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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently wrote this short blog post for a website promoting University of Glasgow School of Humanities schools activities and resources but misunderstood my brief, and what I wrote was condensed into one short paragraph. Oh well, never one to let writing (and several hours of my time) go to waste, here is a summary of schools activities around the Faifley Rocks! Project and the Cochno Stone. If any teachers would like to explore using cups and rings in the classroom please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
Since 2015, I have been working with community members, organisations, and schools in Faifley and Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, to celebrate and tell the story of a series of prehistoric rock-art sites on their urban fringe. These are outcrops of sandstone that were carved with a range of circular markings in the Neolithic or early Bronze Age, probably between 5000 and 4000 years ago. These are known as cupmarks (hollows) and cup-and-ring marks (hollows with concentric circles carved around them).
Over a dozen such rocks are found in a park and woods near Faifley, the most famous being the Cochno Stone. This is one of the largest rock-art panels in Britain and is covered in hundreds of examples of prehistoric carved symbols and modern graffiti. As if this were not dramatic enough, in summer 1937 the Glasgow antiquarian Ludovic Mann covered much of the surface of the Cochno Stone in a painted grid of his own conception and he also painted all the prehistoric symbols. The Cochno Stone was finally buried in 1965 by the heritage authorities due to damage being done to the stone by visitors, including dozens of people carving their name into the rock’s surface.
My engagement with the community really began in earnest with the temporary uncovering of the Cochno Stone in 2016 for it to be digitally recorded for future research. This catalysed further work including workshops, public talks, exhibitions, walking tours, and several seasons of archaeological fieldwork. Right from the start I was keen to work with local schools, and this has led to some great classroom sessions and working with creative and engaged teachers at primary and secondary level. Much of this work has been improvised and most of it has not yet been tied into the curriculum. However, I hope this is a useful case-study of the range of activities that I and many helpers have been doing in the classroom and the playground around the topics of prehistoric rock-art and contested heritage.
Pop-up Rock-art Lab
During the excavation, lots of children visited the dig and came to see the Cochno Stone, and this allowed conversations about the stone and also the memories of the stone that their parents and grandparents had. Some kids even found out that a relative had carved their name onto the stone in the 1950s or 1960s! These official school visits and post-school wanders were encouraging, but I wanted to do something more formal and structured. So, we came up with what we called the Pop-up Rock-art Lab, where we provided groups of school pupils recording sheets, cameras, photographic scales, and blackboards, to allow them to work together to record the rock-art in the park at Faifley. This allowed children to spend time studying cup-and-ring marks, tracing their shape with their fingers, counting the number of cupmarks, describing the symbols in their own words, and thinking about the meaning of the symbols. This has been done with groups of children from primary and secondary levels, during my excavations, and on open days, and generally results in a lot of fun and some mixed quality photographs!
Soon after I started working at Faifley, I was invited to go into a primary school in Hamilton to talk to children about rock-art and told that I could do whatever I wanted to do. After a bit of head scratching, I came up with a concept that I now call the Chalkno Stone. To do this all one needs is some pavement chalk and a big measuring tape, a plan of the Cochno Stone, and a large flat paved or tarmac area e.g a playground. The children help me to draw out the outline of the Cochno Stone in the playground at 1:1 scale using the plan and some large 15m measuring tapes. This shows how big the stone actually is – it measured 15m by 8m and has a carved surface of some 100 square metres. The children are then let loose with chalk to decorate the playground within the boundaries of the stone with prehistoric symbols. Cup, cup-and-rings, spirals and other related symbols of all shapes and sizes and colours soon abound.
This opens up opportunities to discuss what the symbols might have meant in prehistory, and it is empowering to children of all ages to find out that archaeologists don’t know what the symbols meant. In other words, the question “what do you think the symbols might mean?” becomes one of opportunity and creativity for everyone I work with, teachers and pupils. Some of the theories that have emerged from this process have been as interesting and plausible as anything I have read in archaeology textbooks!
Beyond this we can then ask the kids to add their own symbols to the Chalkno Stone – school and house names and logos, names, initials, nicknames and so on are duly added to the stone, and then a discussion about identify can begin. What symbols do we use to describe ourselves and our culture?
I have found this an exciting and enjoyable activity that takes about an hour and works well with primary and secondary children although it does use up a lot of chalk!
In 2017 I secured funding from the Being Human festival to commission a comic book by Hannah Sackett that tells the story of the Cochno Stone and in particular the interactions of Ludovic Mann. Mann’s painting of the Cochno Stone in 1937 was an act that captured the imagination of school kids when I had spoken to them about this previously, probably because of the idea of a multi-coloured large rock surface and maybe also the inherent naughtiness in this act! Mann had a theory that the cup-and-ring marks told the story of how prehistoric people explained eclipses – that a monster ate the sun then spat it back up again – and this became the basis for comic book workshops that I have been running in schools in central Scotland ever since.
The workshops allow the pupils to learn about the story of the Cochno Stone and its problematic heritage but they are also able to get creative, drawing their own ‘eclipse monsters’ and comics telling stories that revolved around rock-art symbols and monsters. This mythmaking very much reflects the kinds of stories people have probably always told to explain cup-and-ring marks. At the end of each session, the pupils are allowed to keep their own copy of the comic book thanks to funding by Being Human and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
This session has been run in several schools and seems to work best with primary 3-7, although using the comic in secondary setting does allow discussion about the heritage management of the Cochno Stone and its burial. Teachers I have worked have been very positive about this session. One told me the “lower ability class … really do benefit from more visual learning”. Another informed me that, “the open-ended nature of the [workshop] tasks proved very effective in engaging a wide range of abilities …for those at the lower end this meant that they remained engaged and part of the lesson without being singled out with differentiated material. For those at the upper end … the comic book / graphic novel nature of the task allowed for them to make more nuanced, higher order, links between the text and images”. You can find out more about the comic book in a chapter Hannah and I wrote about it for a book which you can download here.
People and Society
The story of the Cochno Stone has become more integrated into the secondary curriculum through the People and Society course. This has been driven by a teacher based in Falkirk and I have spent a few years helping to develop this with her and colleagues. People and Society is aimed at National 3 and 4 levels. This is a course that provides opportunities for lower achieving students to study a range of social subjects together, instead of focusing on only one discipline. There are three units within People and Society, one of which is ‘making decisions’, a suitable theme for Cochno because we wanted to challenge the pupils to reach a considered decision regarding the fate of the Cochno Stone going into the future. Should it stay buried or should it be uncovered permanently?
To do this, a series of lessons were developed which included topics such as the story of the Cochno Stone, how archaeologists have studied British prehistoric abstract rock-art, and the social context of rock-art around Faifley. Where possible we have done fieldtrips and I have led a few teaching sessions, in person and more recently on Teams. This has led to really good levels of engagement and creativity with the pupils who have produced clay rock-art, posters, stories, cartoons and reports on the theme of rock-art and the social value of the Cochno Stone. Resources around this coursework are available for all secondary teachers on Scotland via Glow.
Having worked with a lot of schools and teachers over the past few years, one of the most exciting things I have found is that some of the information and resources have taken on a life of their own thanks to the creativity and enthusiasm of teachers I have worked with. In one school in Edinburgh, children have been creating Cochno Stone board games, while in a primary school where I have been running comic book workshops this led to children doing creative writing around the subject. I am constantly in awe of how teachers can take the archaeological bits and pieces I tell them about and then turn them into classroom sessions and activities. This has also led to other activities, such as getting pupils involved in survey and excavation work in and around the rock-art sites.
For this reason, I would love to work with more teachers and more schools with some or all of these resources and sessions, and where this can be connected to local archaeology so much the better. In Falkirk I have been working with teachers to develop resources around a local rock-art site that builds on teaching around Faifley’s rock-art but celebrates a place that some of the pupils I worked with were familiar with. This process is captured in an earlier blog post of mine.
There is massive potential for cup and rings to work really well in the classroom, and hopefully I can get back into schools post-pandemic with some new ideas!
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank all of the teachers I have worked with so far from schools in Faifley, Clydebank, Falkirk, Hamilton and Edinburgh. So many thanks to Jan Brophy, Michelle McMullan, Sam McKeand, Catriona Morrison, Lynne Allison, and Christine Emmett.Without your enthusiam and creativity none of this would have been possible!
I also want to thank Cochno Stone team members who helped to deliver various sessions with kids especially Alison Douglas, Lauren Welsh, Mar Roige Oliver, and Fionnuala Reilly.
Saturday 5th October 2019. 5002 years, 194 days and 19 hours after Glasgow’s ancient eclipse*, a conference was held to re-evaluate, celebrate, and contextualise the life and times of Glasgow’s antiquarian archaeologist, Ludovic Mclellan Mann. This post offers an overdue summary of the conference, and updates on what is next for the Mann-revival. More in-depth Mann stuff can be found at my dedicated blog for research into this man(n).
(* eclipse may not have happened, and almost certainly not at the precise time Mann thought it did.)
2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Glasgow’s great eccentric antiquarian and amateur archaeologist Ludovic Mclellan Mann (1869-1955). A controversial figure during his lifetime, Mann nonetheless carried out important excavations, was Scotland’s first ‘rescue archaeologist’ and lived a life committed to public archaeology and heritage education. He is well known for his colourful books on ancient measurements and Earliest Glasgow, and his excavations at the Druid Temple, Clydebank in 1937-9. But what is his legacy? How should we view his eclectic activities and ideas? What role did he play in the development and professionalisation of the archaeology in Glasgow, Scotland and beyond? And what about his non-archaeological interests?
To mark this anniversary, as part of a series of events, a conference and celebration of Mann will be held at the Glasgow University Union Debating Chamber on Saturday 5th October.
We welcome proposals for contributions to this event, whether this be a 20-minute talk or something more creative. In particular, we encourage non-academic content and so are welcome to whatever idea you want to pitch.
Then we sat back and waited to see what would come our way. We were not disappointed.
A really nice range of contributions came in, some of which in the end did not become conference papers due to clashes with other events. These came from a variety of people, from academics to geomancers, those with an ‘amateur’ interest in archaeology, to students. Speakers included early career researchers and pensioners and most things in between. The final programme looked like this:
All of these speakers freely gave up their time, energy, and resources to contribute and attend the conference, and so we are indebted to them. Not named here is Dr Stuart Jeffrey, Glasgow School of Art, who kindly agreed to act as a discussant at the end.
I wanted the venue for the conference to be fairly informal, not a stuffy lecture theatre. I also wanted to keep costs down which limited possible weekend venues in and around Glasgow University where I work. In the end we settled for the debating chamber at the Glasgow University Union, where my previous experience of a conference – the Scottish Student Archaeology Society event in January 2018 – had been a good one.
I spoke at that event, and my only quibble was that I wanted a giant screen to show slides on, not the little one shown in the photo above. Thankfully I was able to squeeze that out of the conference budget as well as an all-singing-all-dancing sound system (which of course conked out on the day of the conference for a while). Thanks to Glasgow Archaeological Society I was also able to organise catering at the venue, and kept the entrance fee down to a tenner for general entrance, fiver for GAS members and students, and free for all helpers and speakers.
Our funders and backers helped make this possible:
The conference pack
I also wanted to ensure that delegates had something tangible to take away with them, rather than just a boring old programme. With no real cash to spare to buy pens, tote bags, or other ephemera to give to those attending (the decadent trappings of the contemporary conference), I decided to design and produce a zine, and include this and some other bits of paperwork in an A4 envelope, which I could buy in cheap packs in Tesco.
The zine was on the theme of the conference of course, old Ludovic himself, and cost nothing directly to the conference attendees, although a lot of A3 paper was used and colour photocopying done at work (hope my line manager does not read this!). One of our students, Hannah Stevenson, kindly folded them all into zines which must have taken ages! In the end only about 75 were ever made so if you have one, hold on to it, one day you may be able to cash in on antiques roadshow or posh pawn brokers.
The zine was accompanied by a postcard advertising a future podcast on Mann, Mannsplaining (still a future aspiration at the time of writing!), with design by Mike Middleton, a conference programme, and some flyers.
Katinka kindly agreed to host a hands-on session with objects associated with Ludovic Mann in the collections of the Kelvingrove Museum. This was held in the Kelvin Hall across the road where much of their archaeological material is now stored. A few early bird delegates turned up the day before the conference and spent a happy hour fondling stuff found or collected by Mann, a veritable material culture menagerie.
The boxes, the writing on the objects, the little notes and labels, were as of much interest as the materials themselves. A tangible connection to the Mann himself.
The day of the conference dawned for me with a mixture of excitement and stress. I went into Glasgow, got a couple of bags of stuff, and come coffee, then went to the venue where I was met with the relaxing presence of lots of helpers ready to get going. Things were set up, even the audio-visual stuff started working after a while, then the audience began to drift in. By the time we were ready to go, there were lots of people in the room, and most of the speakers had been able to turn up!
I’m not going to go over the contents of the day in much detail. There are plans for an edited volume with some contributions which should be out before the end of 2020, and also the whole day was recorded by Tristan Boyle. I’m hoping the talks can be released as part of the Mannsplaining podsact series when it eventually gets up and running. You can also follow live tweeting from the event by checking out #theManntheMyth on the twitter.
But here are some pictures I took on the day of some of the speakers.
As well as the speakers, and others took part other than those photographed above, there was also a display of Mann archival material and some of his books (and some Harry Bell books), and Tom Davies presented a selection of marginalia by Mann in textbooks he had come across. Glasgow Archaeology Society, Glasgow University Student Archaeology Society, and Edinburgh University Press had stalls.
The day was indeed a celebration of Mann, but of course reservations were also expressed about the veracity of some of his explanations, perhaps even the sanity of some of his actions. I think there was a good balance in the room of awareness that for all of his limitations and weaknesses, Mann was a pivotal figure in the development of Scottish archaeology. This was illuminated by a very personal intervention by George Applebey, whose father with the same name was a friend of Mann’s, and did a lot of work with him. George even remembered meeting Mann, who was an uncle figure to him.
The reaction to the day seems to have been positive, with tweets like this one from film-maker Myles Painter making it all worthwhile.
In numbers, the Mann the Myth conference was also a success. 64 people came along to the conference including over 20 Glasgow Archaeology Society members. The day would not have been possible without the financial and in-kind support of our sponsors, while the time and effort given freely by speakers, student helpers, and assorted other supporters was humbling. I hope that this is only the start of my Ludovic Mann journey, not the end, and given his voluminous and mostly uncatalogued archive, that seems very likely. His legacy has yet to be truly reflected on and explored to the depths of the Palaeolithic and onwards.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
No further symbols were observed on the bedrock (400) nor were any further archaeological features recorded in the surrounding deposits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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…..
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.
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.
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).
Where prehistory is turned into gases and powders and pastes and unguents
Through the corridors of power are the containers of powder
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
And so to the Reaktor
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 adorned with a stark geometric deep blue monolith, appearing to emit turquoise ectoplasm, the escaping spirits of the past
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
3D models of Faifley’s rock art (sites Edinbarnet, Whitehill, Law Farm and Auchnacraig) on sketchfab
Faifley Rocks! intends to:
identify features, materials & activity related to rock art decorated outcrops;
recover material related to the chronology & environmental context of the rock art;
identify additional symbols on buried outcrop areas and explore connections between symbols and aspects of the natural rock;
quantify and interpret rock art and graffiti on each rock outcrop;
raise the profile of Faifley’s rock-art locally and more broadly;
inform ongoing local consultation on the future of the Cochno Stone;
support the development of a rock art walking trail in the area and provide information for other forms of public engagement, analogue and digital;
work with local communities and schools to provide information, skills and learning opportunities.
The overall intention of Faifley Rocks is to place the rock art within its prehistoric, and contemporary, context, explore the social value of prehistoric rock art and identify ways to use the rock art for social benefit of the local and broader community. As part of this commitment, summary reports on all fieldwork will be posted on this blog.
Auchnacraig 2019 (AC19) excavations
In June 2019, excavations took place around two of the rock art sites in the area, known as Auchnacraig 1 and 3. These are situated within 10m of one another in Auchnacraig Park at the edge of a clearing that was previously occupied by Auchnacraig House. They are located at NS 5028 7366 and NS 5029 7365 and have this Canmore ID.
These two rock art sites (along with nearby Auchnacraig 4 and the Cochno Stone) were first documented in the late 1880s by Rev Harvey (1889). He noted that the carved stone were at that time located in moorland, and that the outcrops bore marks of glaciation. He identified all rocks as sandstone.
Auchnacraig 1 (Harvey called this Rock B) was said to dip at an angle of 30 degrees and was covered in a profusion of cupmarks (up to 90) and some rings, as well as other markings and a large basin. He noted the connection between natural cracks and ‘ducts’, and some of the symbols. Ronald Morris said of Auchnacraig 1: ‘Prominent smooth gritstone slab sloping 30 degrees from 1m high on the east to ground level on west. 7m by 5m. On it are nearly 100 cups…at least 6 are surrounded by weathered rings, mostly now incomplete. These include 3 cup-and-three-rings, one with two radial grooves in the ‘keyhole pattern’. Largest ring 22cm in diameter’ (1981, 85). When Morris visited this site in June / July 1968, it was situated within the garden and lawn of Auchnacraig House. He wrote in his notes from one visit that this rock was only a few metres from the corner of the building, and that the House looked derelict.
Auchnacraig 3 has received much less attention. Harvey called this his Stone C and noted that it was a rock that had seven cupmarks on it. These were, he noted, of ‘exceptionally large diameter’ (1889, 137). Morris simply noted the presence and the existence of a few cupmarks on this surface of the other panel, Auchnacraig 3. He did not give this site its own number and the label Auchnacraig 3 comes from the SCRAP database.
Both sites were also visited by an OS fieldworker in 1951, when the stones were situated in the garden of Auchnacraig House. It was noted that no rings were visible on any of the outcrops (incorrectly in the case of Auchnacraig 1). Both were partially covered in vegetation and located on the edge of a lawn at this time.
In March 2019, these panels were subject to detailed recording and photogrammetry as part of Scotland’s Rock art Project (SCRAP). By this time, as has been the case since the 1980s, the rocks were situated in a cleared area in an urban park, reflecting the remnants of the footprint of Auchnacraig House and gardens.
The SCRAP survey identified several distinctive long ‘gutters’ running down the slope of Auchnacraig 1 which were not recorded by Morris (who presumably felt them to be natural features of the rock). It was also noted that graffiti, and a cup-and-ring mark, are evident on the vertical eastern face of the stone, again previously unrecorded. A more detailed analysis of the symbols and natural features on all rock art sites in the area is currently underway and will be reported on in the future.
June 2019 excavation
The specific research questions for the excavation of these two panels are:
Do carvings extend beyond the currently exposed outcrop?
What evidence is there for activity in prehistory, and in the twentieth century?
How do the panels physically and spatially relate to one another?
Was the rock-art incorporated into the garden or any other structures associated with 20th century activity here?
Are there any traces left of the house, garden or associated features?
Three trenches were opened as part of AC19, two around Auchnacraig 1 and one around Auchnacraig 3. Furthermore, geophysical survey was undertaken in the area immediately to the east of the rock art in the area of Auchnacraig House and garden. The results of this will be reported on fully once processed.
3.5m east-west by 1.5m running east from the vertical face of Auchnacraig 1.
A number of soil layers were identified within this trench, laid on top of bedrock which sloped to the southwest. These were, in simple terms, an orange-brown soil (105/112) interpreted as a ‘garden soil’ with darker topsoil layers on top (100/113/101).
A concentration of rounded and angular stones was identified hard up against the vertical face of the rock outcrop (102). This consisted of a series of large stones up to 0.3m across; they were set in a roughly level layer consisting of one course of stones. This extended 0.8m out from the main outcrop and extended across the width of the trench. This was set within a matrix of dark silt loam (101) which was similar but darker than topsoil 100/113.
The bedrock was 0.7m beneath the surface at the rock face end of the trench, and 0.08m below the surface at the eastern end of the trench. This is the same sedimentary rock as both rock outcrops with rock art here. There were signs of glacial plucking on this bedrock surface.
Small finds from within this trench were not in secure contexts and included modern rubbish and roofing material, presumably from the house.
A trench measuring 1.5m by 3.2m was opened on the southern side of Auchnacraig 1 running from a ‘crack’ in the rock; an extension was added to the southern end of this trench, on the west side, measuring 1m x 1.8m.
The stratigraphy in the trench was fairly simple, with a mid-brown clay-slit soil (117), at least 0.7m deep, underlying a fairly shallow dark brown to black loam topsoil (104).
Overlying layer 117 was a drystone kerb or wall was running east-west adjacent to the southern edge of the outcrop (107/108). A gap in this wall about 0.8m across coincided with extensions of the kerb northwards on both sides of this gap for c1m and abutting / overlying the rock outcrop’s southern sloped extent.
Rubble deposit 109 was found in the ‘entrance area’ within and protruding through topsoil 104, consisting of scattered stones up to 0.4m in length although most were much smaller.
A cup marked stone was found amidst the wall, on the western corner of the entrance area. This has not previously been recorded.
Small finds from this trench did not come from a secure context. In topsoil layer 104, a marble was found, and a metal ‘box’ was in the same layer in the ‘entrance’ area.
A trench measuring at its maximum 4m east-west by 5.4m north-south was opened on the north-east and eastern side of Auchnacraig 3.
Distinctive markings were noted on the rock outcrop including striations running along the rock (glacial markings). A natural vesicle was also noted on a lower section of the outcrop, and while this is natural, it looks like a cup mark. Scrapes on the rock’s upper surface are probably plough marks suggesting that before this was a garden, this area was a field.
This trench had simple stratigraphy. The natural was an orange-brown-pink boulder clay (303) which in places we dug into to establish this was the natural. Above this was an orange-brown ‘garden’ soil (similar to 105/112 in Trench A1b); this layer, 302, was between 0.2 and 0.3m deep and spread across extent of the trench beyond the outcrop. Above this was a topsoil layer, 300, which was a dark brown loam with small stone inclusions. This layer was no more than 0.2m thick and was essentially the same as topsoil layers 104 and 100/113 in the other trenches. No features were found cut into the natural.
Small finds from within this trench were not in secure contexts and were modern debris and roofing material, presumably from the house. There was evidence for fires having been set in the topsoil, modern surface activity.
These modest trenches at first glance did not reveal much of prehistoric relevance to the carving of these rock art panels. However, the interplay between natural features and the carved symbols are an important element in the story of this location in prehistory. The natural vesicle found at Auchnacraig 3 looks like a cupmark and may have been regarded as such in the Neolithic period, although unlike a similar feature found at Copt Howe, Lake District, this had not been augmented by a carved ring (Bradley et al. 2019).
Source: Bradley et at 2019
The glacial striations and signs of plucking found during the excavation may also have played a role in the significance of these outcrops, not least due to the entanglement of symbols with cracks, veins and so on evident on the surface of Auchnacraig 1. Unlike other rock art sites such as Torbhlaren, Argyll and Bute (Jones et al. 2011), no material was found in any cracks on either outcrop although several large stones are still to be analysed.
The collection of rocks found in Trench A1a was at first glance interpreted as the result of a modern gardening activity. However, it is worth bearing in mind that a similar rocky setting at Copt Howe has been interpreted as a ‘rubble platform’ contemporary with the carving of the stone. This was, as at Auchnacraig, set up hard against a vertical face with carvings on it. Bradley et al (2019) have suggested this architectural trait is shared with Irish passage graves. That the rubble layer at Auchnacraig appears to have sat upon a layer we interpreted as a garden soil suggests this is not a likely interpretation of what we found, but it is worth bearing in mind and we cannot rule out the possibility that these stones were indeed set there in prehistory and our interpretation of the sequence might be revisited. A less well-defined version of this was found at Rock 1, Ben Lawers, Perth and Kinross, during excavations and interpreted as a ‘cobbled surface’ (Bradley et al 2012, 38).
Twentieth century use of the rock art as elaborate garden features is apparent, especially in the constructed wall or kerb on the south side of Auchnacraig 1. This kerb or wall continues for some 2m to the west, before merging or joining a broader coarser wall or bank which runs to the south. Morris’s photos of this stone (such as the one included above from 1968) show a similar drystone wall beyond the rock, suggesting these were two sides of a pathway skirting south of the rock art. This arrangement, and a possible rockery on the west side of the rock outcrop, will be explored in a future season of work.
The inclusion, probably deliberately, of a cup marked stone at the entrance area of the kerb or wall suggests the house owners were keen to celebrate the rock art in their garden and none of this is a coincidence. The discovery of a marble in this area suggests that the rock art outcrop here was not just a garden feature, but a place where children played; the latter was also the case at the Cochno Stone (Brophy 2018). It seems that this richly decorated stone was a matter of some pride for the house owners, and aspects of the garden here were arranged around it.
Permission to carry out the work was given by West Dunbartonshire Council; thanks to Donald Petrie for arranging this.
Equipment was provided by the University of Glasgow. Thanks to Aris Palyvos for organising and transporting tools. We’re also grateful to the staff at Cochno Farm for allowing us to store equipment there.
Thanks to Tessa Poller, and Aris, for coming out to do the geophysical survey and survey the trench locations.
The site supervisor was Alison Douglas, and Alison also did all filming for Digging for Britain.
We appreciated the large number of helpers who came along and worked on site, in particular Tom Davis who put in a legendary performance. Other team members (in alphabetical order) were: Clare Archibald, Tristan Boyle, Pamela Diffin, Hayley Drysdale, Todd Ferguson, Lesley Fraser, Remy Grossman, Carolyn Hutchison, Christopher Ladds, Ellen Laird, Clare Love, Jools Maxwell, Rory McPherson, Gordon Morrison, Hannah Mould-Healy, Irene Pandolfi, Katherine Price, Linsey Reid, Nikki Reid, Hannah Ridley, Sandra Roxburgh, Jean and Tom Tumilty, Charlotte Walker, Jennifer Wallace, Simone Wason, Lauren Welsh, Ross Wood and Danielle Young.
Small finds were cleaned and catalogued by Dominic Pollock and Dominic also inked up and helped tidy the site drawings, some of which appear in this blog post.
We really appreciate the work done at these sites in March 2019 by the SCRAP team, led by Tertia Barnett and Maya Hoole. The 3D models of both rock art panels has been invaluable to this project.
Much appreciation to those who brought cakes: Jeremy Huggett, Dene Wright, Rebecca Younger and other friends who popped in with eagle eyes such as Gavin MacGregor.
Finally, thanks to each of the 100+ local people who visited the excavations including school children, and a massive thanks to the Clydebank High School Archaeology Club who came along and helped with the backfilling!
Bradley, R, Watson, A & Anderson-Whymark, H 2012 Excavation at four prehistoric rock-carvings on the Ben Lawers Estate, 2007-2010, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 142, 27-61.
Bradley, R, Watson, A & Style, P 2019 After the axes? The rock art at Copt Howe, North-west England, and the Neolithic sequence at Great Langdale. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society to be published December 2019.
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.
an accumulation of scree at the base of a cliff or steep slope
an ankle bone
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.
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.
Through this psychogeographik grimoire, I had found my hard stuff. The hard stuff of life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 fallen megalith –
The shit-stained monolith –
The island has its own sacred geometry, ghost paths and leys –
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.
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.
Now, in its abandoned state, this concrete island is becoming something … other.
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
“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).
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.
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.
In my first post looking at art and the Cochno Stone, I considered the 5,000 year-old tradition of using this domed sandstone surface as a canvas for various creative acts in the form of shallow scratches, deeply incised hollows and painted lines. These surface alterations are ambiguous in meaning, each with their own aesthetic qualities and values, either reducing or adding to the monument, all of them inspiring passionate opinions.
In this second post, I would like to consider the art of the Cochno Stone from another perspective, through the medium of sketches and drawings, specifically those drawn from life (ie before the stone was buried in 1965) over a period between the 1880s and 1930s. No doubt there will be some who will argue that some of these drawings are not really works of art and creativity. For instance, can we regard ‘measured’ depictions of something, technical drawings as part of an archaeological study, as being creative or simply reductive? And what is the archaeological value of studying archive material or newspaper clippings with old drawings when we know with the benefit of hindsight that the drawings are either inaccurate, or incomplete, or both? More fundamentally – and this gets to the roots of much debate on the nature of archaeological narratives – to what extent are these objective renderings of the Cochno Stone? Is such a thing even possible? There are layers of art entangled with art here, the art of art, about art, for art.
Regardless of the motivation, medium, and intended audience, I would argue that there is a deeply artistic strand running through the history of attempts to capture the spirit of Cochno and I hope that this story of four decades worth of drawing and sketching the Cochno Stone will persuade you of this. Before getting to the real stuff, however, I want to reflect a little more on the art of depicting rock-art, and this also has resonance for part 3 of this sequence of posts, which will focus on art inspired by the Cochno Stone, so please take notes! 😉
The art of rock-art
Prehistoric rock-art lends itself well to contemporary variations in unusual locations, with the simple form and shallow depth endlessly replicatable. Wherever it occurs, if offers a juxtaposition, a curious time slip. Palaeolithic rock-art – cave paintings to you and me – work especially well in this respect, with otherwordly effects as standard.
More abstract Neolithic and Bronze Age rock-art works is equally portable. This lovely image is in Umea, Sweden, photographed by Lorna Richardson (and reproduced here with permission). This was part of a campaign by the local authorities to promote cycling and draws on the local rock-art repertoire which is a little less abstract than the Scottish equivalents.
Many artists have been inspired by the simplicity and concentricity of cup-and-ring marks. Gavin MacGregor wrote about one such artist, Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864-1933), a landscape painter who lived most of his life in and around Kirkcudbright in southwest Scotland, and one of the famous ‘Glasgow boys’. Gavin notes that Hornel consorted with antiquarians and was himself a keen amateur archaeologist, and as it happens, Kirkcudbright happens to be a real hotspot for rock-art (as well as being the location of some shooting for The Wicker Man movie).
MacGregor, and the biographer of Hornel, Bill Smith, both draw attention to the echoes of cup-and-ring marks in the depiction of the moon in painting such as The Brownie of Blednoch (1889) and The Druids: bringing in the mistletoe (1890, with George Henry). Gavin notes the former (see above) is dominated by a ‘Gallovoidian shepherd beast, beard of circles and cup-marked eyes … manifestation of the living rock….’. Hornel went as far as to search for new cup-and-ring marked stones and some of his discoveries were recorded in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
It is in the work of the polymath-antiquarian-artist-archaeologist that we find the first recorded artwork associated with the Cochno Stone, with the earliest engagements mediated by various characters of this ilk as well as clergymen. The earliest drawings we have of rock-art in the pages of antiquarians books of the nineteenth century emerged form such a melting pot of influences and interests, blurring the lines between art and objective record, in fascinating ways. Hornel was himself involved in the process of the creation of a series of black and white engravings of Kirkcudbrightshire rock-art, which MacGregor notes were collaborations between a small team and were based on photographs taken of casts made from rock-art panels.
This is a period when the first drawings as a matter of record were being produced for cup-and-ring marks, and there was no rulebook, no style guide, no best practice conventions to follow. Artists used licence and produced evocative and memorable images, which often used unusual perspectives and were, for a time, concerned with context and not metrical accuracy.
It was also around this time that a young Ludovic Mann became obsessed with cup-and-rings marks near the rural family holiday home, according to Katinka Dalglish, an obsession that would reach its feverish conclusion on the surface of the Cochno Stone to which we now turn. Before going any further in this post, I must also offer the debt of gratitude I owe to Jim Mearns for doing much of the archive research which underpins the history of early drawings of Cochno.
Sketches and symbols
Several drawings or sketches of the Cochno Stone were undertaken before 1900, each with a very different style, scope and ambition. (A cast was also taken although the nature and fate of this remains unknown.) These wonderfully capture the emergent understanding of Cochno, presenting only symbols that were initially visible, sometimes selectively so. The gradual reveal of the removal of grass from the stone was played out in these artistic renderings and associated accounts.
A partial drawing, defined within a box, was published with the first detailed account of the Cochno Stone, by Rev James Harvey, in 1889. This may well be the earliest drawing we have of any part of the Cochno stone, certainly the first to be published, and it focuses on the only area of the stone cleared when Harvey encountered it. This is a rather plain drawing, with cupmarks represented as dots and dashes, and lacking depth. Harvey himself did the drawings in 1887, but also took rubbings, which he was then able to use to correct his field sketches. The end product has a sense of immediacy, a work in progress, megalithic notations in a sketchbook. Looking at this sketch now for me is slightly disorientating as east is to the top, but is a welcome break from the tyranny of the north. However, this is also a drawing of some authority, having been published in that august organ the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (PSAS).
The wonderful little sketch below was drawn by another minister, the Rev Robert Munro at the latest in 1890. It shows edited highlights of what must have been visible at that time. Two slightly different versions of this drawing were reproduced, the earliest, remarkably, in The Illustrated London News on 6th September 1890. A slightly amended version was then included in John Bruce’s History of Old Kilpatrick (1893). (A further version of this was reproduced in Harry Bell’s 1980s book Glasgow’s Secret Geometry but wrongly attributed to William Donnelly.)
When compared with what we know of Cochno now from our excavation of 2016, some of this drawing is quite fanciful, but it is also an image that has real depth. (The version published by Bruce even has the feel of a rubbing, a nice observation made by Grahame Gardner.) However, unlike Harvey’s drawing, there is no scale here, thus giving the drawing a sense of being more of an artistic and interpretive depiction rather than a document of precise record. This is perhaps the case, as elements of this depiction of the stone are spatially impossible, with symbols simply in the wrong place relative to one another and so this is an image of cup-and-ring mark density, not accuracy. The use of a sharply defined diagonal line allows symbols from another part of the stone – in this case the south-western extent, several metres from the other symbols to be shown in the same drawing, making this a sort of ‘Cochno Stone greatest hits’ compilation.
This emphasis on selected bits of the Cochno Stone was countered by the clearing of vegetation, and drawing of the whole monument, by William Donnelly in the mid-1890s, working with John Bruce. Illustrator Donnelly’s drawing of the whole of the stone was published in PSAS in 1896, but a slightly earlier and different version was printed in an edition of Bruce’s History of Old Kilpatrick and includes the artist’s signature and the date – 1895. The slightly earlier drawing, the upper of the two versions depicted below, is notable for its inclusion of a north arrow and some landscape detail that are inexplicably absent from the more widely circulated ‘authoritative’ PSAS version.
Donnelly himself was an interesting character, and his illustrations showed an equally bold approach to cup-and-ring mark symbols found elsewhere.
His depiction of symbols of these hoax items found during his excavations (with John Bruce, him again) have echoes of what he saw and drew at Cochno just a few years previously, and suggest a hankering towards the weird and esoteric which he was also able to satisfy at Cochno with his recording of a cross in a circle and two four-toe footprints, neither typical prehistoric motifs. On the cusp of archaeological professionalism, but with visibility and access to archaeological sites still somewhat limited, at the turn of the century such drawings had to be taken on trust.
Yet the rise in interest and participation in rambling and hikes in the early decades of the twentieth century allowed less authoritative accounts of archaeological monuments to be composed and disseminated. The only two sketches of the Cochno Stone that I know of from between 1900 and 1965 were both drawn by non-professional archaeologists.
The earliest of these was published, firstly in the Glasgow Evening Times newspaper in 1909, and then in the book Some Sylvan Scenes near Glasgow by T C F Brotchie in 1910.
This lovely sketch captures a very small fragment of the Cochno Stone focused on a ‘dumb-bell’ motif, sketched at the end of a good ‘Saturday afternoon ramble’. This is a truly artistic rendering, taken from an oblique angle rather than depicting the plan view, with no scale, no north arrow, no conventions – but a sufficiency of dynamism. The rings around the cup have a real sense of mobility, almost as if the symbols were spinning in front of Brotchie’s eyes. There is also a synechdotal quality to this sketch, a gutter running off the right-hand side of the drawing hinting at more to be discovered (and drawn) beyond the frame.
Such dynamism is also evident in another Cochno Stone drawing, one which I have reproduced before, notably in the excavation summary report. Ludovic Mann’s audacious attempt to explain the cosmological meaning of each ring of a cup-and-ring mark complex is as mind-blowing now as it must have been when published in the late 1930s as part of a consideration of the Knappers site he had been excavating in nearby Clydebank.
This ‘dialectogram’ (for the wonderful work of Mitch Miller is one of the best parallels I can think of here) is an amalgam of all the other Cochno drawings to that date. There is convention. There is artistic licence. There is narrative. There is a focus on the giant cup-and-ring mark motifs on the upper reaches of the Cochno Stone that also featured prominently in the drawings of Munro, Harvey and Donnelly. There is passion. And there is wonder.
And there are more questions than answers. Always more questions than answers.
All of these Cochno Stones drawings, produced over a period of forty years, offer a series of dynamic and creative attempts to document and make sense of the cup-and-ring marks, using the conventions and styles of their time and channeled through the personal motivations and passions of the artist-recorder. In their own ways, each of these drawing is a version of the Cochno Stone that captures some of the character of the rock and its symbols and taken together they form a compelling biography of this place, another chapter of a story that began to be written (before there was writing) 5,000 years ago.
What I especially find alluring about this collection of drawings is that they were drawn from life – by actually standing at the site and looking at the stone. This is where Morris’s much reproduced drawing of the stone falls short – it was cobbled together from the plans by Harvey and Donnelly, and some photographs from the 1930s. While it was (until our photogrammetric and laser survey of 2016) the most comprehensive drawing of the Cochno Stone produced, it creaks at the edges with the slightest bit of scrutiny especially when compared with earlier, more dynamic, drawings. It is clinical, transactional, flat.
Morris, a solicitor, was a lateral thinker. To really start to make sense of rock-art, concentric thinking is required.
One of the most common questions that I get asked about the Cochno Stone regards the meaning of the symbols, and regardless of how accurately we record and draw the cupmarks and the cups-and-rings and the gutters, that meaning cannot be revealed to us. Therefore, despite the formal and technical shortcomings of some of the earlier drawings of the Cochno Stone, these are no more or less likely to help make sense of the symbols than any image we could generate now that was mediated through digital technology. In this case at least, the pencil is no more or less mighty than the pixel.
The joy of the art of the Cochno Stone – and indeed any abstract rock-art – is not about accuracy, or precision, but about mediation, dialogue, spending time with the stone, tracing the contours of the prehistoric depressions with our fingers. There is much merit in standing back and letting a laser scanner do its thing, or viewing the stone through the lens of the camera. But drawings and sketches involve a powerful intimacy that mirrors the acts that created the rock-art in the first place.
Forget the scales. We don’t need north arrows. Making sense of rock-art is about thinking concentrically, not metrically.
In the final part of my series of posts looking at the art of the Cochno Stone, I will consider art and creative acts that have been inspired by the Cochno Stone, but that exist spatially somewhere else. In some cases they have only had a brief existence or do not exist at all. A mural, a comic book, Chalkno stones and inspired architectural design all attest to the power of Cochno to provoke a response and empower.
Sources and acknowledgements: as noted in the post, the story of the antiquarian and early drawings of the Cochno Stone could not have been told without the research and diligence of Jim Mearns. Thanks also to Katinka Dalglish, Gavin MacGregor and Alex Hale for the input that their research has had on this post and I have linked to their work where possible. For more on Donnelly and Dumbuck, you can download for free Alex and Rob Sands’ book Controversy on the Clyde: archaeologists, fakes and forgers from here. The biography of Hornel alluded to is Bill Smith’s 2010 book Hornel: the life and work of Edward Atkinson Hornel. I’m also very grateful to Lorna Richardson for both allowing me to use her Umea photograph, but giving me some background context for the image.
The High Banks rock-art drawing came from Hamilton’s paper in PSAS 23 (1888-9) ‘Notice of additional groups of carvings of cups and circles on rock surfaces at High Banks, Kircudbrightshire’. The Stronach rock-art sketch comes from Somerville’s PSAS article, ‘Notice of cup- and ring-marked rocks on the Stronach Ridge, near Brodick, Arran’ (volume 35, 1900-1901). All PSAS articles can be downloaded free.
Ronald Morris’s drawing of the Cochno Stone comes from his 1981 BAR volume The prehistoric rock art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway).
Other image permissions have been included in the captions, or the text accompanying the images