This is a summary account of the excavations at Auchnacraig 1 and 3 rock art panels between 20th and 27th June 2019. This report was written with site supervisor, Alison Douglas. This is a summary and provisional account, with a more detailed publication to follow in the future. The project was featured in the Clydebank Post.
Introduction and background
Faifley Rocks! is a project researching prehistoric rock art sites to the north of Faifley, Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, using excavation, survey, oral history and archival research. The largest rock art site in the area, the Cochno Stone, has received the most attention, but sits within a small group of c 16 rock art panels. Some of these sites were identified in the late nineteenth century, others through more recent fieldwork, but no comprehensive work has been done on any of these sites since Ronald Morris’s fieldwork in the 1960s and 1970s (Morris 1981).
The starting points for Faifley Rocks have been excavation and survey work related to the Cochno Stone (2015-16, Brophy 2018) and the 3D recording of Faifley’s rock-art undertaken by HES’s Scotland’s Rock-art Project (SCRAP) in 2019.
- Cochno Stone excavation summary account
- 3D models of Faifley’s rock art (sites Edinbarnet, Whitehill, Law Farm and Auchnacraig) on sketchfab
Faifley Rocks! intends to:
- identify features, materials & activity related to rock art decorated outcrops;
- recover material related to the chronology & environmental context of the rock art;
- identify additional symbols on buried outcrop areas and explore connections between symbols and aspects of the natural rock;
- quantify and interpret rock art and graffiti on each rock outcrop;
- raise the profile of Faifley’s rock-art locally and more broadly;
- inform ongoing local consultation on the future of the Cochno Stone;
- support the development of a rock art walking trail in the area and provide information for other forms of public engagement, analogue and digital;
- work with local communities and schools to provide information, skills and learning opportunities.
The overall intention of Faifley Rocks is to place the rock art within its prehistoric, and contemporary, context, explore the social value of prehistoric rock art and identify ways to use the rock art for social benefit of the local and broader community. As part of this commitment, summary reports on all fieldwork will be posted on this blog.
Auchnacraig 2019 (AC19) excavations
In June 2019, excavations took place around two of the rock art sites in the area, known as Auchnacraig 1 and 3. These are situated within 10m of one another in Auchnacraig Park at the edge of a clearing that was previously occupied by Auchnacraig House. They are located at NS 5028 7366 and NS 5029 7365 and have this Canmore ID.
These two rock art sites (along with nearby Auchnacraig 4 and the Cochno Stone) were first documented in the late 1880s by Rev Harvey (1889). He noted that the carved stone were at that time located in moorland, and that the outcrops bore marks of glaciation. He identified all rocks as sandstone.
Auchnacraig 1 (Harvey called this Rock B) was said to dip at an angle of 30 degrees and was covered in a profusion of cupmarks (up to 90) and some rings, as well as other markings and a large basin. He noted the connection between natural cracks and ‘ducts’, and some of the symbols. Ronald Morris said of Auchnacraig 1: ‘Prominent smooth gritstone slab sloping 30 degrees from 1m high on the east to ground level on west. 7m by 5m. On it are nearly 100 cups…at least 6 are surrounded by weathered rings, mostly now incomplete. These include 3 cup-and-three-rings, one with two radial grooves in the ‘keyhole pattern’. Largest ring 22cm in diameter’ (1981, 85). When Morris visited this site in June / July 1968, it was situated within the garden and lawn of Auchnacraig House. He wrote in his notes from one visit that this rock was only a few metres from the corner of the building, and that the House looked derelict.
Auchnacraig 3 has received much less attention. Harvey called this his Stone C and noted that it was a rock that had seven cupmarks on it. These were, he noted, of ‘exceptionally large diameter’ (1889, 137). Morris simply noted the presence and the existence of a few cupmarks on this surface of the other panel, Auchnacraig 3. He did not give this site its own number and the label Auchnacraig 3 comes from the SCRAP database.
Both sites were also visited by an OS fieldworker in 1951, when the stones were situated in the garden of Auchnacraig House. It was noted that no rings were visible on any of the outcrops (incorrectly in the case of Auchnacraig 1). Both were partially covered in vegetation and located on the edge of a lawn at this time.
In March 2019, these panels were subject to detailed recording and photogrammetry as part of Scotland’s Rock art Project (SCRAP). By this time, as has been the case since the 1980s, the rocks were situated in a cleared area in an urban park, reflecting the remnants of the footprint of Auchnacraig House and gardens.
The SCRAP survey identified several distinctive long ‘gutters’ running down the slope of Auchnacraig 1 which were not recorded by Morris (who presumably felt them to be natural features of the rock). It was also noted that graffiti, and a cup-and-ring mark, are evident on the vertical eastern face of the stone, again previously unrecorded. A more detailed analysis of the symbols and natural features on all rock art sites in the area is currently underway and will be reported on in the future.
June 2019 excavation
The specific research questions for the excavation of these two panels are:
- Do carvings extend beyond the currently exposed outcrop?
- What evidence is there for activity in prehistory, and in the twentieth century?
- How do the panels physically and spatially relate to one another?
- Was the rock-art incorporated into the garden or any other structures associated with 20th century activity here?
- Are there any traces left of the house, garden or associated features?
Three trenches were opened as part of AC19, two around Auchnacraig 1 and one around Auchnacraig 3. Furthermore, geophysical survey was undertaken in the area immediately to the east of the rock art in the area of Auchnacraig House and garden. The results of this will be reported on fully once processed.
3.5m east-west by 1.5m running east from the vertical face of Auchnacraig 1.
A number of soil layers were identified within this trench, laid on top of bedrock which sloped to the southwest. These were, in simple terms, an orange-brown soil (105/112) interpreted as a ‘garden soil’ with darker topsoil layers on top (100/113/101).
A concentration of rounded and angular stones was identified hard up against the vertical face of the rock outcrop (102). This consisted of a series of large stones up to 0.3m across; they were set in a roughly level layer consisting of one course of stones. This extended 0.8m out from the main outcrop and extended across the width of the trench. This was set within a matrix of dark silt loam (101) which was similar but darker than topsoil 100/113.
The bedrock was 0.7m beneath the surface at the rock face end of the trench, and 0.08m below the surface at the eastern end of the trench. This is the same sedimentary rock as both rock outcrops with rock art here. There were signs of glacial plucking on this bedrock surface.
Small finds from within this trench were not in secure contexts and included modern rubbish and roofing material, presumably from the house.
A trench measuring 1.5m by 3.2m was opened on the southern side of Auchnacraig 1 running from a ‘crack’ in the rock; an extension was added to the southern end of this trench, on the west side, measuring 1m x 1.8m.
The stratigraphy in the trench was fairly simple, with a mid-brown clay-slit soil (117), at least 0.7m deep, underlying a fairly shallow dark brown to black loam topsoil (104).
Overlying layer 117 was a drystone kerb or wall was running east-west adjacent to the southern edge of the outcrop (107/108). A gap in this wall about 0.8m across coincided with extensions of the kerb northwards on both sides of this gap for c1m and abutting / overlying the rock outcrop’s southern sloped extent.
Rubble deposit 109 was found in the ‘entrance area’ within and protruding through topsoil 104, consisting of scattered stones up to 0.4m in length although most were much smaller.
A cup marked stone was found amidst the wall, on the western corner of the entrance area. This has not previously been recorded.
Small finds from this trench did not come from a secure context. In topsoil layer 104, a marble was found, and a metal ‘box’ was in the same layer in the ‘entrance’ area.
A trench measuring at its maximum 4m east-west by 5.4m north-south was opened on the north-east and eastern side of Auchnacraig 3.
Distinctive markings were noted on the rock outcrop including striations running along the rock (glacial markings). A natural vesicle was also noted on a lower section of the outcrop, and while this is natural, it looks like a cup mark. Scrapes on the rock’s upper surface are probably plough marks suggesting that before this was a garden, this area was a field.
This trench had simple stratigraphy. The natural was an orange-brown-pink boulder clay (303) which in places we dug into to establish this was the natural. Above this was an orange-brown ‘garden’ soil (similar to 105/112 in Trench A1b); this layer, 302, was between 0.2 and 0.3m deep and spread across extent of the trench beyond the outcrop. Above this was a topsoil layer, 300, which was a dark brown loam with small stone inclusions. This layer was no more than 0.2m thick and was essentially the same as topsoil layers 104 and 100/113 in the other trenches. No features were found cut into the natural.
Small finds from within this trench were not in secure contexts and were modern debris and roofing material, presumably from the house. There was evidence for fires having been set in the topsoil, modern surface activity.
These modest trenches at first glance did not reveal much of prehistoric relevance to the carving of these rock art panels. However, the interplay between natural features and the carved symbols are an important element in the story of this location in prehistory. The natural vesicle found at Auchnacraig 3 looks like a cupmark and may have been regarded as such in the Neolithic period, although unlike a similar feature found at Copt Howe, Lake District, this had not been augmented by a carved ring (Bradley et al. 2019).
Source: Bradley et at 2019
The glacial striations and signs of plucking found during the excavation may also have played a role in the significance of these outcrops, not least due to the entanglement of symbols with cracks, veins and so on evident on the surface of Auchnacraig 1. Unlike other rock art sites such as Torbhlaren, Argyll and Bute (Jones et al. 2011), no material was found in any cracks on either outcrop although several large stones are still to be analysed.
The collection of rocks found in Trench A1a was at first glance interpreted as the result of a modern gardening activity. However, it is worth bearing in mind that a similar rocky setting at Copt Howe has been interpreted as a ‘rubble platform’ contemporary with the carving of the stone. This was, as at Auchnacraig, set up hard against a vertical face with carvings on it. Bradley et al (2019) have suggested this architectural trait is shared with Irish passage graves. That the rubble layer at Auchnacraig appears to have sat upon a layer we interpreted as a garden soil suggests this is not a likely interpretation of what we found, but it is worth bearing in mind and we cannot rule out the possibility that these stones were indeed set there in prehistory and our interpretation of the sequence might be revisited. A less well-defined version of this was found at Rock 1, Ben Lawers, Perth and Kinross, during excavations and interpreted as a ‘cobbled surface’ (Bradley et al 2012, 38).
Twentieth century use of the rock art as elaborate garden features is apparent, especially in the constructed wall or kerb on the south side of Auchnacraig 1. This kerb or wall continues for some 2m to the west, before merging or joining a broader coarser wall or bank which runs to the south. Morris’s photos of this stone (such as the one included above from 1968) show a similar drystone wall beyond the rock, suggesting these were two sides of a pathway skirting south of the rock art. This arrangement, and a possible rockery on the west side of the rock outcrop, will be explored in a future season of work.
The inclusion, probably deliberately, of a cup marked stone at the entrance area of the kerb or wall suggests the house owners were keen to celebrate the rock art in their garden and none of this is a coincidence. The discovery of a marble in this area suggests that the rock art outcrop here was not just a garden feature, but a place where children played; the latter was also the case at the Cochno Stone (Brophy 2018). It seems that this richly decorated stone was a matter of some pride for the house owners, and aspects of the garden here were arranged around it.
The excavation was funded by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Permission to carry out the work was given by West Dunbartonshire Council; thanks to Donald Petrie for arranging this.
Equipment was provided by the University of Glasgow. Thanks to Aris Palyvos for organising and transporting tools. We’re also grateful to the staff at Cochno Farm for allowing us to store equipment there.
Thanks to Tessa Poller, and Aris, for coming out to do the geophysical survey and survey the trench locations.
The site supervisor was Alison Douglas, and Alison also did all filming for Digging for Britain.
We appreciated the large number of helpers who came along and worked on site, in particular Tom Davis who put in a legendary performance. Other team members (in alphabetical order) were: Clare Archibald, Tristan Boyle, Pamela Diffin, Hayley Drysdale, Todd Ferguson, Lesley Fraser, Remy Grossman, Carolyn Hutchison, Christopher Ladds, Ellen Laird, Clare Love, Jools Maxwell, Rory McPherson, Gordon Morrison, Hannah Mould-Healy, Irene Pandolfi, Katherine Price, Linsey Reid, Nikki Reid, Hannah Ridley, Sandra Roxburgh, Jean and Tom Tumilty, Charlotte Walker, Jennifer Wallace, Simone Wason, Lauren Welsh, Ross Wood and Danielle Young.
Small finds were cleaned and catalogued by Dominic Pollock and Dominic also inked up and helped tidy the site drawings, some of which appear in this blog post.
We really appreciate the work done at these sites in March 2019 by the SCRAP team, led by Tertia Barnett and Maya Hoole. The 3D models of both rock art panels has been invaluable to this project.
Much appreciation to those who brought cakes: Jeremy Huggett, Dene Wright, Rebecca Younger and other friends who popped in with eagle eyes such as Gavin MacGregor.
Finally, thanks to each of the 100+ local people who visited the excavations including school children, and a massive thanks to the Clydebank High School Archaeology Club who came along and helped with the backfilling!
Bradley, R, Watson, A & Anderson-Whymark, H 2012 Excavation at four prehistoric rock-carvings on the Ben Lawers Estate, 2007-2010, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 142, 27-61.
Bradley, R, Watson, A & Style, P 2019 After the axes? The rock art at Copt Howe, North-west England, and the Neolithic sequence at Great Langdale. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society to be published December 2019.
Brophy, K 2015 The Cochno Stone: an archaeological investigation. Phase 1 summary report. [Available from https://theurbanprehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/the-cochno-stone-exposed/]
Brophy, K 2016 Revealing the Cochno Stone: Phase 2 excavation and digital recording summary report. [Available from https://theurbanprehistorian.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/dig-cochno/]
Brophy, K 2018 ‘The finest set of cup and ring marks in existence’: the story of the Cochno Stone, West Dunbartonshire. Scottish Archaeological Journal 40, 1-23.
Harvey, J 1889 Notes on some undescribed cup-marked rocks at Duntocher, Dumbartonshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 23, 130-7.
Jones, A, Freedman, D, O’Connor, B & Lamdin-Whymark, H 2011 An animate landscape: rock-art and the prehistory of Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland. Oxford: Windgather.
Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock-art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway), Oxford: BAR British Series 86.