sunrise on 21 June. From the middle spot the sun rolls and rises up the side of Ronas Hill - the highest hill on the Shetland mainland."
From an article by Jamie Beatson: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=1046352007
Last updated: 04-Jul-07 00:17 BST
Scotland's magical ancient circles leave Stonehenge standing
Scotland's magical ancient circles leave Stonehenge standing
TOURISTS exploring Britain's ancient spiritual heritage are better off visiting Scotland's stone circles than "noisy, overcrowded" Stonehenge, according to research by the National Geographic Traveller. In a survey of the world's best-known heritage sites, the magazine described the famous Megalithic attraction in the south-west of England as a "mess", lacking "charm and magic".
Instead, the magazine recommends the unspoilt stone circles in the north of Scotland which, despite growing visitor numbers, remain unspoiled by noise and intrusion. The researchers' verdict on Stonehenge said: "What a mess! Compelling... over-loved... certainly the current experience lacks magic. Crowd control is a good thing, but over-regulation has made the visitor's experience rather disappointing; charm is gone. Good interpretation and so impressive... but you can get a similar impact from lots of other stone circles, especially up north in Scotland, without all the noise and intrusion."
Last night, Scottish tourism bosses seized on the comments, claiming that the protected Neolithic monuments of Orkney, maintained an "awe-inspiring" feel which other world heritage sites had long lost. The islands' 5,500-year-old prehistoric heartland, which was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1999, includes some of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Europe. These include the Ring of Brodgar - a massive ceremonial enclosure and stone circles, and the nearby Standing Stones of Stenness, Barnhouse Village and the tomb of Maeshowe.
Carly Simpson, the marketing executive of VisitOrkney, said: "Although the site is visited by thousands of people each year, the stone circles still maintain a magical, untouched charm, which, sadly, some other World Heritage Sites have lost due to high visitor numbers."
Researchers at the National Geographic Traveller surveyed 94 World Heritage Sites, as varied as the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, the Pyramids of Giza and the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. The city of Bath rated 78 points, putting it seventh in the overall list. Stonehenge scored only 56 points out of 100, better than the lowest mark - 39 for Kathmandu Valley - but well short of Norway's West Fjords on 87 points.
A spokeswoman for English Heritage said yesterday : "The site has lost some of its magic, but the fact that it is the only UK World Heritage Site to have been nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World is testimony to its universal and enduring appeal."
A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland said: "We are delighted the survey of World Heritage Sites recognises the importance of Scotland's stone circles." The Heart of Neolithic Orkney and its stone circles is one of four World Heritage Sites in Scotland - the others are the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, New Lanark and the island of St Kilda, all recognised for cultural and natural significance.
UNSPOILT REFLECTION OF ANCIENT TIMES
ORKNEY'S stone circles are Britain's best-preserved ritual centre, reflecting the workings of a prehistoric civilisation unspoilt by urban and industrial development. The site includes a series of related monuments which fall into two complexes some 6km apart.
The Ring of Brodgar comprises a massive ceremonial enclosure and stone circles, dating from between 2500 and 2000BC. Around it are at least 13 prehistoric burial mounds and a stone setting.
Close by are the Standing Stones of Stenness, Barnhouse Village and the tomb of Maeshowe - one of the finest architectural achievements of prehistory.
Heatwave reveals Scotland's past
A heatwave has revealed fleeting traces of early settlements to historians taking a bird's eye view of Scotland. The conditions this summer have proved ideal for aerial archaeologists who document the buried sites, which appear in ripening crops or scorched grass. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland said it was one of the best in its 30 years.
Discoveries have included various prehistoric settlements and much more detail at two major Roman forts. Dave Cowley, the aerial survey manager at the RCAHMS, said the findings, across the Scottish lowlands, were significant and helped build a picture of where people had lived. "We've been finding archaeological sites that haven't been productive in the past and that's because of the extreme conditions," he said.
Crops that lie directly above buried features ripen at a different rate from the rest of the field when it is dry, producing "crop marks". Similar markings also form in grass as it parches in the sun.
Mr Cowley said: "Bits of the Borders, some of the Cheviot foothills, parts of Fife and the Moray Plain have produced previously unknown sites. Town Yetholm through to Morebattle have been producing material, which is parched out in grass. We have seen various types of prehistoric settlements usually as circular or rectangular enclosures and burial sites."
According to Mr Cowley, the aerial archaeologists have also been able to see patterns across the whole expanse of the Roman forts at Newstead in the Borders and Carpow in Fife. This has helped to build on the knowledge gained from small, detailed excavations.
"The sites that have been absolutely spectacular visually are two of our Roman forts," he said. "Newstead Roman Fort has shown better this year than it's shown since the 1940s. The line of the fort wall, the ditches and even details like the towers on either side of one of the gateways can be seen. You can also see the arrangement of all the internal roads inside the fort, the possible positions of bread ovens and other internal features. And at Carpow you're seeing raised pits and internal features."
The RCAHMS aerial survey has undertaken about 1,000 flights, using a four-seater Cessna aircraft from its base in Edinburgh, and it has produced more than 100,000 images of the country since 1976. The pictures have significantly improved the historical information about areas where thousands of years of agriculture have levelled and hidden the remains of earlier settlements. The information can also prove crucial to planners when considering sites for new developments such as housing or major pipe routes.
Julian Cope: He Dresses as a Nazi so that you don't have to
Peter Ross meets the former Teardrop Explodes frontman on the eve of his appearance at the Burns An' A' That festival
On January 1, 2005, Julian Cope took hallucinogenic drugs for the first time in several years. Three months later he started dressing as a Nazi. Fourteen months after that, on a melting day in early May, he strolls down the path from his home, his raised hand meant as a cheery greeting rather than a fascist salute. "Hello," he beams. "Good to see you."
The former lead singer with The Teardrop Explodes is 48 years old and over six feet tall, his height exaggerated by clomping black boots and a peaked military cap; he looms above the flat fields, half scarecrow, half raven. Straw-coloured hair hangs down to nipple level, almost but not quite obscuring the Iron Cross pinned to his leather waistcoat; it is embossed with a swastika and a date – 1939.
He leads the way back to his home, a converted stables, stopping to chat with the postman and to talk about garden furniture with his new neighbours. Were it not for the fact that Cope is dressed for the invasion of Poland, this could be a scene from village life in any part of the beautiful south. An expert on ancient Britain (his book on the subject, The Modern Antiquarian, sold more than 40,000 copies in hardback) he lives with his American wife, Dorian, and their daughters in Wiltshire, a part of England rich in important neolithic sites. From his bedroom window, Cope can see Silbury, a gigantic hill built of chalk 5000 years ago; he says he feels connected to this mysterious mound, and well he might – nobody knows exactly why Silbury was made, and he, too, has suffered from public mystification.
Former pop stars are supposed to demean themselves on reality TV then rerelease their biggest hit in the desperate hope of a last creaky appearance on Top Of The Pops. That's a behavioural pattern we understand. But Cope hasn't conformed to it. Instead he has become some kind of weird heathen archaeologist who calls himself a shaman and an "erudite barbarian". So as with Silbury, we find ourselves asking: what is Julian Cope for?
Over a cup of tea in his kitchen, he sets out to explain. First, the outfit. He is dressed, he insists, as "a cartoon Nazi" rather than a real one. The other day he was with his friend Merrick, a road protestor, drinking beer at the childhood home of DH Lawrence, where Cope is working on his debut novel. "Merrick was saying that the reason he could accept the way I looked was that it's so beyond what is socially acceptable ... What's funny for me is when, say, I am filling up at a petrol station on the M4. I get out of the car, and it's almost as if I am invisible because it's so ridiculously over the top."
Nobody says anything because they assume he can't possibly be serious, can't really be anti-semitic? "Exactly. Who would be that extreme?"
The Nazi look began as a way of winding up a neighbour, who has long been unhappy with his presence in the village. But it has grown in significance, and now represents both Cope's refusal to accept a dull middle age ("You don't have to be an old tosser") and his general love of confrontation. He was bullied as a child growing up in the Midlands, but when he was 12, he bested the class bully by throwing his arms around his neck and kissing him; in that moment he discovered that in weirdness there could be strength, a tactic which has characterised his entire career. On the wall next to the downstairs loo, a commemorative disc marks 250,000 sales of the 1981 single Reward. The Teardrop Explodes were part of the post-punk Liverpool scene. At one point it looked as if they might become one of the biggest acts of the era, but they split acrimoniously and druggily in 1982.
As a solo artist, Cope continued to make music with mixed commercial success. He released two massively acclaimed records in the early 1990s – Peggy Suicide and Jehovahkill – but his label dropped him. Since then he has recorded for his own imprint, Head Heritage, and distributed albums via his website. His music is increasingly out there, but some of it is brilliant.
His most recent album, Dark Orgasm, is a heavy rock record dedicated to freedom and equality for women (he recently played a gig in Belgium wearing a burka). It is also an attack on organised religion, which is why the album artwork bears the slogan F*** The Pope. It will be interesting to see how that goes down in the west of Scotland when he performs at the Burns An A' That festival.
Dark Orgasm includes a song called I Found A New Way To Love Her, featuring the lyric "Just like Ken Bigley/I'm losing my head on account of you", a reference to the civil engineer who was kidnapped and beheaded by an Islamist group in Baghdad in 2004.
"I was really shocked by it," Cope says of his song. "But I think art should be shocking. The artist has to be shocking even to himself." Isn't that lyric cruel, though? "Very cruel. But that was part of it. There was an element about the Ken Bigley thing that meant it had to be cruel. That guy lost his head, and it wasn't a clean cut either. It was a disgusting way to die. But I have to say for all that I am anti-religion, I have far more respect for Islam than for Christianity because I know where I stand with Islam. To me, a religion is good if you are fearful of it."
He continues in this vein for a while then returns to his initial point. "For me, as an artist, I think I have to go to those places ... My job is to be constantly beating the bounds, to see how far we can go. Every so often – boom! – something will explode in my face, and I will have gone too far."
Is that what happened with the Ken Bigley line? "No, I don't think so, because I think it summed up what the 21st century is about. Do you think I went too far?"
I suggest it may have been hurtful to people who knew Bigley to exploit his name as a simile. He mulls this over. "I think, really, everything is funny," he says. "If I was taken and dismembered and torn apart, I would expect people to make a joke about it, I really would. There's always been a part of me that semi-expects that."
That expects to be dismembered? "Yeah. I'm an extreme artist."
He turns down a conversational side road, reminiscing about the time he was in Armenia, then rejoins the main route of our discussion. "The most shocking lyric that I ever heard was when the Sex Pistols did Bodies. It was an anti-abortion song, and they did it just after my girlfriend had an abortion. It was so weird. The idea of the Sex Pistols doing a song like that was so unlikely that to me it made them so real. The song was pointing at me because I was the guy who just facilitated the abortion. I was 19 and would have thought Johnny Rotten was on my side, but he wasn't. That summed it up for me. The truth is aiming for something that is beyond what's acceptable."
I ask about his daughters, Albany and Avalon, who are 14 and 12. They don't listen to his music, he says, and they find it a little weird when the parents of their friends are aware of who he is. "It sometimes puts me in a little of an invidious position. My youngest one, I met her best friend's mother, who had been to see me in Oxford. She said, 'I'd never seen you solo before. I didn't realise you were into self-mutilation.' I suddenly felt very compromised on a dad level that her daughter was coming round to the house of this potentially mad father."
Self-mutiliation? There was an infamous incident at a concert in 1984 when Cope – frustrated by his own performance – shredded his stomach with the jagged end of a broken mic-stand. He still cuts himself on stage. "I believe rock'n'roll should have some blood ritual in it. But it's impractical to do it too much. It's just messy. So I do it as early in the tour as I can, and get it out of the way ... Some people find it very gross and gruelling."
He gets up from the kitchen table, walks to the door and points Silbury out for me. Through his exploration of ancient sites, Cope has become known as an outdoorsman, which is ironic given that for much of the 1980s he was semi-agoraphobic. He and Dorian holed up in Drayton Bassett behind a barricaded door and covered windows; he became obsessed with Dinky cars, and converted a bedroom into a toy room which could be entered only via a secret tunnel.
What made him like that, so insular? "LSD," he replies. "It gives you such a wonderful inner life that your outer life becomes totally unnecessary."
He first got high as a member of The Teardrop Explodes (his memoir of the period, Head-On, ought to be subtitled How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bong) and soon discovered a love of acid trips. He stopped taking hallucinogens before the birth of Albany, but started again as part of his research for a forthcoming book on prehistoric drug use. He spends whole days tripping on the Marlborough Downs.
"I think I must be neurologically tough and have a neurologically tough family background," he says, "because I know people who have taken a quarter of what I have taken and utterly f***ed themselves up. So I think there's an element of luck involved.
"My mother-in-law, who is one of my main researchers, one of my muses, did say to me in 1985, 'You must stop two years before you aim to have kids.' She had talked to this psychedelic doctor in San Francisco called Dr Billy ... So when I went back into the psychedelics, I got in touch with my mother-in-law. There's always a dialogue."
Cope has been married to Dorian for 22 years. They got together in 1981 when she and a friend came to a show in Albany in upstate New York. "She's so important," he says. "I wouldn't have done anything without her. She is the most mysterious woman I have ever met … I have to petition her: 'I've got this idea, what do you think?' We'll sit down and discuss things long and hard. She is the ultimate editor for me … She'll tell me whether something is going to be misunderstood, and I trust her."
During their discussions, Cope and his wife refer to "Julian Cope" in the third person as a public entity distinct from Julian the husband and father. So is there a difference? "Definitely, yeah. I was invited to the House of Lords about three weeks ago for some bill on animal rights that I've been working on. I was actually really excited about the idea of going to the House of Lords, and Dorian said, 'Yeah, but Julian Cope wouldn't be excited.' I was like, 'Hey, you're right!' So I didn't go. Because he wouldn't have gone."
He has the good grace to laugh at the ridiculousness of this, but it does strike to the heart of where he is at right now. He is the archetypal square peg, the pigeon who spurns holes, and his has been a 25-year journey from the margins to the mainstream and back. He is dedicated to rock'n'roll, sacred rocks and role-playing, and he would tell you that is no coincidence that he shares his initials with Jesus Christ. Julian Cope is willing to be freaky for the sake of a straight society that just doesn't have the time; it's an act of redemption not rebellion.
"I do it," he grins, "on the behalf of people who are too busy paying the bills."
Julian Cope performs at the Festival Club, Ayr, on Saturday, as part of the Burns An A' That festival, see www.burnsfestival.com
21 May 2006
Intact prehistoric remains found in East Lothian
A double grave site from the late Iron Age has been unearthed in Dunbar, East Lothian. One of the grave sites is thought to be that of a warrior as an iron spearhead, sword and possible pin were also found with the remains. The substantial and well-preserved grave was identified with the remains of two individuals. The earliest or primary burial had been moved from its original position to accommodate the second or later burial.
Places for People, who are developing the land for residential use, commissioned AOC Archaeology to conduct the investigation of the burial ground. Alister Steele, Managing Director of Castle Rock Edinvar (a subsidiary of Places for People), who are developing the site said: "Discovering a find like this is an exciting prospect in any new development and proves the necessity of securing our historical heritage by ensuring that land we develop has been scoped by expert archaeologists."
Previous archaeological investigations in Dunbar have revealed medieval remains and, although the origins of Dunbar are known to extend back to the late prehistoric and early historic period, it was assumed that medieval remains would also be found during this investigation - hence the investigation organised by Places for People.
Biddy Simpson, the East Lothian Council Heritage Officer said: "This is an extraordinary and exceptional find. Although similar multiple burials have been found in the vicinity of Dunbar this burial was of very high quality and is the first one to be excavated using modern archaeological techniques. The quality of the grave construction and the items within the grave strongly suggest that it was a high status burial, the finding of which is incredibly important.".
The site has now been fully excavated and the remains are to be analysed by specialists. Also discovered during the investigation were a number of late medieval remains, including a well.
Exceptional find' of Iron Age warrior
THE remains of an Iron Age warrior have been found in Dunbar – only the third grave of its kind in Scotland. Archaeologists were called to the old Empire Cinema site, off the High Street, which is currently being developed into flats. The well-preserved grave contains the remains of a warrior as well as an iron spearhead, sword and what is believed to be a pin. Archaeologists believe an earlier burial had been moved from its original position to accommodate the warrior before being put back, to create a double burial.
East Lothian Council heritage officer Biddy Simpson described the find as "extraordinary and exceptional". "Although similar multiple burials have been found in the vicinity of Dunbar, this burial was of very high quality and is the first one to be excavated using modern archaeological techniques. The quality of the grave construction and the items within the grave strongly suggest that it was a high status burial, the finding of which is incredibly important," she said.
Staff from Loanhead-based AOC Archaeology were drafted in to work on the site. Project officer Mike Roy said it was an extremely unusual site and unlike anything he had previously excavated. He added that the findings suggested the occupants were of "considerable status".
Ronan Toolis, senior project officer with AOC Archaeology, explained that the two other Iron Age warrior graves had been excavated in Alloway and Camelon, near Falkirk. "The Dunbar site is a real treasure trove," he said. "It is rare for a prehistoric burial to be found in a town like this."
The area has now been fully excavated and the remains will be analysed by specialists. Mr Toolis added that they would know more once DNA analysis and carbon dating of the bones were carried out. It may also be possible to establish the area from which the warrior came, by analysing his teeth. Dental tests could reveal traces of chemicals which had been present in the water he drank at that time, which would in turn point to a certain geographical location.
A late medieval well was also discovered during the excavation.
Gordon Easingwood, from Dunbar Local History Society said that the warrior grave was "obviously a significant find" and that he would be interested to find out more once the tests were completed. During the 1980s, the remains of an Iron Age promontory fort were discovered during excavations in the town. It is believed that this helped to date the origins of Dunbar to at least the 1st-4th centuries AD.
Historians lay siege to secrets of hill forts and sheilings
Archaeologists are turning their attention to one of Scotland's most historically overlooked areas by scheduling scores of ancient and modern sites dating from 4000BC to the cold war era. Hill forts, castles, sheilings, standing stones, hut circles, churches, lime kilns and pillboxes were the focus of the first major scheduling drive in the north of Scotland by heritage experts from Historic Scotland. The teams of historians and ancient monument inspectors are keen to shed light on the historical richness of Aberdeenshire, an area previously overlooked during efforts to protect important sites.
Dr Gordon Barclay, principal inspector of ancient monuments with Historic Scotland, said the new scheduling campaign was a productive way of mapping the nation's past. He said: "This is the first time we have tried out this area-based approach to scheduling. We take a group of parishes and look at everything within it of historical interest. Previously, it has been up to the efforts of individual inspectors and was not very co-ordinated, with areas getting more scheduling than others." He added: "This is a more consistent approach looking at one area after another. We have around 200 candidate sites in the area and about one half or two-thirds of these will eventually be scheduled."
Inspectors have been in Strathdon and Alford carrying out the scheduling assessments on a large number of archaeological sites. Historic Scotland said the mammoth exercise was an essential part of protecting and understanding the past. If the sites visited are judged to be of national importance, they will then be scheduled as ancient monuments and will be protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
The teams will schedule a number of important sites including Asloun Castle, near Alford, a sixteenth-century towerhouse, following their visit. They are also likely to schedule a prehistoric site on Deskrey Hill, east of Strathdon, which has hut circles and contains evidence of some of the earliest farming in Scotland. A second world war pillbox near Huntly and a deserted medieval township, near Upperton, will also be scheduled.
Generations of hunters, herdsmen, farmers and foresters helped shape the landscape in the north-east. Traces of their houses, farms, religious sites or burial monuments litter the landscape beside more recent features such as castles, industrial sites, churches or military installations. The first farmers in the area also introduced pottery and polished stone axes. Their descendants made use of the deposits of flint near the coast at Boddam, south of Peterhead.
An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said there were a great number of historical sites that they were keen to protect. "We welcome this week's visit by Historic Scotland to view nearly 200 sites as part of the organisation's scheduling assessments," he said, "These are done on an ongoing basis, but this week's programme involves a major concentration of Aberdeenshire sites. We have highlighted a number of locations which we feel are unique to the area. Our archaeology team is guiding the visitors around sites ranging from the neolithic age, right up to the last world war."
Dr Barclay said the project had already been a resounding success and would be taken to other parts of the country. "We will be up in the area around Inverness next," he said, "We will look at everything which is legally able to be scheduled. Six teams of two inspectors look at the sites to get an idea of what is left there."
Scheduled ancient monuments are sites, buildings and other features of artificial construction protected by the Scottish ministers under the terms of the 1979 act. There are more than 7500 in Scotland. They include an extraordinary range of monuments including prehistoric chambered tombs, stone circles, Roman forts and ruined castles.
Update on Iron Age Warrior
Warrior's grave points to Druid site
THE discovery of the body of a warrior - thought to have died in battle more than 2,000 years ago - could help archaeologists to pinpoint the site of an ancient Druid holy site, experts said yesterday. The young warrior, aged about 30, with his spear, a sword, his belt and scabbard, stunned archaeologists who found his stone coffin.
The discovery on Marshill, Alloa, last year was hailed as one of the most significant Iron Age finds for decades in Scotland. A copper pin, which once fastened his uniform at the neck, remained, along with rings on two toes and six other rings unlike any found in Scotland before. He was gripping his sword. Experts now believe the hill may have been used for holy ceremonies and burials since the Bronze Age at least 1,500 years earlier.
An Alloa archaeologist, Susan Mills, who along with experts from Glasgow University discovered the grave, also found the skeleton of a Bronze Age woman buried in 2000BC just feet away. More than 20 cremation urns and a cist burial from the Bronze Age were also found there in 1828. A pair of gold bracelets, now on show at the National Museum of Scotland, highlight the importance of those buried in the cemetery, which she believes would once have been marked by a huge cairn.
Mrs Mills said: "It is not just chance that this warrior was buried in such close proximity to the Bronze Age burial ground. What is unique is that this site seems to span more than 1,500 years, and those within it seem to have had considerable wealth. The warrior's possessions, and the care given to his burial, suggest he was in the upper echelons of his group. Such richly furnished graves are very rare in Scotland. It suggests that this area was regarded as a special, sacred holy ground for more than a millennium. Marshill would have been an ideal location for the pagan communities to site such a significant burial ground, on high land. It is very likely there would have been a cairn so that it could be seen from miles around."
She said that although the warrior was in Alloa around the time of the Romans' occupation of the country, he was most likely from Scotland. She said: "The warrior burial is remarkable. Rings from his belt and scabbard have never been found before, so he may have been quite exotic. His specially-made sword blade is 2ft long - much longer than the nearest equivalent found near Falkirk. Although we are not sure exactly how or where he died, his burial site must have been a special place."
The theory is revealed in the forthcoming edition of Current Archaeology magazine.
Friday, 16th April 2004
Critics Slam Executive Plan to Strip Ancient Monuments
Critics slam Executive plan to strip ancient monuments (by Vic Rodrick).
Hundreds of Scotland's ancient monuments are to be stripped of their protected status in a controversial move by the Executive. Almost 800 archaeological sites considered until now to be of national importance will be dropped from Historic Scotland's official schedule. The change follows a decision by the Executive to restrict protection to monuments which meet new criteria of "cultural significance" and "spiritual value".
Critics have attacked the move, accusing the Executive of "betraying Scotland's heritage" and clearing the way for developers to build on protected sites. Scotland has a host of significant archaeological treasures, including locations dating from prehistoric times. The change of classification will put the future of many of Scotland's 7,700 ancient forts, carved crosses, standing stones, cairns, war memorials and prehistoric settlements under threat.
Jamie McGrigor MSP, the Conservative culture spokesman said: "These reminders of Scotland's past are vital for our tourism industry and it's very important that they are preserved for future generations. We have an extraordinary heritage which is a treasure trove we ignore at our peril." Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the SNP culture spokeswoman, said: "I find it hard to believe that something considered 20 years ago to be a historic monument of national importance should no longer be considered worthy of protection."
Robin Harper, the leader of the Scottish Green Party said: "This is an appalling betrayal of a significant proportion of Scotland's heritage. It's a gift to the developers who want to build on sites which, on reflection, would be better saved for the nation. Scheduling is a vital tool to protect lesser-known archaeological sites, some of which might be a few stones sticking out of the ground, but all of which are of national importance."
Officials at Historic Scotland were unable to say which monuments and archaeological sites would be affected by the changes, claiming decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.
An Executive consultation report revealed that the revised criteria would be applied to every monument currently scheduled, as well as all new finds. It said: "Over time this will sift out monuments that can no longer be justified as being of national importance. It could be argued that some monuments at present on the schedule are not of sufficient importance to merit the very strong presumption against development that scheduled status now provides."
Future preservation of the de-scheduled monuments will be left to council planning departments and landowners will have to depend on agriculture and forestry grant schemes for any preservation work.
Scientist Mulls Anglo-Scottish Split
Cultural differences which divide the Scots and the English date back 10,000 years before Britain was an island, a professor has suggested. Stephen Oppenheimer, of Oxford University, says genetic evidence shows Celts descended from ancient people living by the Atlantic coast. The English are more closely related to Germanic people, he added.
The professor was due to speak about his theory at the Edinburgh Science Festival on Sunday. In the past, the split was attributed to migration, invasion and replacement, in particular by the Anglo-Saxons, Celts and Vikings. However, while conceding foreign invasions hundreds of years ago would have influenced the cultures in different areas, he does not believe the split originated then.
Professor Oppenheimer said: "The first line between the English and the Celts was put down at a much earlier period, say 10,000 years ago. The English are the odd-ones-out because they are the ones more linked to continental Europe. The Scots, the Irish, the Welsh and the Cornish are all very similar in their genetic pattern to the Basque."
This would mean Celts' roots lie in south west France, Brittany and Spain. The theory is expanded in the professor's book The Real Eve: Modern Man's Journey Out of Africa, tracing the origins of humankind to Africa 80,000 years ago. The talk called Out of Eden takes place at the Apex International Hotel in Grassmarket on Sunday.
The Neolithic Cat
From the Scotsman - 9/4/04
Ancient grave adds years to feline history
MAN'S second best friend has been around 5,000 years longer than thought, according to scientists who have unearthed evidence of the world's first pet cat. The animal, buried in a 9,500-year-old grave alongside a human skeleton presumed to be that of its owner, was identified as Felis silvestris, the African wildcat. Historians believed Egyptians first made pets of cats 4,000 years ago. Scientists, however, have suspected that tamed cats existed before the Egyptian era, but there was no evidence.
But now the discovery at Shillourokambos, in Cyprus, a Neolithic village inhabited from 8300BC, provides that evidence of association between cat and human. Archaeologists found artefacts in the grave that indicated that the person had social standing. The cat was buried next to it, in its own grave. Jean-Denis Vigne, the research leader, from the Museum of Natural History in Paris, said: "This strengthens the idea of a special burial and indicates a strong relationship."
The experts believe that if the cat had not been intentionally buried, its bones would have disarticulated. "Not only is it intentionally buried; it was protected," said Mr Vigne. It looks as if the animal - aged about eight months - was the person's pet and had been killed to join its owner in the "afterlife". Both cat and human had been placed in the ground symmetrically, with their heads pointing to the west.
"I am not completely convinced that the common orientation of the skeletons makes sense," said Mr Vigne. "However, if it did, I think that this strong proximity between both of them in death should be interpreted as additional evidence of a strong relationship in life." And he added: "It is an exceptional discovery."
The discovery excited cat experts. Jo Rothery, the editor of Cat World magazine, said: "It's fascinating. Hand-reared wild species often make tame pets. This wildcat would never have been as tame as today's domestic cat, but it could have been manageable as a pet. People say cats are independent animals, but at the same time they relate very closely to people."
Cats have become the most popular pet in Britain, taking the top spot from dogs two years ago. Roger Breton, an expert on felines, added: "Domestication of cats was not easily accomplished, as they have no built-in co-operative instincts, but the mechanics of it were simple. People gave up nomadic lifestyles for agrarian communities. Stored crops attracted vermin, which attracted wildcats, which were encouraged to stay. First they were approached, then petted and eventually held."
Ancient Flints Found on Cairngorms
Archaeologists are excited by a discovery which they say proves that early Scottish settlers travelled through the Cairngorms 7,000 years ago. More than 80 pieces of worked flint and quartz dating from the Mesolithic period have been found at a site in Glen Dee near Braemar. The finds were made by chance during conservation work on footpaths.
Experts say it proves people moved through the landscape in seasonal cycles gathering and hunting for food. Most of the knowledge of the period so far has come from sites on the coast. These groups of people may have been very familiar with what even today are considered to be extremely challenging Highland landscapes
Dr Shannon Fraser, archaeologist for the National Trust for Scotland in the North East, said: "We suspected that major route ways through the Cairngorms, such as the Lairig Ghru, may have been used by our earliest Scottish settlers as they moved through the landscape in seasonal cycles, fishing, hunting and collecting other foods and useful materials. But without any physical evidence for the presence of these people, we just couldn't prove it. What is so exciting is that these tiny fragments of worked stone, some only a few millimetres long, suggest that these groups of people may have been very familiar with what even today are considered to be extremely challenging Highland landscapes."
Further study funded by Aberdeenshire Council has demonstrated that both tool-making activities and the use of the tools themselves were happening at the site. The finds include both broken tools and the waste flakes produced when working pieces of flint.
Caroline Wickham-Jones, a consultant archaeologist specialising in the Mesolithic of Scotland, said: "This is a very important find because it helps to fill in one of the most glaring of gaps in our knowledge of the early settlement of Scotland: what was going on in the interior of the country."
Oops, There Goes Another Bit of Britain
Saturday February 28, 2004 - The Guardian
A planned new quarry threatens to destroy the tranquillity of the Peak District's finest megalithic monument. Chris Moss finds ramblers, locals and pagans united in opposition
Driving along the A6, it's not immediately obvious that the Peak District might well be England's most important national park. In fact, it's easy to forget you're in a park at all - there are plenty of pretty towns and old farms lining the river valleys, and old mills and stone-walled inns worthy of an urbanite's cosiest drinking dream - but the dramatic, bleakly beautiful heights of the southern Pennines are most often obscured by steep dales or low mists.
The Peak (as locals call it) is about leisure as much as landscape. The 555 square-mile national park is a lung for the people of Manchester, Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Stoke. The first national park, it was created in 1951 precisely to put a green belt between these sprawling conurbations. It's visited by some 22m people each year (only Japan's Mount Fuji's national park tops it). And, if it lacks Cumbria's photogenic lakes, the Peak's landscape of gritstone outcrops, limestone crags, heather and peat moorland - Daniel Defoe called it "a waste and howling wilderness" - has a rugged, romantic appeal.
Among the Peak's many secrets are vestiges of the bronze age: cairns, burial mounds, stone circles and hillforts. Outstanding among these is the Nine Ladies stone circle at Stanton Lees, between Bakewell and Matlock. Between 3,000 and 4,000 years old, these nine stumpy stones, probably built for rituals honouring the sun and moon, stand in a small circle like old teeth, surrounded by silver birch, ash and beech trees and, beyond these, a beautiful stretch of moorland dotted with further Neolithic remnants and ruins.
No wonder then that any attempt to make any inroads into this landscape that are not destined for boot-clad backpackers is resisted so fiercely by locals and tourists alike. Just beneath the Nine Ladies site is where Stancliffe Stone wants to quarry 3.2m tons of millstone grit for the building trade. While the development rights to this dormant quarry - on land owned by Lord Edward Manners, who lives in Haddon Hall, just a few minutes' drive from the site - are legally binding, villagers, townsmen and scores of eco-minded travellers have come together to protect the ancient heritage and the tourism that is the region's lifeblood.
Walking up to the site from the village of Rowsley (also owned by Lord Manners), I spoke to two of the protesters, Becky Walsh and David Connolly, who were out on a ramble between sessions of constructing ramparts to prevent the quarrying firm's diggers from approaching the rock face. "It's just big money trying, as always, to get what it can out of the land," claims Becky. "But we've been here for about four years now and we know how precious it is to locals.
"It's so peaceful - and if this goes ahead, there will be a massive hole just 100m away. As well as the stones, there are burial mounds here and lots of ruins that have never been investigated. These draw pagans who come to perform handfasting (pagan marriages) or to practise wicca mediation, and whirling dervishes use the site, too."
Like many other circles, there is a rich pagan-cum-druidic folklore that extends way beyond the tentative specualtions of history books. One story is that the Nine Ladies were formed by people being turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath - the "King Stone", on a bank just a few yards away, was said to have been their fiddler. It is also said that when the moon is full, the stones move around in a ritual dance.
While we are talking, behind me, a young man starts to spin slowly in the centre of the circle - not quite my idea of a dervish, but his eyes are closed and his concetration absolute. He claims "most of the villagers are right behind the protesters, because they don't want a four-ton truck loaded with gravel passing their little cottages at 6am, do they?"
Beyond the gentle stir of the wind in the leafless trees, you can hear the beeps and churning from Dale View quarry, less than a mile away. If digging was allowed any closer, the serentity and spiritual value of the Nine Ladies would be completely destroyed.
But it's not all about pagans who cherish the site for sacral purposes. During the next afternoon, scores of couples, strolling families and locals walking their dogs pass by as they hike over the moors. There's even a group of six or seven Sheffield youths having an impromptu picnic, despite the fact that the grass is damp and there's a bitter nip in the February air.
Another walker, Jenny Blain, joins us on the grass at the centre of the circle, and tells me she is researching "how people relate to landscapes" at Sheffield Hallam University. She emphasises the academic value of the site: "This is important to archeologists with an interest in prehistory, who study the cairns and kist graves. Then there are archeologists of the early modern period, as well as scientists who come to study the bats here - there are two protected species."
Jenny points out that "the special feel of the Nine Ladies comes from that fact that they are part of a bigger landscape. This means so much to so many people - and locals join in at festivals like Imbolc (ewe's milk, for when sheep lactate in spring)."
The Peak District, like other national parks, came about when the gentry and working class ramblers united to stem industrial expansion; as that lobby has dwindled, new alliances are needed.
Lonely as it is on the hilltops and among the burial mounds, the Nine Ladies are close to dozens of villages. Old pubs and B&Bs - from farms to hotel-style townhouses. After a day of cold, clean air and Woden-knows-what spiritual blessings from the Nine Ladies, I am in my bed - in a converted barn -by 9pm.
The Peak District serves more than just the north-west, though - it is central enough for Londoners to get to the Nine Ladies easily, too. I travelled from south-east London to 2500BC in just three and a half hours.
The following morning, before making the return journey, I drive up to Stanton Moor to see the Nine Ladies one more time. The daffodils are still there and, for the first time this weekend, there's no one else around. After a quick look about me, I stride to the centre and stand in the empty space - and even gyrate slowly to see if any thing happens. My sullied modern sou is not transfigured, but the circle is profoundly calming and, thanks to Bronze Age man's meterological intuition, protected from the harsh elements of the Peak winter.
After a quick stroll over the moor, frightenting partridges and watching the sun struggle to break through the clouds, I turn round and, cross the hill above the disused quarry. I head back down the side where the protesters are sleeping in their makeshift tree houses and where, just a mile or so down the valley, Lord Edward Manners is no doubt tucking into his breakfast of kippers and cold meats.
A vicious February northeasterly is now blasting and I leave the bare, exposed beauty of Neolithic England for the refuge of the car.
Stone the Crows... Dig Uncovers a Humble Patio
Archaeologists were left red-faced when an excavation site they believed was a Norse settlement of "national significance" was actually a sunken patio. Experts rushed to the site when amateur archaeologists unearthed a meshwork of massive stones while exploring the ground in their garden.
Officials from Fife Council suspected the slabs had been ferried from a nearby beach about 1000 years ago to the homes of Viking settlers. The archaeologists hoped the tiny back garden in Buckhaven would provide the first evidence of Viking homes built on mainland Scotland. The team sealed off the area but after several days of painstaking excavation, they found the massive rocks were simply part of a sunken patio built in the 1940s.
Chief archaeologist Douglas Speirs, 34, admitted his team had been made to look "very stupid". He said: "We looked at the slabs and guessed they could've been part of a Viking settlement considering the area has strong links to Norse culture. It had all the hallmarks of ancient building techniques with the types of stones used and the layout. After all our efforts, you can imagine how silly we felt in the end."
From the Stornoway Gazette
Archaeologists from the University of Manchester have excavated a new stone circle in Callanish, Lewis, that is already widely acknowledged as being second only to Stonehenge. Although a destroyed circle was reported as far back as 1928, a team of eight archaeologists only recently excavated the site and have already uncovered 12 new stones. The stone circle, which is thought to be more than 3,000 years old — older than Stonehenge — has been discovered in close proximity to the four other existing stone circles at the famous standing stones of Callanish.
The new circle, called Na Dromannan ('The Ridges'), is around 30 metres in diameter — larger than the existing ones — and is situated on the crofters' common grazings. It includes a regular outer circle and various stones irregularly placed in an inner ring. Each stone measures between 2.5 to four metres long and is made of Lewissian gneiss — a metamorphic rock containing feldspar, quartz and mica, which give it its sheen. The archaeologists excavating the site have been particularly intrigued by one of the stones exposed, which is covered by a complete layer of quartz.
The stones are of particular interest because of their unusual construction. Instead of being bedded in earth, they are situated on a rocky outcrop and were originally propped up by stones encircling their bases. As such, they were less stable and were found lying in the positions they fell in — some of them broken.
The team of Manchester undergraduate and postgraduate archaeology students on Lewis are being led by Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University, Dr Colin Richards, who has been working on a project for the last two years on the construction of stone circles in North West Britain, including Orkney and Arran. Dr Richards stressed that the discovery of the ancient stone circle was very exciting, particularly because the circle was built on the site of a quarry from which the stones probably came, and where the team has found a large monolith. Although archaeologists have geologically located the mountains which the stones to build Stonehenge would have come from, no evidence of the quarry has ever been found.
Dr Richards said: "We have uncovered 12 stones already. Some are rectangular and thick and some are smaller, thin stones. When we started taking the peat off, we realised how big these stones were. Some are up to four metres long." Dr Richards acknowledged that a 'destroyed circle' was recorded in 1928 by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
"It was long thought that there may be a further stone circle on the site but, until now, it has lain undiscovered, buried in the peat," he said. "When I came here last year, I could see the ends of stones poking up above the peat. We came up here again in late July and did two weeks. I then came up about a week ago. This is the result of around three weeks' work. People have always assumed that the stone circles were built for a purpose, but I wondered whether these things were actually considered greatly. It could have just been the case of gathering people together socially to move the stones."
Dr Richards added: "Why they chose this area and not somewhere else is very interesting. The site may have been special because the stones were sacred. I would date them around 3000BC." He continued: "This site is kind of nice because you see sites like the main circle and it's very manufactured and precise. This is good because it shows what happens when things go wrong. Because the stones are irregular, we don't know how many we expect to find. It is very difficult to say, but perhaps 16 or 17 in the outer circle."
The archaeologists are planning to leave Lewis on Saturday. The uncovered stones will be covered with plastic, until the team return next year to continue work at the site.
Quarry discovery may be older than Stonehenge
Ancient history revealed in a circle
Quarry discovery may be older than Stonehenge
A STONE circle discovered on a ridge overlooking the famous Callanish standing stones on Lewis could shed new light on the purpose of the ancient structures, say archaeologists. The circle is believed to pre-date Stonehenge. It was found by a team of archaeologists from Manchester University, led by Colin Richards, who has been studying the construction of stone circles for the past two years. The group found the circle was built on the site of a quarry from which stones for the main Callanish circle probably came - only the second such quarry ever to be found.
Called Na Dromannan, the new circle is about 90ft in diameter - larger than the existing ones - and each stone is between 7ft and 12ft long. Mr Richards said yesterday the find was both significant because of the unusual method used to construct the circle. However, he said the fact it also stood on the quarry suggested that it was the process of building the circles that was important.
"What is great from our point of view is that it shows the area where the stones came from may have been significant," he said. "It adds extra weight to the theory that the place the stones came from had a sacred nature. The circles may have taken centuries to go up, one by one. People have tended to see these things as temples. But I think the significance of the process was the dragging of the stones and their size and quality."
Callanish comprises nearly 50 neolithic sentinels occupying a commanding position overlooking Loch Roag. The stones, of Lewisian gneiss, were buried in peat up to about the height of an adult before they were cleared in 1857.
In 1999, scientists working with Historic Scotland carried out tests on the standing stones of Callanish which showed Stonehenge was a baby in comparison to the Scottish site. They found that the mystical Lewis stones could have been erected more than 500 years before Stonehenge, some time between 2900 and 2600 BC. Mr Richards said the newly-found stone circle was unusual because it was built on a stony outcrop, so the stones were held up by boulders piled around their base rather than by being sunk into dug "sockets". Over time, all the stones had fallen and become covered with peat.
Much work has been done over the past 80 years on the astronomical orientations built in to the monument at Callanish. Boyle Somerville suggested in 1913 that the northern avenue of stones was positioned to indicate the rising of the star Capella about 1800 BC. Callanish has become a focus again for visits at the summer solstice, by those perhaps hoping to see the "shining one" which, according to local legend, walks up the avenue on the midsummer dawn.
The Manchester team arrived on Lewis from Orkney, where they recently discovered the first ever quarry for a stone circle. Although archaeologists have geologically located the mountains the stones to build Stonehenge would have come from, no evidence of the quarry has ever been found. The team began looking at the Na Dromannan site believing the few partially uncovered stones in that area could also lead them to a quarry for the Callanish standing stones. "We did find the site that could be the quarry for the main Callanish circle," said Mr Richards. "But when we took the peat away we found Na Dromannan. It was built on top of the area where there has been quarrying."
Double Stone Age find in Fife
Joy over double Stone Age find in Fife
TWO hugely significant Neolithic finds have been made in Fife within weeks of each other, thanks to sharp-eyed amateur archeologists. Historic Scotland has confirmed that intricate markings on boulders on the Binn Hill, a volcanic plug above Burntisland, are neolithic cup and ring marks which may be 4,000 years old. In a separate find, an outstanding example of a ceremonial Neolithic axe, which may have belonged to a leader or a priest, has been unearthed in a newly ploughed field at Mid-Conlan, just below East Lomond Hill.
Amateur archeologists Colin Kilgour and Jock Moyes contacted Historic Scotland after seeing photographs of Neolithic carvings in an exhibition and recognising the designs they had seen as children playing on the Binn Hill. "It was then we realised we had seen these markings before," explained Mr Kilgour. "When we were kids we used to play on the Binn Hill, and I remembered finding patterns just like that when we were building a gang hut. We went back and, sure enough, the carvings were still there. We knew what the markings were, but had never imagined they would be so important." Historic Scotland is now considering the best way to protect the neolithic cup and ring marks on Binn Hill.
Fife Council archaeologist Douglas Speirs said: "It's fantastic - truly amazing. The carvings are what is called a cup and ring design on a large boulder, with a spiral carved out on a nearby rockface. They are about 4,000 years old - which means they were already about 3,000 years old when the famous carvings were made in the Wemyss Caves. We know of examples of this style mainly from Perthshire and Argyll, and even there they are rare, so to find one here in Fife is hugely important. The fact that one of the cup and ring marks has not been completed gives us confirmation of the method used to carve them."
Cup and ring marks are found throughout Scotland and date from about 2000 to 3000 BC, making them up to 5,000 years old. But only six known examples have been discovered in Fife, and one of those, in a cave at West Wemyss, was lost in a rockfall in 1902. Common to all cup and ring carvings is a central scoop, or "cup" surrounded by spiral incisions and often surrounded by other curvilinear decorative designs. Archeologists are unclear about the significance of the recurring patterns, with theories that they were used for making offerings of milk or blood or that they are artistic representations of elemental forces. Despite the mystery which surrounds their creation, experts agree the find in Burntisland is of national historic significance. Councillor William Leggatt has pushed for the site to be both recognised and protected since the discovery came to light. "There's a lot more in Fife and I'm quite sure there is a lot more to find on the Binn Hill itself, because it has been an important site through the ages," he said.
The actor and poet Michael Kelly, who has appeared in films with Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson, made a similarly momentous discovery when he noticed something glinting at his feet in a freshly ploughed field, while scouting for film locations. The polished axe head, which may be 5,000 years old, is a very rare example of a ceremonial axe. The craftsmanship that has gone into its production means it could have been used or owned by an important individual or by a religious figure for ceremonial or ritual purposes. The stone itself is probably not native to the area and appears to have been imported from another region, possibly as far away as Cumbria, probably already as a finished tool.
Such long-distance trade in fine exotic axes is well recorded in the Neolithic period and there were various centres that produced axes that supplied large geographical areas. Mr Kelly discovered the axe head in April, but it wasn't until he showed it to a friend that he began to realise its true significance. He has so far resisted requests to hand over the small axe head, saying he intends to resist the law of treasure trove, which means artefacts of a certain age have to be handed over to the Crown. He said: "It really is something to hold in your hand, and think about what has happened. I found it two miles from my house and it makes you think about people working and living in your own wee town all those years ago." He added: "I am aware of the laws. But I want to make my film and I think if Fife Council want to put this in their museum or their library they should put up some money. I have been told I will be given about £300 or £400 for it but I think it is worth at least £5,000. If they don't manage to come up with that I might just lose it."
Mr Speirs has had an exciting few weeks, having been privy to two hugely significant Neolithic discoveries on his patch. Of the axe-head, he said: "This is exciting, a rare and remarkable find, and an outstanding example of a mid-neolithic ceremonial piece."
17 July 2003
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I work offshore in the North Sea as a rig medic. 55+ years old. Nationalist to the core. Have been interested in ancient sites as long as I can remember, due to my Dad's interest in history. Traced my ancestry back to the 1650's. Run a website about the little Fife town I was born and brought up in, Burntisland. Run a website on Stone Circles in Angus and Perthshire. Learning Gaelic, but not very fluent so far. Spend a lot of time walking in the hills. Member of the Scottish Megaraks. Sanity often questioned....