Satnav crannogs

Punching the word crannog into the satnav in my phone reveals several possible destinations within relatively easy drive of Glasgow, and none of them involve time-travelling back to the Iron Age (ha ha). (Come to think of it, there is a certain allure to a four-dimensional satnav.) There are in fact six streets in Scotland that have crannog in their name, and I have visited all of them in the preparation for this blog post. They are located in western Scotland, in largely coastal locations as one might expect, although it is not immediately obvious in all cases why crannog has been chosen to name the thoroughfare. These streets have different chronological origins to, spanning a century or so. They represent a Way, a Lane, two Roads, and a Court. There is no pattern that connect these locations (other than that they are all in the southwestern quarter of Scotland) but what they do indicate is an ongoing desire to presence prehistory in urban settings. Anyway, let’s explore these crannog roadways in the order that I visited them and find out their stories.

Here is my fancy location map!

Firstly, a brief definition. The recent Historic Scotland membership magazine defined crannogs as ‘artificial islands mostly found in lochs’ and these have been found in Scotland to date from the Neolithic to the medieval period. Hundreds are known in northern Britain, but for the most part nowadays they are visible only as overgrown small islands or lost to landscape change over the past few centuries. I have blogged about crannogs before, such as the crannog that erupted out of Kilbirnie Loch due to the dumping of iron age slag in the late nineteenth century, or the muddy excavations at Lochend Loch that inspired a children’s playpark to be constructed in 2017. If you would like to experience a crannog in the future, I highly recommend supporting the Scottish Crannog Centre near Kenmore, Perth and Kinross; their crannog tragically burned down on the very same evening that I originally posted this online and so will now need public support more than ever.

Now if you have a car, tune your satnav, and within a few hours be standing next to a road sign that says crannog (assuming you live in Glasgow area). Tweet your satnav crannog selfies!

Crannog Lane, Oban, Argyll and Bute

This Obanian lane is hidden behind an increasingly large retail park that is in turn located near the new Cal Mac ferry terminal where one might depart to islands such as Mull and Tiree. The area is dominated by an assortment of industrial units with Crannog Lane being a cul-de-sac running off Lochavullin Road.

The latter name indicates the watery past of this location, with this area being largely under water in the past. Indeed the crannog the lane is named for was found during draining operations of Loch a’ Mhuillin in 1888. It was located just to the east of where the lane now is, a place occupied by a business called Oban Garages.

The crannog itself was documented by the wonderfully named Rev F Odo Blundell in the pages of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1913. In his own words:

Sadly the photo was not reproduced with this article and little else is known about this site although its memory lives on in the street and business names of this coastal town. In canmore it is further noted that, “A stone structure measuring about 26 metres by 16.2 metres was found to be resting on a platform of horizontal timbers consolidated by a number of upright piles. During examination of the site, a number of human and animal bones were recovered” but the source of this additional information is not given.

It seems that it is not just the crannog that won’t go away.

Urbanisation is not half as clever as it thinks it is.

Crannog Way, Kilwinning, North Ayrshire

When driving from Lanarkshire to Ardrossan to get an early ferry over to the island of Arran it is a no brainer to drop into Kilwinning to visit Crannog Way. That is exactly what I did one sunny spring morning although I almost missed the ferry due to a massive roadworks-caused traffic jam on the south side of the town. The trusty satnav was fired up and guided me to my destination in a mellifluous corporate tone.

Upon arrival in a large housing estate on the north side of town I was annoyed to note that there was only one street sign to indicate that this winding street was called Crannog Way. In fact the only sign was in the side of a house. After some swithering I parked round the block and walked towards the house determined to somehow discretely photograph the house (people do not like their houses being photographed as I have discovered over many years of doing this kind of thing). I was able to stand across the road and pretend I was looking at my phone while I actually was taking a photo. Cunning!

I think I got away with it. I would not be so lucky next time (see below). After exploring a little around the various cul-de-sacs that form this suburban street, I headed back to the car where I was hoping the weird guy who was staring at me from his door when I parked had gone away.

Just round the corner was a bus-stop and it was nice to see that Crannog Way featured here and then I wished I had got the number 27 to this spot just so I could have asked the driver for a return to Crannog Way and avoided the dreaded weird guy glare.

The reason for this Crannog street name did not seem as clear for Kilwinning and it did for Oban. So I sent out a tweet to ask for help. A helpful reply by @abstractnarwhal pointed me in the direction of a crannog on Ashgrove Loch about 2km to the west of Crannog Way. The latter is now little more than an irregular mound of stones in a small loch that was once a much bigger loch; it was found during draining of this area in 1868 and excavated by Smith. For some reason this small body of water is depicted on current OS maps as Stevenston or Ashgrove Loch, hinting at some conflict or indecision.

Archaeologist Tom Rees of Rathmell Archaeology who is a total Kilwinning expert noted that there were ‘tons of crannog sites hereabouts’ including at Todhills. In fact there are only a few crannogs in the vicinity of Kilwinning; in his excavation report on Ashgrove, Smith notes that he felt there were five other crannogs in that loch alone and maps certainly suggest this was once a bigger body of water but no evidence for any of these now survives. The Todhill site mentioned by Tom is located about 2km to the south of the street. This site was documented again by Smith in his 1895 book Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire, in effect a series of large and rough oak beams found during the construction of a railway bridge.

The crannogs that surround the western side of Kilwinning represent a curious group of sites to name a street after but then there are only so many names to go around. There is perhaps an informal heritage theme in this estate, with Foundry Wynd and Forge Vennel nearby. It is also nice to see mention of the Ashgrove Crannog on a local heritage website accompanied by this nice reconstruction drawing (I think this is by Alan Braby).

As I walked back to the car, anxiously consulting the ferry timetable once again, I passed a funny little pile of stones and a cairn, careless lazy landscaping that I have long since stopped considering of interest. I climbed back into my vehicle, glad to see the weird man was gone, and the only weird man left in the area was me sat in my car with my hard-earned photograph.

Crannog Road, Milton, West Dunbartonshire

I was itching to get to the third one now, and the opportunity came when I had to make a rare trip into the University library, from which it was only another nine miles or so drive along Great Western Road to Crannog Road in Milton. Now, this is a place that has big crannog credentials, being located on the north side of the Clyde and less than a kilometre to the east-north-east of Dumbuck Crannog. This famous crannog was excavated in 1898 by the dynamic team of John Bruce and William Donnelly (who had three years previously undertaken the first scale drawing of the completely cleared Cochno Stone, explored in an earlier blog post).

Once again I set my controls to the heart of Crannog Road and headed off, annoyingly having to drive a couple of miles beyond my junction due to a pesky central reservation. I wheeled up a narrow suburban street called Colquhon Road weaving between parked cars, swung a left and then parked up just below a sign pointing back downhill to the right and Crannog Road!

I walked down, once again aware that I appeared to be behaving suspiciously and followed the road down a steep slope and then to the right along to a block of flats. The road mostly runs parallel to the A82, overlooking it and with fine views over the Clyde. It had houses only on one side and I tried my old ‘casually looking at the phone whilst taking a photo’ trick when I saw a house with a nice slate Crannog Road number sign. Sadly I was rumbled and a guy bounded straight out and asked if I needed help with anything. To be fair he did actually believe my bizarre explanation for standing outside his house taking a photo and I re-assured him the photo was for my archive, not publication on my blog. We left things on good terms but I suspect he thought I was daft.

The chap had not heard of Dumbuck Crannog but knew that a lot of old stuff had been found in the vicinity. In fact in its day this crannog was a big media story, firstly due to the high profile excavations, followed by a scandals surrounding apparently faked finds. All of this is documented in a wonderful book by Hale and Sands called Controversy on the Clyde (2005, downloads can be found via a wee google) and I recommend you check it out for a slice of Scottish archaeology strangeness.

Anyway, I headed on to the block of flats which to my delight are called Crannog Court, even with a nice pink metal sign back down at Great Western Road level that I must have driven past dozens of times without noticing. So much urban prehistory is like this: we just drive past, eyes fixed on the road (to be fair that is the safest way to drive).

This is not the first building here to be named for the crannog. Canmore documents a house here called Crannog Cottage. Indeed some of the houses here are known as Crannog Cottages on estate agent websites – ‘rarely available on the open market’ – which perhaps makes them sounds more alluring as a purchase option. Buildings are shown here on the 1862 1st edition OS map (pre-crannog of course) and a couple of these buildings are still standing including a pub.

As I walked back to the car, I stopped at a bus-stop and sure enough, as with Kilwinning, Crannog had made its way onto the bus timetable. Or had it? In fact an egregious spelling mistake means that buses all now stop at Cranning Court….

Crannog Road, Court and View, Lochfoot, Dumfries and Galloway

My epic series of visits ended with a trip to the motherlode of crannog street names, a cul-de-sac complex on the western edge of Lochfoot, a village just outside Dumfries. As it happens I was passing during a short holiday in the area and it was a pleasure to pull up the car as the satnav announced ‘you have now reached your destination’. Here can be found three short residential streets with crannog in the name and I wandered up and down this perfectly charming area for all of three minutes discretely taking photos of the street signs like a naughty train spotter. The crannog streets were deathly quiet, and not even a curtain twitched.

To the south, across the main road, lies Lochrutton Loch; centrally located within is a crannog. This is one of a number of islands and structures within and around this loch, but is the only one which is actually a crannog. A cracker too.

This crannog is a large tree-covered mound, some 40m across, 3m high, and was subject to excavation in 1901 – 1902 and also detailed survey in 2002. The excavation was undertaken by J Barbour and published in the Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society volume 17 (1905). Wooden supports and structures were noted, and objects dating from pre-1300AD found. Detailed survey of the crannog as part of the South West Crannog Survey (SWCS) project showed the huge potential for this site to contain well-preserved organic materials including worked wooden supports and troughs.

The copyright on this image is owned by James Allan and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

The SWCS team noted (to add some local colour to this account) that, “Freshwater oysters were living all over the mound, suggesting that the water is of good quality, notwithstanding local reports of slurry-dumping” (Henderson et al 2003).

Back in the car, and satnav switched off, I reflected on what I had learned at the end of my ‘epic’ travels across western Scotland to visit all the Crannog streets, while trying not to draw any conclusions from the fact that every Crannog street I visited is a dead end. I suppose I was surprised there were so few, but also encouraged by the sometimes tendential nature of associations being made between urban streets and prehistoric sites in the vicinity.

Stuff from prehistory is resilient, and continues to have a presence in our contemporary landscapes despite indignities including excavation, draining, forgery and bad spelling.

Acknowledgements and sources: Thanks to those who I mentioned above who gave me help tracking down the crannog stories for each location on twitter. Three canmore images appear in the Crannog Road section, one showing an air photo of Dunbuck Crannog from 2005 (c) HES, one an aerial view of Lochrutton and Lochfoot from 2016 (c) HES, and the other showing visitors to the crannog excavations, from the J Harrison Maxwell collection.

I mentioned the following sources in the text:

Blundell, F. (1913). Further Notes on the Artificial Islands in the Highland Area. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 47, 257-302 [available free online]

Hale and Sands, A and R. (2005) Controversy on the Clyde, archaeologists, fakes and forgers: the excavation of the Dumbuck Crannog. Edinburgh.


Smith, J. (1894) On a stone crannog in Ashgrove Loch near Stevenston’, Archaeological and Historical Collections of Ayrshire & Galloway, vol. 7, 1894 (at least I think that is what this journal is called).

Henderson, JC, Crone, BA & Cavers, MG 2003. A condition survey of selected crannogs in south west Scotland. Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 77, 79-102.

In the shadow of the Wall

During this third lockdown Jan and I have been travelling around locally quite a lot for walks to visit Roman sites associated with the Antonine Wall, creating some resources for teaching. Having lived in Airdrie for 15 years, it comes as something of an embarrassment to say that I have never fully appreciated that I live, metaphorically at least, in the shadow of the Antonine Wall. This is not something that has ever impacted on my urban prehistorian activities, although on reflection it seems that there is a chronological case to be made that Roman sites should fall within my purview. After all, when the Romans were in the place that we now call Scotland, everyone else belonged to Iron Age cultural traditions. I have blogged before about Roman sites in urban contexts, notably South Shield Roman Fort Arbeia, albeit in the context of this being constructed bang on top of a prehistoric settlement site. Maybe this urban-Roman thing is an itch I now need to scratch. And so this brings me to this blog post which is more of a muse than a focused piece of writing, so please do indulge me.

The street names around South Shields – Vespasian Avenue, Julien Street – came flooding back to me on a recent visit to Bearsden on the north side of Glasgow to visit the Roman bathhouse there. We parked on Roman Road, and at the junction with Roman Drive, turned left. Then we ended up at Roman Court, just across the road from the Antonine House Care Home.

What have the Romans ever done for us? They gave us plenty of ideas for street names.

I have blogged before about the power and potential of street names to capture the archaeology of a place, although usually I have reflected on this in relation to developer-funded excavations at housing estates such as Cowie and Glenrothes. The documentation of the use of Romanised street and business names was one element of an AHRC funded project called Tales of the Frontier (2007-2009). Howard Williams has written about heritage street names too, for instance in relation to Wat’s Dyke (and see Williams 2020) so I won’t say anymore about this although it is a theme that this blog will return to from time to time.

Bearsden Roman bathhouse is a site I have seen photos of many times before but not visited. It has always struck me as the most urban of sites, with pictures almost always taken from the south showing the footings of the bathhouse with brown suburban flats looming over them, residents in the upper floors having a perpetual aerial view of this site. This is the aforementioned Roman Court, private residences which looked to me like they could have been used in a episode of Poirot. Although they are unlikely to be Christie-detective vintage if this 1979 photograph is anything to go by.

The geometrically-shaped flats seem to complement the regimented nature of the bathhouse itself, both spaces that need to be traversed in the correct order of things within the bounds of social convention. The bathhouse itself was something of a disappointment, with only occasional glimpses of the depth of remains and the hypocaust beneath. I prefered the bathhouse at Bothwellhaugh, another recent visit.

Both of these bathhouses are stranded in space and time, with the forts that once accompanied them now lost, in the case of Bearsden beneath urban sprawl, in the case of Bothwellhaugh lost to the inundation of Strathclyde Park loch. The latter was so disturbed that the whole bathhouse was dismantled and rebuilt in 1975 in a location that would not be underwater. This was Antonine but set far back from the Wall and frontier, and now sits near the entertainment complex that is M&Ds, ‘Scotland’s theme park’, a venture now lost to the Covid flood.

Another day, another bathhouse, this time in a more standard rural location at Bar Hill, albeit it with spectacular views of the Kelvin Valley that might have occupied the tired soldiers as they dis-robed and prepared for the tepidarium. This structure is barely legible compared to the others, largely succumbing to grass and HES landscaping, but with the usual series of spaces of increasing warmth present and correct. It would not be fair to say that the Romans were predictable, but the presence of Mediterranean style principal’s houses in northern Britain as at Bar Hill and Rough Castle forts does suggest something of a lack of flexibility, maybe also an unwillingness to bend to local weather conditions, the kind of stubbornness that wins you, and the loses, empires.

Photo: Jan Brophy

Bar Hill is also a site that has re-assuring quantities of concrete, setting out the floor plan of the buildings, in a way that very much reminded me of the presentation of Doon Hill Neolithic timber hall in East Lothian, two sites separated by 4,000 years but now with a shared brutal educational aesthetic.

Bar Hill
Doon Hill

I’m sure plenty of concrete lurks within the fabric of the bathhouse in Bearsden, holding it together, binding together the ancient and the twentieth century. There is a synchronicity between the evolving form of these Roman sites and the demands of our modern world that very much interests me, and this had led to the Antonine Wall and its accoutrements having a fleeting presence across Scotland’s central belt, whether escaping in the parks of Falkirk or popping through a crack in a cemetery in Bearsden.

And it to Bearsden we return, to some modest prehistoric activity that is located in the shadow of the Wall, but dates back thousands of years before the relatively fleeting Roman presences in Caledonia. Ahead of the construction of a modest housing development (in size, not in terms of house style) on the very eastern fringe of the town a cluster of prehistoric pits were found by GUARD Archaeology Ltd in 2017-18 and the results of this work were published in the Scottish Archaeological Journal in the early months of this year (Kirpatrick 2021).

Development location outlined in red, and the cemetery and Roman remains (Google maps)

These humble and unspectacular holes in the ground could not contrast more with the might of the Roman wall that passes through a cemetery just a few hundred metres to the north, a cemetery that appears to have been laid out in the shape of a Roman soldier’s head (or is this my imagination?). These pits barely need a formal academic journal publication and yet I am glad they have, and they are sure to be of interest to members of the Glasgow Archaeological Society, which produces this journal.

Archaeologists identified various features associated with human activity in this housing plot, which was at the time a field. This included a group of six shallow pits some of which contained decent quantities of burnt hazel nutshells. Two larger pits were found towards the northwest of the excavation area (numbers 003 and 005) up to 1.65m across and 30cm deep, and nearby a small posthole (009) was found, containing flakes of quartz and quartzite. The former may have been used as a polisher. Radiocarbon dates showed that these features belonged to the sixth to fourth millennium cal BC (late Mesolithic into early Neolithic). Environmental evidence points to a woodland setting. Here we have evidence of a few instances of occupation of this location, with the lighting of fires and preparation of food, nothing more. These are the ghosts that walked this land when the Romans arrived with their disciplined building machine over 3,000 years later, and we might speculate that during wall building operations, the soldiers disturbed similar pits and postholes, churning hazel nutshells and stone tools into the fabric of the border of the Empire, colonizing even the rubbish of the ancestors of the locals.

Of course I had to visit, and so after exploring the bathhouse, Jan and I headed up to Crieff Avenue, the incongruous name given to this development’s single road (why not Campsite Crescent or Quartz Quadrant?). Like so many new housing developments, the place did not yet look worn in, and residents watched us suspiciously as we invaded their weekend peace.

Of course there was no indication that this self-contained little suburb on the urban fringe was once a location where holes were dug, fires were lit, and leather was polished. Why should there be? Bearsden has a heritage that is dominated by the Romans, to the extent that even here there seems to be a touch of their architecture in a children’s play park set up at the centre of this development. I am sure that there is similar wooden playground furniture in a park in the centre of Kirkintilloch, noticed on another recent walk. There are certainly genuine Roman-themed playgrounds across central Scotland thanks to the World Heritage Site delivery team for the Wall, one in each of the five council areas that are straddled by this frontier. But then on Crieff Avenue there is also a wobbly thing shaped like a seal and a cluster of random boulders, so perhaps I am starting to read too much into things. This stuff starts to get to you.

View towards where the two large pits and a posthole were found, with Roman fortification playpark (maybe)

Spending a brief time in this estate-within-an-estate, I confess there was little sense of pastness or heritage here. This small development has radically transformed this location to the extent that former vistas have become impossible to experience, while older neighbouring houses that once had rural views now look onto shiny new houses with butterscotch walls. The excavation images from the report and site archive offer an archival insight into what this place used to look like, how we used to live. There is no point however in bemoaning the uniformity of contemporary housing developments and playparks; I am sure in the Mesolithic one pit looked pretty much the same as any other pit.

Before and after. Arrow shows the same building gable end. Left from Kirkpatrick 2021, right from my visit

This Bearsden visit prompted me to look back on another old urban prehistory project, my quest to find and make sense of a giant head / boat that was eventually tracked down to a scrapyard on the Clyde. During some research into this, I acquired from my parents an old programme for the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival from my parents. This included description of Roman elements in this gargantuan garden-themed event, also on the south bank of the Clyde, namely The Antonine Garden, partially based on the Bearsden bathhouse. So far as I can tell, some of the stonework here was from the actual fort and bathhouse.

Image from the Glasgow Garden Festival programme (1988), original (c) Mitchell Library GC f607.3441443 GLA

The blurb accompanying this image noted that the ‘design emphasised the transition from Roman to Pict’. Other Roman bits and pieces were included here which is nice to know, but having visited this event many times as a 15 year-old I have no memory of this whatsoever.

Weirdly, the Antonine Gardens were then transferred to near Burnbrae Roundabout in Milngavie, another posh suburb of Glasgow near Bearsden. This was the fate of many elements of the Festival which are scattered across Scotland such as the aforementioned giant head or the huge garden tools visible from the M80 at Cumbernauld. This includes a replica mini distance slab and some nifty landscaping in a place that is essentially a busy traffic intersection. The reconstruction of this replica stone-by-stone has curious echoes of the movement of the bathhouse at Bothwellhaugh.

Visiting these gardens was the final element of my lockdown walk exploration of the bathhouse and brought home to me once again how entangled these Roman places were with the local Iron Age communities. Or as the noticeboard at the ANTONIVS PIVS garden suggests, the Picts (!?). In the weird internal logic of the noticeboard on site, their territory, ‘Pict Landscape’, is now Waitrose and Aldi supermarkets and a big car park.

To visit these gardens, I left the car (and Jan) in a nearby car park for a pub and Premier Inn. These were closed, the car park empty, a victim of Lockdown 3 regulations. It was an unsettling reminder of our current reality. Yet as I walked back to the car after visiting PIVS gardens, this deserted car park made me think of the empty forts, bathhouses and fortlets that were left behind as the Romans left after their brief occupancy of this area 1800 or so years ago. They left behind them prehistory, but this emptiness was not hopeless, but rather a void within which new opportunities would emerge, focused on a better future.

Sources and acknowledgements: thanks to Jan for accompanying me on these various walks and also for allowing me the chance to contribute to her teaching despite my obvious lack of knowledge about all things Roman.

I mentioned a few citations in the text:

Williams, H 2020 Living after Offa: place-names and social memory in the Welsh Marshes. Offa’s Dyke Journal 2, 103-40.

Kilpatrick, M 2021 When Birnam Wood rises: prehistoric activity at Birnam Crescent, Bearsden, Glasgow. Scottish Archaeological Journal 43, 69-78.

Great crown of stone

Exactly a year ago, 20th March 2019. the new Sighthill stone circle was officially revealed to the media. Designed, as was the first iteration, by Duncan Lunan, this astronomically aligned stone circle has been constructed as a permanent and unique resource within the emerging new Sighthill just to the north-east of Glasgow city centre.

At the time when this new megalith began to emerge, it sat on a raised island amidst a giant muddy building site. Sighthill itself was yet to be reborn, the old variant having been more or less completely bulldozed and remediated as part of a £250 million redevelopment. The standing stones stood resplendent like teeth, their concrete foundations exposed like white gums. At the time they sat in a noisy landscape of construction, with the closest neighbour being a Mercedes car dealership, a Ballardian crash of epic proportions.

A year on, residential Sighthill is now growing slowly, although the stone circle remains (just) in glorious isolation. It still sits in a brownscape of mud amidst machines of construction, but it is slowly visually and metaphorically being lost in an urban skyline. Yet even now, driving west along the M8 into the city centre, the Sighthill’s second stone circle is a fantastic site / sight, emerging as it does on the horizon off to the left. A similar and wonderful view can be gained by the pedestrian by standing on Baird Street bridge over the motorway.

The stone circle is surely Glasgow’s Angel of the North, a great crown of stone on the horizon.

This photo essay (my rather grand description of what is basically a series of photographs) documents the time I was privileged to spend in and around the stone circle on 20th March 2019 thanks to a kind invitation from Duncan.

Duncan prepares
Media scrum
The gathering
PPE and me
Pilgrims
High vis 1
Mud bath
The mints
Megalith bagging
Camera obscura
Alignment
Photo op
City limits
High vis 2
Through a crack
Great crown of stone
Mounds and megaliths
Artist’s impression of the circle when its new urban setting is completed (artist unknown)

Faifley Rocks WH19

This is a summary account of the excavations at Whitehill 3, 4 and 5 rock art panels between 13th and 19th August 2019. This report was written with co-director, Yvonne Robertson. This is a brief and provisional account, with a more detailed publication to follow in the future.

zines
Zines inspired by the excavations, created by University of Glasgow archaeology students

Faifley Rocks! is a project researching prehistoric rock art sites to the north of Faifley, Clydebank, West (and as it turns out East) 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 (reported on in Morris 1981).

This was the second excavation as part of the project, following work at Auchnacraig in June 2019. The summary report of this excavation includes some more background on the project which need not be repeated here.

Whitehill 2019 excavations

In August 2019, excavation took place around three of the rock art sites in the area, sites known as Whitehill 3, 4 and 5 in Scotland’s Rock Art Project (ScRAP) database. These outcrops are situated within a small area of woodland amidst arable fields immediately to the northeast of Whitehill Farm and north of Law Farm on a prominent landscape position with extensive views to the south. The outcrops are sedimentary, being gritstone or sandstone. They are located around NS 5138 7403 and are listed in canmore. These are just inside East Dunbartonshire and hence not quite on the map below right!

WH19 location map

location map
Red circle = Whitehill 3-5 location. Green circles = Whitehill 1-2 and 7 locations

Two of these sites were first recorded in the 1960s by Morris unlike the Auchnacraig sites which were first documented in the late nineteenth century. Morris documented these in his 1981 book The prehistoric rock-art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway). The numbering system he used is slightly different to the system adopted here; we are adopting the ScRAP nomenclature.

Whitehill 3 is the most extensive of the panels and located on the edge of an escarpment. Morris called this site Whitehill 5. It was initially briefly documented in the Morris and Bailey gazetteer (1967, 161) as a hilltop or break of slope location decorated with 25 cups and a few cups-with-rings. This is reflected in a sketch that is within his archive at HES (see below).

In 1971, Morris uncovered an area some 10m by 10m (although his plan suggests a smaller area was looked at) and found more symbols. He recorded, ‘5 cups-and-two-rings, at least 21 cups-and-one-ring, and at least 40 cups. Radial grooves were noted in some instances, and dumb-bell shapes identified’ (1981, 130).

IMAG3963
Sketch in Morris archive from 1960s showing the area of this rock that is typically visible (Image sourced by Denise Telford)

Morris plan of WH3
Morris’s drawing of Whitehill 3, published in 1981, based on a more energetic clearing of vegetation from the outcrop during a visit in 1971

IMAG3966
 Morris photo of Whitehill 3 presumably during the 1960s visit (Photo sourced by Denise Telford)

In March 2019, these panels were subject to detailed recording and photogrammetry as part of SCRAP. RTI survey of Whitehill 3 was also undertaken by a team from Glasgow School of Art. The SCRAP record for this site notes that 22 cupmarks, 13 cup-and-ring variants and 7 grooves were recorded; the latter are distinctive oblong cupmarks that the record sheet calls ‘courgettes’. An enigmatic graffiti symbol was also noted; this had been pointed out to me on previous visits. Connections between symbols and ‘fissures’ were noted.

Whitehill 3 model screengrab
3D scan of Whitehill 3 (c) HES / ScRAP

WH3 during 3D recording March 2019
Setting up for RTI recording of Whitehill 3 in March 2019 (photo: Alison Douglas)

Stevie rock-art low res
Another part of the Whitehill 3 panel usually covered by vegetation, on a visit in 2018 with Stevie Cafferty

During the SCRAP and Glasgow School of Art surveys, the site now called Whitehill 4 was discovered c20m to the south. This is described in the SCRAP Project database as a ‘domed sandstone outcrop’ that has four cupmarks, one of them dubious. Morris noted additional cupmarks at Whitehill but did not formally document them; this is probably one he spotted and referenced (1981, 133).

WH4 March 2019
Whitehill 4 photographed after recording in March 2019

WH4 3d scan screengrab
3D scan of Whitehill 4 (c) HES / ScRAP

The third panel in this location, 25m south of Whitehill 3, is known as Whitehill 5 in the SCRAP database. The survey in March 2019 identified seven cupmarks on this stone, which was entirely covered in turf at the time.

WH5 in March 2019
Whitehill 5 during recording in March 2019 (photo: Alison Douglas)

WH5 screengrab
3d model of Whitehill 5 (c) HES / ScRAP project

It is not clear if this is the same as Whitehill 6, a site was first recorded by Morris during the visit to the location in 1971 already noted above, having been found by a JM Stables (Morris 1971; 1981). Morris noted that the rock was carved with a ‘much-weathered cup-and-two-complete-rings, slightly oval’ (1981, 133) and suggested it was 55m south of SCRAP Whitehill 3. This site appears similar in Morris’s Plates 123 and 125 (see images below) but the presence of a clear cup-and-ring mark, and its location info, suggests this is a different panel.

Morris Whitehill images

Objectives: August 13-19th 2019 excavation

The specific research questions for the excavation of these three panels were:

  • 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?
  • Are there any other carved stones in the vicinity? Morris noted others that are not accounted for in the SCRAP survey eg Morris’s Whitehill 6 and 7.
  • Is there additional historic graffiti on the rock art at Whitehill?
  • What is the significance of the location of these sites eg in relation to views and other rock art such as Law Farm sites and SCRAP Whitehill 1-2?

Methodology

The excavation was conducted between the 13th and 19th August 2019 by Glasgow University staff and students, and local volunteers. Upon arrival, the area was subject to a visual inspection to ascertain the condition of the outcrops containing rock art and any further possible features and archaeological remains.

Essentially we ended up clearing vegetation from the outcrops rather than excavating the surrounding area due to the extensive nature of the bedrock.

Cleaning low res

Three ‘trenches’ were laid out focusing on the exposed outcrops at Whitehill 3, 4 and 5. Seven small test pits were also excavated (all but one measuring 1m by 1m) which were positioned in the surrounding woodland targeting areas of archaeological potential both on the ridge and in the valley below. The trenches and test pits were all hand dug, with contexts and rock art being recorded in plan and section, as appropriate, by measured drawing, digital photography, and written descriptions on pro forma sheets. Photogrammetry was also conducted on all three exposed rock art outcrops. After excavation and recording the excavated material was replaced and the turf reinstated.

sketch site plan
Sketch map showing the locations of the three trenches and test pits 1-7. Base map is OS 1st edition.

Results

Trench W3

Trench W3 aimed to investigate the largest of the three known Whitehill rock art sites, Whitehill 3, where a number of cup marks were already visible on an exposed outcrop of bedrock.

A trench measuring 5.0 m by 5.0 m was opened over the exposed outcrop and the flat top to the west and north covered with a shallow layer of turf and topsoil. An extension measuring 2.5m by 1.0m was opened to the west of the trench as well as an extension to the north-east measuring approximately 2.5 m by 2.0 m in order to investigate a wider area for potential rock art symbols. Turf was also cleared off the steep slope of the outcrop to the east in order to investigate the potential for further symbols.

WH3 low res a

Where present, the topsoil comprised a shallow layer (0.15m) of loose medium to dark brown silt loam (context number 301/303) which contained modern glass, plastic and metal as well as a small quartz pebble (Find 1) recovered from a crack in the bedrock. The topsoil directly overlay the natural bedrock (300) in the majority of the trench although pockets of a medium orange brown silt clay with infrequent small pebble inclusions (302) and a medium dark grey silt clay with frequent angular stone inclusions measuring 0.05-0.10 m (304) were recorded in pockets across the trench within natural fissures in the bedrock. This material was relatively sterile and was interpreted as natural hill wash. Disturbance caused by tree roots was apparent throughout deposits across the trench.

WH3 low res b

Bedrock (300) was encountered across the entire trench. The bedrock was a large flat-topped sedimentary outcrop which sloped steeply downwards to the east and gently sloped to the north, west and south.  Up to 65 carved symbols, including c. 33 cupmarks, 16 cup-and-ring marks, six cup-and-ring marks with double rings, eight oval/elongated cupmarks or grooves and at least two radials, were recorded within the trench, largely concentrated on the flat top of the outcrop (see photos). The symbols were of varying size, depth and quality, and dispersed in no clear pattern across the outcrop, and some had clearly been weathered as a result of having been exposed.  Large natural cracks where the bedrock had fragmented in parts were visible across the surface in a north-east to south-west orientation and these areas were devoid of markings. A graffiti symbol was also recorded on the bedrock (300) where the rock had previously been exposed; the meaning of this symbol remains unknown.

graffiti on wh3 low res
Graffiti on Whitehill 3. This might be upside down! 10p for scale.

Trench W4

Trench W4 measured 4.0 m by 3.0 m and was centred on a bedrock outcrop to the south-west of Whitehill 3 known as Whitehill 4. Prior to excavation, four cupmarks were visible on the bedrock outcrop and the trench aimed to investigate whether further symbols were present as well as whether any further archaeological features were present in the area surrounding the outcrop.

Context 405

The trench was largely covered by topsoil (401) comprising a friable dark black brown clay loam with occasional angular stone inclusions (measuring 0.05 – 0.20m) as well as rare charcoal flecks. Modern glass and plastic as well as a post-medieval or modern ceramic fragment (SF 2) were present within the topsoil. The topsoil directly overlay bedrock (400) in the centre of the trench, however, an underlying clay silt wash comprising dark brown clay silt with occasional angular stones and frequent charcoal (402) was recorded in pockets of the trench within undulations in the bedrock (400).

WH4 after first clean
Whitehill 4 after initial cleaning. Greasy silty dark brown (402) in patches visible across the trench, these presumably washed into cracks in the rock.

This deposit also overlay what initially appeared to be a rubble stone wall comprising angular stones (measuring 0.08m – 0.30m) in the north-west corner of the trench. Further rubble material was encountered to the immediate east of this within a large sub-rectangular depression (404). Fragmented bedrock as well as other fragmented stone within a grey silt wash matrix similar to (402) filled the depression and may have been a leveling deposit within a natural hollow, purposefully placed for a platform or trackway or naturally occurring.

WH4 stone cluster
Mid-excavation view of possible leveling deposit from the west

To the south of the Whitehill 4 outcrop, a clean light grey sand was recorded below (402). The material was sterile and appeared to have been a naturally washed in deposit directly overlying the bedrock.

W4 plan

No further symbols were observed on the bedrock (400) nor were any further archaeological features recorded in the surrounding deposits.

Trench W5

Downslope and to the south of Whitehill 4, a trench measuring 2.0 m by 0.5 m with a roughly rectangular extension to the south-east measuring 2.5 m by 2.5 m was excavated. The trench focused on an outcrop recorded as Whitehill 5, previously exposed by SCRAP, where three cupmarks were visible on the exposed outcrop prior to the removal of any material. Topsoil (501) was found to extend across the rest of the trench and comprised a friable medium orange brown silt loam with extensive root disturbance and organic material and generally had a depth of 0.10m. The topsoil directly overlay bedrock in much of the trench although a silt clay wash deposit (502) formed a subsoil between the topsoil (501) and the bedrock (500) in the east of the trench. This material was largely sterile and there was clear root disturbance.

WH5 during planning
Trench W5 during planning

WH5 cupmarks
Cupmarks on Whitehill 5 (the only previously recorded ones are those immediately next to scale and N arrow)

In addition to the cluster of three previously recorded cupmarks associated with Whitehill 5, a further seven possible cupmarks were observed approximately 1.5 m east on the same bedrock outcrop (500) (Plate 7). These were recorded to the east of a large sub-circular area of conglomerate within the bedrock (500). No further features were encountered within the trench and no small finds were recovered.

Test-pits

Seven test pits were opened in all, all bar one measuring 1m by 1m. The location of these is shown in the general site plan above.

Test Pit 1

Test Pit 1 was located at the most northerly point of the ridge on which Whitehill 3, 4 and 5 were situated, c. 45 m north of Trench W3. The test pit targeted this area as it was the highest point on the ridge and found to be relatively level with views of the landscape extending south-east towards the Clyde Valley and to the north-west towards the Kilpatrick Hills. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.30 m.

Topsoil extended across the entire test pit and comprised a friable dark black brown silty loam with occasional angular stone inclusions (0.02m – 0.08m in size) (1001). The topsoil was rich in organic material with some root disturbance. Frequent glass was encountered within the deposit. Beneath the topsoil, medium orange brown clay silt with occasional stone inclusions (1002) was recorded which extended to a maximum depth of 0.20m. This overlay the bedrock (1000) which had an undulating surface within the test pit and sloped downwards from west to east.

No symbols or archaeological features were observed in Test Pit 1, nor were any artefacts recovered.

Test Pit 2

Test Pit 2 was located c. 24 m to the north-west of Trench W3 in a relatively flat area, devoid of turf and simply covered in organic woodland debris. The test pit was placed in this location to determine if there were any archaeological features within this area which could be related to the rock art sites to the south. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.35 m.

TP2

A friable medium black brown silt loam with occasional angular stone and rare charcoal inclusions formed the topsoil (2001) within the test pit and continued to a maximum depth of 0.10m. Modern activity in the area had clearly occurred as glass and modern metal cans were observed throughout. A firm medium orange brown sandy silt with frequent small roots and rare small angular stones formed a natural subsoil (2002) beneath the topsoil and this directly overlay the bedrock (2000). The subsoil deposit was relatively sterile, although some charcoals flecks were noted likely as a result of surface burning and root bioturbation.

No significant archaeological finds or features were recorded.

Test Pit 3

Test Pit 3 was situated c. 7 m north-west of Trench W4 in the centre of a shallow sub-circular hollow. The hollow, although appearing natural, was thought to have archaeological potential and the trench was situated within it to investigate whether features may be present within the area. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.20 m.

TP3
Eric and Ross working on Test Pit 3

An organic vegetation layer (3000) covered the test pit and overlay topsoil comprising a loose light brown organic loam (3001). Beneath this, a natural subsoil comprising a clay silt wash (3002) was observed which continued to a maximum depth of 0.19m which contained patches of compact orange disintegrated sandstone (3003) and overlay the undulating bedrock (3004) (Plate 8).

TP3 sketches

There were no traces of significant archaeological remains within the test pit.

Test Pit 4

Test Pit 4 was positioned c. 5m south-west of W3 and targeted a partially exposed outcrop of bedrock. The aim of the test pit was to investigate if further unrecorded rock art symbols were present on smooth outcrops in the immediate area. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m with a maximum depth of 0.10m.

A small outcrop of bedrock (4001) was already exposed and only shallow topsoil was found to cover the bedrock in all areas of the test pit. The topsoil comprised friable dark black brown silty loam (4000) and modern glass fragments were observed throughout. There was no evidence for archaeological features within the excavated area and no markings were observed on the bedrock which was found to be undulating.

Test Pit 5

Test Pit 5 was located c. 5m east of W5 at the southern extent of the site. The location was chosen as it appeared to be a flat area with the potential for a bedrock outcrop to be directly beneath the turf topsoil. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.30 m.

TP5

The topsoil comprised a shallow loose light brown organic sandy loam (5000) which overlay a very compact light brown sand with frequent angular stones up to 0.25m in size. Beneath this a compact layer of dark brown black sandy silt with some large angular stone inclusions was observed (5002). No significant archaeology was recorded within the test pit.

Test Pit 6

Test Pit 6 was located approximately 22 m west of W4 within a level area in the valley below the ridge. The test pit was excavated to investigate whether there were any features associated with quarrying activity in this area. The test pit measured 1.0 m by 1.0 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.50 m.

The topsoil (6000) comprised a dark red brown silty loam which contained modern glass. This was overlying a light red brown clay sand with angular and rounded stone inclusions of various size (6001). Bedrock was not reached within the test pit. No archaeological finds or features were recorded within the test pit.

Test Pit 7

Test Pit 7 was located c. 21 m west of W3 within a slight hollow on the west edge of the ride. The test pit targeted a supposed flat-topped bedrock outcrop and was also located within this area to investigate the potential for features related to the occupation of the site. The test pit measured 1.50 m by 1.50 m and was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.20m (Plate 9). Peck marks on the flat bedrock surface were identified and probably related to someone trying to get purchase on a tent peg…..

TP7
Jean planning Test Pit 7

Modern peck marks
Probably modern peck marks found within Test Pit 7 on flat bedrock

Photogrammetry

Under the guidance of Megan Kasten, teams of students undertook photogrammetry of the three outcrops, which supplemented work already undertaken by SCRAP. In each case more of the rock was exposed than during this earlier survey, and in two cases (W3 and W5) more symbols were exposed as well. These models are still being worked on and final versions will be added to this post, or linked to, in due course.

WhitehillLowerCupmarks Cluster 2
Initial render of results of W5 photogrammetry

Whitehill501lowres
The complete survey of W5, again at early stage of processing

Discussion 

The excavations at Whitehill have shed further light on three of the known rock art panels at Whitehill. Previously unrecorded symbols were observed and recorded on both Whitehill 3 and Whitehill 5, as parts of the outcrop previously left covered by Morris and SCRAP were exposed, and the areas around the outcrops also investigated.

Whitehill 3 was found to be the largest and uppermost decorated outcrop with a huge number of symbols observed on its flat top and the top of the smooth slope on the eastern side. A wide variety of symbols were recorded with no obvious pattern deciphered. The mixture of type, depth and quality does, however, potentially suggest the rock art was conducted by different people at different times. This is the second most extensive rock art site in the area after the Cochno Stone. The rock art panel known as Whitehill 4 was occupied by four simple cupmarks only while up to 13 single cupmarks were recorded as part of Whitehill 5. There is no evidence as of yet to allow interpretation of the relationship of the individual panels or to either confirm or deny that these cupmarks are contemporary with one another as no datable material was recovered in or around the outcrops.

The symbols on all three panels were limited to areas of smooth bedrock enclosed by glacial striations, with only the best areas for carving having been selected. It was also noted that the symbols were largely limited to the top of the flat-topped outcrops with few symbols on vertical faces. Several other rock outcrops were investigated on the ridge to determine whether other panels were present in the area, however, none were found. The shape and aesthetics of the natural rock surface therefore appear to have played a major role in the selection of the outcrops as well as potentially the design of the carvings, a notion also apparent at Hunterheigh Crag, Northumberland (see Waddington et al 2005).

While the areas around the panels were investigated, few further archaeological features were observed. The only notable feature was observed in Trench W4 focusing on Whitehill 4 where an area of fractured bedrock was found to potentially signify the remains of a wall or leveled area. This feature may be related to prehistoric use of the site, with ‘rubble platforms’ having been found to be contemporary with carvings at Copt Howe (Bradley et al 2019) and also, interestingly, at nearby Auchnacraig 1; however, it could also be a result of later quarrying or landscaping activity in the area. No material was found within the cracks on any of the outcrops despite investigation, based on the results of rock art sites such as Torbhlaren, Argyll and Bute (Jones et al. 2011). The quartz pebble found in W3 was in an area removed from the carvings and more likely ended up there through natural processes.

Later use of the area was noted with the west side of the ridge having visibly been quarried and more recent graffiti observed on Whitehill 3, which was limited to one area of exposed bedrock on Whitehill 3. There is no indication of what this quarry was or when it was in use in nineteenth century maps.

Yvonne
Yvonne!!

Acknowledgements

The excavation was funded by the University of Glasgow archaeology department, as part of the 2019 Cochno Farm Field School. Supervisory support was provided by AOC Archaeology Ltd.

We appreciated the team of helpers who came along and worked on site. Team members (in alphabetical order) were: Zahra Archer, Erin Butler, Samantha Climie, Hayley Drysdale, Todd Ferguson, Adrianna Figacz, Eric Gardner, Alexa Hayes, Joel Karhapaa, Emma Keenan, Caitlin McLeod, Gordon Morrison, Linsey Reid, Nikki Reid, Jean Tumilty, Tom Tumilty, and Ross Wood.

Thanks to the Honours students who worked on the amazing zines shown at the top of this post!

Megan Kasten conducted the photogrammetry of the three outcrops and provided training for students, for which we are grateful. Megan also supplied images for this report.

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.

Finally, 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 and images from that project are included in this report. Thanks also to Stuart Jeffrey of the Glasgow School of Art Centre School of Simulation and Visualisation for undertaking an RTI survey of Whitehill 3 in March 2019. Processing work in this image continues at the time of writing but this will be added to the post in time.

Thanks to all those who visited the site especially those who brought cakes (Jeremy Huggett, Ellen Laird) and local knowledge (Stevie Cafferty).

References

British Geological Survey, 2019. Geology of Britain. [Online version]

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, 1-16.

Brophy, K 2015 The Cochno Stone: an archaeological investigation. Phase 1 summary report. Urban Prehistorian blog post.

Brophy, K 2016 Revealing the Cochno Stone: Phase 2 excavation and digital recording summary report. Urban Prehistorian blog post.

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.

Brophy, K and Douglas, A 2019 Faifley Rocks! Auchnacraig 1 and 3, June 20-27th 2019 Data Structure Report. Available as an Urban Prehistorian blog post of course!

Historic Environment Scotland, 2019a. Scotland’s Rock Art Project (SCRAP).

Historic Environment Scotland, 2019b. Whitehill: Cup and Ring Marked Rock (Prehistoric). [canmore]

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 1971 Old Kilpatrick, Whitehill, cup-and-ring marked outcrops. Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1971, 19.

Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock-art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway), Oxford: BAR British Series 86.

Morris, R and Bailey, DC 1967 The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of south-western Scotland: a survey. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 98, 150-72.

Waddington, Clive, Mazel, Aron & Johnson, Ben. (2005). Excavation of a rock art site at Hunterheugh Crag, Northumberland. Archaeologia Aeliana. 5th Ser. 34. 29-54.

Reaktor

The prehistory laboratory repository

In the middle of an industrial estate

Amidst the units and the car parks

Is a laboratory

A laboratory that is a repository for prehistory

An appointment with science

This is East Kilbride

S.U.E.R.C.

Scotland’s Environmental Research Centre

Branded with a dynamic flowing liquid logo

suerc-logo

Where prehistory sits in test-tubes

Where prehistory resides in aluminum capsules

Where prehistory is turned into gases and powders and pastes and unguents

Through the corridors of power are the containers of powder

Corridors of power

The geochemistry of prehistory –

The radiochemistry of prehistory –

The isotope biogeosciences of prehistory –

The prehistory of Scotland and beyond

In the hands of the scientists

In this prehistory laboratory repository

In East Kilbride.

 

The small print

Bring your samples to us and let us analyse them we provide a comprehensive post-excavation service and are happy to deal with prehistory but also not prehistory if that is appropriate and in some cases we are aware that you are aware that when samples are given to us you do not know if they are prehistoric we do not know if they are prehistoric or not and we offer no money-back guarantees as there are no guarantees no a priori assumptions here just hard science the atoms have no politics our reaktor has no biases and there is no prejudice in a test tube once they have been thoroughly cleaned so roll up and bring us your samples and we will do you proud.

We will accept samples in the following vessels and receptacles: plastic Tupperware box, tin foil (no hats), carrier bag (bags for life please), matchbox, kinder surprise eggs (plastic element not chocolate please you would be surprised), shoebox.

Samples cannot be accepted in liquid form unless sample is a liquid.

Samples cannot be accepted in gaseous form unless sample is a gas.

The following materials are permissible for sampling and we have some kind of technique for all of these, and if we do not have a technique, we will invent it. Plant microfossils, teeth, shells, all sorts of wood, bone, antler, horns, crusty residues, methane, dirt (please clean dirt before deposition and remove all worms), speleotherms, all manner of artefacts from metals to ceramics to textiles (you name it we, we date it as long as it has a carbon component and once had a proverbial pulse), and assorted elements of the periodic table namely 1-64, 71-100 and 112 (latter only in extremis and we need a 36 hour warning and lots of permits). 

We are contractually obliged to note that you should not expect to get your sample back at all, ever, and certainly not in the form you gave it to us. Furthermore it is likely that the container you delivered the sample to us in is unlikely to come out of the process in one piece, and indeed may well be destroyed / recycled / contaminated / melted. However, we do reserve the right to retain bags for life to distribute amongst our staff. 

Please note we do not sample the living. 

 

Isotope flavours and ancient diets

Reaktor artwork

 

Prehistory turned into gas

controlled area

 

And so to the Reaktor

disembodiment

Only the most disembodied of prehistory makes it this far

Only the finest samples underpinned by the most clearly articulated stratigraphic arguments are permitted entry to the Reaktor

Only the best can experience nuclear ecstasy in the Reaktor Shed.

The Reaktor Shed, on the edge of the industrial estate gives nothing away regarding its contents, masked behind the corrugation of obscurity

Shielded from penetration

The reaktor shed

The Reaktor Shed adorned with a stark geometric deep blue monolith, appearing to emit turquoise ectoplasm, the escaping spirits of the past

Reaktor shed monolith

Inside the shed, an appointment with science awaits

Don’t be late because time is important here or at least relative chronology

The chronology of prehistory –

Time measured through atomic bombardment –

Complex machinery for the deconstruction of materials and the transformation of those materials into something else – data, information, knowledge

Data that is corrupted by the ignorance of objectivity and the ‘clause of subjectivity’

Spinning stories from the centrifuge.

 

Reaktor

travelling in time bending light stretching the laws of physics bombarding inside the cage lead lining artefacts broken down to constituent parts indistinguishable from the matter that defines the universe big bang flickering lights and electrical surges

Hazel nutshell protons

Birch bark electrons

Cremated human pelvis photons

Meadowsweet flower quarks

Carbon isotopes 12 and 14

big machine U of G photo
Inside the Reaktor (c) SUERC

science direct photo
(c) Science Direct

 

The poetics of C14

Carbon abstraction from carbon extraction

SUERC-21566 (GU-17836); 3120 ± 40 BP; 1500 – 1290 cal BC (95.4%)

SUERC-23247 (GU-18537); 8290 ± 30BP; 7480 – 7250 cal BC (87.1%)

Foreplay before the Bayesian dance

Visual inspection only – for now

A dagger through my heart.

forteviot-dagger-with-organics.jpg
The Forteviot dagger (c) SERF Project

 

Isotopic heaven

The devil in the detail

Craving statistical probability

The past as conjuration, mediated through tree rings, carbon on carbon, wood on wood

The results are preconceived and can only have one outcome because

All journeys end at the Reaktor

All journeys begin there

The Reaktor loves decay even although the Reaktor cannot love

It is an information machine

Never look back.

Looking behind

 

SUERC is a shared facility between different Universities in Scotland, and they undertake a wide range of scientific analyses for archaeology and beyond the idea being that lots of expensive equipment and expertise is more efficiently pooled in one location for all to access. This facility includes the following Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) facilities: the Radiocarbon Facility (Environment), the Argon Isotope Facility, the East Kilbride node of the Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility, the Isotope Community Support Facility and the Cosmogenic Isotope Analysis Facility. It has emerged from decades of activity and was formerly the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre (SURRC). They have amazing staff and undertake amazing research and analyses. I could not do what I do without them.

Most of the photos in this blog were taken during a visit to SUERC with Honours archaeology students from the University of Glasgow.

The radiocarbon dates in the ‘C14 poetics’ stanza are from the SERF Project, one of well over 100 dates from that project that were produced by SUERC and funded by HES. The dates were provided by Dr Derek Hamilton.

Much of the information in this post comes from the SUERC website and the text betrays my lack of scientific understanding.

The concept of the ‘clause of subjectivity’ comes from a paper by Tim Flohr Sorensen entitled ‘More than a feeling: towards an archaeology of atmosphere’ (from the Journal Emotions, Space and Society 15, 64-73 (2015)). Thanks to Erin Jamieson for suggesting I read this.

 

 

Faifley Rocks AC19

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 excavation will feature on the 2019 season of BBC TV Digging for Britain. 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.

AC19 location map
Location map (Lorraine McEwan, SCRAP data)

Prelim trench locations based on 1963 map
Auchnacraig House, gardens, and rock art panels 1, 3 and 4 (OS 1963). Trench locations marked with red rectangles. Map sourced by Todd Ferguson.

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.

Harvey sketch of Auchnacraig 1
Harvey’s 1880s sketch of Auchnacraig 1 (Harvey 1889 (c) Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)

Morris 1981 sketch of AC1
Morris sketch of Auchnacraig 1 (Morris 1981)

Auchnacraig House Nov 75 1 s
Auchnacraig House in 1975. Auchnacraig 1 is located bottom left (photo courtesy of Sam Gibson)

Auchnacraig 1960s low res
Auchnacraig 1 in 1965/66. Note the garden in the background (Ronald Morris archive)

Auchnacraig 2019 low res
Auchnacraig 1 in 2019, now in a park landscape (photo: K Brophy)

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.

Harvey sketch of Auchnacraig 3
Harvey’s 1880s sketch of Auchnacraig 3 (Harvey 1889 (c) Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)

A3 pre excavation
Auchnacraig 3 in June 2019 (photo: K Brophy)

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.

Auchnacraig 1 3d scan screengrab

Auchnacraig 3 3d scan screengrab
Screengrabs of 3D models of Auchnacraig 1 (top) and 3 (c) HES and SCRAP. Models by Maya Hoole

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.

AC1 trench locations schematic
Auchnacraig 1 rock are panel and trench locations

Trench A1a

3.5m east-west by 1.5m running east from the vertical face of Auchnacraig 1.

Trench A1a post excavation
Trench A1a after excavation, photo taken from the east

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.

Trench A1a platform feature
Possible platform / stone concentration on east side of Auchnacraig 1, viewed from the south

 

Trench A1b

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.

Garden feature low res
Kerb / wall 107/108 viewed from the southeast.

Trench A1b post-ex plan
Post- excavation plan of Trench A1b showing the kerb / wall relationship with Auchnacraig 1

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.

Marble

Trench A3a

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.

trench-a3a-post-ex-colour.jpg
Post-excavation plan of Trench A3a. 301 is the cupmarks outcrop, 303 the natural boulder clay.

Cleaning and recording

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.

Natural vesicle
Natural vesicle on Auchnacraig 3

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.

 

Discussion

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).

Copt Howe vesicleSource: 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).

Copt Howe platform
Possible prehistoric platform at Copt Howe (Bradley et al 2019)

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.

 

Acknowledgements

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!

Clydebank Post 211114010
Clydebank Post, 4th July 2019. Thanks to Gil Paterson and team.

 

References

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.

The Holy Knowe

The Holy Known newscutting

183 West George Street, Glasgow

May 10, 1946

 

SIR, -this attractive and symmetrical

glacial mound at Lennoxtown, known for

generations as a sacred place, is threatened

with removal to make place for three tem-

porary bungalows despite their being much

open adjoining ground.

 

Elderly people tell me that as boys they

worked the field where the mound is situ-

ated, and that the tenant farmer of those

days insisted that no agricultural work was

to be allowed upon the mound-not even the

rolling of the grass. It is some 25 years

since I was first taken to see the place.

 

Nowadays the newcomers to the district

seem to know little about the site, and

apparently care nothing for it, and as

members of the controlling District Council

they favour obliteration, doubtless stirred by

the extreme urgency of the housing shortage.

 

Thus goes on the deplorable and unneces-

sary work of destruction of sites near Glas-

gow-sites which ought to be kept in pre-

petuity as a source of delight for all thought-

ful people. It is sad to think that during

the last five years in Glasgow and district

more ruthless slaughter of sites of archaeo-

logical and geological interest has been

carried out than during the whole of the the

last 100 years.-I am &c.

 

Ludovic Mann

 

a sacred place –

HK1

 

newcomers to the district – 

HK2

 

not even the rolling of the grass –

HK3

 

they favour obliteration –

HK4

 

three temporary bungalows –

HK5

 

this attractive and symmetrical glacial mound –

HK6

 

ruthless slaughter –

HK7

 

kneel before –

HK9

 

a source of delight for all thoughtful people – 

HK8

 

Fact check: the letter that forms the basis of this post and my Lennoxtown visit was published in The Scotsman newspaper. As with many other Ludovic McLellan Mann observations, there is no corroborating evidence for the presence of this Knowe, nor its folk and archaeological significance. If such a mound existed, its contours have not troubled mapmakers. And it is commonplace to find that prefabricated houses from the 1940s were not ‘temporary’, even if this mound was. The ruinous ground behind the three bungalows on a natural rise was once occupied by the Free Church of Lennoxtown, which was used as a drill hall for “D” Company, 7th battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders during the First World War, and a school also once stood upon this acclivity. 

Map 195x
Putative location of The Holy Knowe (OS map, 1956)

 

Talus

Talus. Noun.

  1. an accumulation of scree at the base of a cliff or steep slope
  2. an ankle bone
  3. a fortification

 

Automatic writing

The pressure of my thumb caused just enough 0.7mm graphite to ooze from my pencil. Sitting on a train, breathless, fumbling in my bag for the book. Applied Ballardianism by Simon Sellars. This crumpled paperback that had become the roadmap for my increasingly eccentric visits to places in heavily urbanised or industrialised places with obscure prehistoric predecessors. This was no longer enough, I came to realise after writing 116 posts for my blog. I needed new kicks, fresh experiences, the hard stuff.

I opened Sellars’ book up at random pages and saw continual relevance to my own condition, just as the unreliable narrator of this fever-dream of a novel had also done. I began to scribble in the margins, automatic writing. The sections of the book that I applied marginalia to appeared to be random but were perhaps not. Bunker Logic. Scar Tissue. Emergence.

IMG_4723

This book was the archaeological fieldwork guide that I had always wanted. More profound than Barker’s Techniques of Archaeological Investigation. More informative than Drewett’s Field Archaeology. More grounded in reality that Hodder’s The Archaeological Process. More emotionally charged than the MoLAS archaeological site manual (3rd edition).

I came to realise that as a rulebook for surveying the deep time in our world one need do no more than read the complete fictional works of JG Ballard, Applied Ballardianism and Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archeology.

IMG_4966

IMG_4967

Through this psychogeographik grimoire, I had found my hard stuff. The hard stuff of life.

The midden.

 

Calcium Cairns

Middens are indicative of accumulation and disposal, rise and decline. They are the ultimate material expression of consumption.

Middens mark the rise, fall, and will indicate the return of, prehistory.

Middens are contingent on abandonment, emergent in every place that humans exist, from a deserted military island to the urban core.

Middens passively grow, while awaiting collapse.

Middens are our cultural scar tissue, which we cannot help but touch.

Cairns of calcium and carbon.

 

In the Mesolithic of Oronsay, hunters and fishers would bury human finger bones in their shell middens.

In the Neolithic of Orkney, farmers would use midden material to insulate their houses.

Oronsay shell midden canmore_image_SC01453537

But middens are not just of the past. Everywhere around us are middens-in-waiting, potential-middens, partial-middens, middens-in-hiding, proto-middens.

Living is an act of middening.

 

A Gruesome Inventory

The kitchen-midden was discovered on the far side of the small estuarine island of Inchkeith in 1870 at the base of a slope. This artificial organic talus consisted of cooking-debitage, eating-scree, of unknown date and origin. The midden was monumental in its scale, up to 3m high, thick with greasy charcoal.

Baskets of bones were removed from this midden for analysis back in Edinburgh. The scientist tasked with the analysis of these bits and pieces produced a gruesome inventory, scraped from the pages of an anatomical manual, notes from an animal autopsy.

inventory

Basi-occipital and basi-sphenoid fragments of grey seal skulls. Mastoid process and temporal fossa of sheep. Head of the ulna of a sheep. Fourth cervical vertebrae of a pig. Head of left tibia of an ox. Cannon bone of hind foot of bos. Toe bone of bos. Parts of jaw, and several teeth, of horse. Jaw bones of the rabbit. An assemblage of alien species.

Many shells were found too, listed in the analysis like an incantation. Tapes pullastra. Purpura lapillus. Pecten varius. Ostrea Edulis. Pecten maximus. 

It was concluded after this analysis and repeat visits to the island that, ‘there is no evidence as to the period when these rejecta were first cast forth’.

Cast Forth in the Forth.

 

Urban Midden

Hunter Street. There is no such thing as a coincidence so I told myself as I cut up from the Barrowlands Ballroom and headed towards the urban prehistory. I turned onto Hunter Street, folding a map and stuffing it into my back pocket. Across a railway line, over an abandoned tunnel. Ahead of me now were the rusty skeletal remains of warehouses, the Victorian city excarnated, exposed as if on a osteoarchaeologist’s slab.

The sign of the Hunter was affixed to a street light that had beside it a rusty totem pole, its evil twin, pock-marked with corrupted spirals and corroded cupmarks.

Hunter Street

Two drunks in navy shell suits kept appearing during my walk, as if they were being projected for my benefit on a loop by some unknown projectionist. One of them spoke to me tenderly, momentarily breaking the fourth wall, confusing me for his partner in grime, before realising his mistake and flickering out.

I was looking for hunters in the city, middenscapes in the shadow of the industrialised Tennants’ Brewery, makers of liquid gassy capitalism. From my perspective as I entered Barrack Street it seemed that the aluminium pipes that emerged from the brewery were connected directly to the Necropolis, Glasgow’s city centre cemetery, and for a moment I speculated that this must have been for the exchange of fluids. Through the beer haze I could also see the outline of Glasgow Cathedral, one of Ludovic Mann’s ancient Glaswegian pagan places, his Temple of the Moon. There is no such thing as a coincidence.

Moon temple view

Back on Hunter Street (confusingly re-appearing) I reached my destination. A block of modern flats and some old brick-built industrial units on Duke Street where a shell midden had been found during construction works in 1985. Ancient oyster shells had been found on the spoil from the job, and identified too late as being of archaeological significance. In prehistory, I reminded myself, everyone was swallowing oysters all of the time, as they were, as in Victorian times, not simply the preserve of the rich. The shells were then dumped in a pile, calcium cairns, middens.

The industrial unit was orange and glowed in the late afternoon sun, raking across the facade and revealing ghosts – ghost signs, phantom lettering, a typeset palimpsest of failed and out-dated businesses. The building was dominated by a monstrous sign: JAS. D GALLOWAY. TYRE DISTRIBUTORS.

Galloway

I wondered around the block onto a different section of Barrack Street (I was becoming spatially disorientated). I passed a pub – the Ladywell, suggesting an ancient spring or holy well once stood here. On the wall of a neighbouring car repair shop, an occult symbol had been crayoned onto a white-washed wall. Was it a spiral, or a malformed cup-and-ring mark, or a reversed number nine – or a shell, a mollusc, a midden-component?

the symbol

A constellation of coincidences? I reflected on the words written by Marion Shoard and quoted by the fictional headcase Philip in Applied Ballardianism. Urban edgelands allowed us to see ‘history as in the stratified layers of an archaeological site’. In essence, socially fundamental constructions, materials and infrastructure often become restricted to urban edges. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

In prehistory, those conflicted spatially dangerous fundamentals were middens.

 

Organic Rejecta

under the flats and the factories are places of accumulations of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds and pips and marrow layers of practice the stratigraphy of a lifetime of generations of meals of daily routine of repetition and habit and routine and the accumulation of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds and pips and marrow under the people under the streets pressing against the walls of the basements pressure toe bone of bos parts of jaw and several teeth of horse jaw bones of the rabbit tapes pullastra purpura lapillus countless rejecta under the flats and the factories are places of accumulations of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds and pips and marrow calcium carbon cairns

 

The Island of Dead Birds

Inchkeith today is a very different place from the island where the kitchen midden was recorded in 1870. Militarisation began in 1879 and continued throughout the first half of  the twentieth century transforming this small rocky eminence through the construction of concrete bunkers, control buildings and the infrastructure of ammunition supply.

This was a defensive, reactive place, but never saw action.

After this brief flourishing, the island has more or less been abandoned to nature (with most of the personnel withdrawn in 1943) like some kind of social experiment.

Quite by chance, this island of precaution has become an emergent prehistoric landscape with its own monuments, its own concrete vocabulary, its new middens.

The porcelain cairn –

The porcelain cairn

The fallen megalith –

IMG_E4562

The shit-stained monolith –

IMG_E4567

The island has its own sacred geometry, ghost paths and leys –

ghost paths

Bunkers abound, underground spaces for the containment of ammunition and men. The walls are burdened with a sinister anatomy of coat hooks and shelf supports.

IMG_E4551

Animals have become complicit in re-making prehistory, the island covered in bird-build middens, accumulations of shells and bones and twigs and nuts and seeds.

The bird built midden

Now, in its abandoned state, this concrete island is becoming something … other.

 

Talus

Middens

Mummified mice

Nests within nests by nests

Scattered cartilages and cartridges

Shells upon shells under shelves and on skulls

Pips amidst pipes and petrification

Calcium cairns. Concrete cairns.

Broken bunkers and bones

Talus Talus Talus

Middens.

 

Concrete Island

IMG_4559

Bunker archeology image Amazon

“Abandoned on the sand of the littoral like the skin of a species that has disappeared, the bunker is the last theatrical gesture in the endgame of Occidental military history…. (Virilio 2014, 46).

 

Dirty Edgelands

What is urbanisation but an accumulation?

A midden with prehistory as its dirty edgelands, if not in space then certainly in time.

We are all middening, us town and city dwellers.

Living on our own islands with our own futile defences, bunker mentalities, surrounded by lots of shelves.

Cultivating our prehistoric sites, curating our legacy, hoarding our single-use plastic debitage, accumulating our very own midden.

And when our megaliths have collapsed, our material culture turned to dust, our bodies broken down, all that will be left of us are our middens and our single-use plastic.

Our middens will become the focus of ritual extraction and deposition by birds.

We are tomorrow’s urban prehistory.

 

Sources and acknowledgements: I would firstly like to thank Gordon Barclay for inviting me to spend a day visiting various fortified islands in the Firth of Forth, amongst them Inchkeith. The few facts about that island that appear in the narrative above come from Gordon’s excellent handouts to accompany the trip and he appears in one photo striding towards an anti-aircraft gun position. 

The account of the kitchen-midden found on Inchkeith in the 1870s is (you can find it online by googling the title of the paper): David Grieve 1872 On the discovery of a kitchen midden on Inchkeith, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland volume 9, 452-55. The jumbled list of animal bones in my post is adapted from this paper.

The limited information available for the Barrack Street / Hunter Street shell midden can be found in the canmore entry for the site here, and Sloan recorded in the 1985 edition of Discovery and Excavation in Scotland (pg 46):

“Deposits of oyster shell were reported from approximately this location during housing development in 1982. Although reported too late for active investigation a sample of shell was recovered from builder’s spoil; remains in the possession of the Committee for Early Coastal archaeology”.

This could be a Mesolithic site, but it could also be medieval, or anything in between. We choose our own myths about the past.

Ludovic Mann’s moon temple writings are included in his 1938 short book Ancient Glasgow: Temple of the Moon.

The photograph of a Mesolithic shell midden near the start of the post is of the site Cnoc Sligeach on the island of Oronsay, taken in 1911, and reproduced here thanks to canmore and is © HES: Early photographs of sculptured stones.

I must finish by paying a debt of gratitude to Simon Sellars for his brilliant novel Applied Ballardianism (Urbanomic, 2018) for inspiring aspects of this post, and leading me to the chapter Edgelands by Marion Shoard (quote from this in the blog post) in Jenkins’ book Remaking the landscape (Profile Books, 2002). Sellars also led me to the majestic Bunker Archeology by Paul Virlio (my version being published in 2014 by Princeton Architectural Press). The image from that book was sourced from the Amazon page for this volume and a credited quotation appears above as well.

The definitions that start this post were adapted from wikipedia