Archaeologists have identified the site of a huge Iron Age feast on Orkney where more than 10,000 animals were cooked and eaten in a vast cliff top celebration.
Tests have shown that horses, cattle, red deer and otters were on the menu at the gathering above Windwick Bay, South Ronaldsay, more than 1,700 years ago.
Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands have been working at The Cairns for several years.
A large number of jewellery fragments and tools have already been discovered at the site, where the remains of an Iron Age broch and metalworking site can be found, with recent radiocarbon tests carried out at a midden – or rubbish tip – nearby.
Scotland’s oldest settlement, dating back 14,000 years, was near Biggar, in South Lanarkshire, archaeologists say. The site may have been a camp used by hunters following migrating herds of reindeer or wild horses across plains that are now covered by the North Sea.
Its discovery by the Biggar Archeology Group means humans have lived in Scotland for 3,000 years longer than previously thought. Until now the earliest evidence of human habitation in the country was at Cramond, near Edinburgh, which had been radiocarbon-dated to about 8400 BCE.
A large scattering of flints was first found in the field near Biggar a few years ago but the site was initially thought to be late Neolithic and was later classified as an Iron Age settlement after radiocarbon dating of charcoal found there. However, recent analysis of more of the flints revealed that they were from the end of the Upper Palaeolithic period, 14,000 years ago.
Artefacts dug up during excavations on the Aberdeen bypass have revealed glimpses into the last 15,000 years in the North-east – and raised questions over the area’s past.
A number of “fascinating discoveries” have been uncovered during archaeological works carried out during the construction of the project. These have included Roman bread ovens, prehistoric roundhouses and a cremation complex.
The Centre for Scottish and Celtic Studiesreported a seminar that took place in March of 2014. Dr. Gordon Noble (from Aberdeen University) spoke about recent excavation work involving the Rhynie Man site that we reported about in a previous news post. Dr Gordon Noble, discussed excavation work at Rhynie in Aberdeenshire. Rhynie is said to mean ‘a very royal place’ and Dr Noble suggested that the archaeological evidence was beginning to match with this.
A Complex landscape of Palisades and Timber Buildings
We’ve managed to find one of our old News articles that had been lost after our database crash, so would like to bring it back to you. BBC Scotland reports that archaeologists excavating a field in Aberdeenshire where standing stones were found believe they have uncovered the entrance to a Pictish palace. The University of Aberdeen team is digging at a site where the so-called Rhynie Man stone was discovered in the 1970s.
Cup and Ring marks are thought to be a form of prehistoric rock art. They are found mainly in Ireland, Wales, North England, Brittany, Portugal, Finland and Scotland (as well as some more widely distributed instances). They consist of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across, pecked into a rock surface and often surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. Sometimes a linear channel called a gutter leads out from the middle. The Guardian brought us this great post about a trip across the Hillside above Dundee with George Currie, former member of the pop-group Darts, in search of these relics.
I’m on a hillside above Dundee with a man named George who used to play lead guitar in the 70s doo-wop band Darts. We’re looking for prehistoric rock art, and finding it too. (George – George Currie – knew it was here; he found it before.) He pulls back a flap of turf from a rock to reveal what is known as a cup mark, a round depression in the surface. “Can you see that wee circle?” he says, brushing away the soil with his hand.
I can. And I’m not going to lie: in my – admittedly inexpert – opinion it doesn’t compare to the Altamira or Lascaux cave paintings. Nor am I having a Tutankhamun moment, suddenly seeing “wonderful things”. What I’m seeing is a dent in a rock, with a barely discernible ring round it. Made by a person, some time around 3300BC.
Actually, that is interesting, and now I’m thinking of Mr or Mrs Neolithic, right here on this hillside, same view (minus the big transmitter mast), bashing away at this very rock with another, smaller one.
There are similar cup and ring marks on rocks all over the world, from Australia to Korea, Africa and Europe. Which is also interesting, given that these people weren’t in contact. It’s not entirely surprising, says George, and he calls on his musical background for a comparison. “There’s only so much we like,” he says. The same musical scale is used all over the world. “Culturally, we’re wired similarly.”
But is it art? “The term is a modern concept, from just before the Renaissance,” he replies. “So whoever was doing these wouldn’t have considered it artistic.”
If not art, then what? The purpose of neolithic and bronze age petroglyphs is much debated and disputed, with theories ranging from the plausible (they mark births, deaths, possibly paths), through doodling and the warding off of evil, to the properly bonkers (energy lines, UFOs, aliens etc).
George is careful not to speculate, and has no time for “hippy bollocks”, even if he was once a hippy himself. He’s uneasy about me mentioning that rock art is sometimes found near pylons, because people might start talking about energy (he mentions someone who thinks Stonehenge was a power station). It’s for the simple reason that pylons are often built on rock, which is also where you’re likely to find rock art.
The thing you can say for sure about rock art is that it indicates human presence. “Kelly was here,” he says, meaning Kilroy, I think, unless he knows of a neolithic or bronze age graffiti artist called Kelly. “The bottom line is it tells us someone was here at some time, marking rocks.”
George – from Dundee originally, now 67, fit as a fiddle from wandering the hills a couple of times a week in search of rock art – has always been interested in prehistory and archaeology, but has no formal training. He pretty much left school at 14 to do music, grew his hair down to here, was in a blues band, then Darts, who did well in the 1970s and early 80s, and had a load of hits (“Come back my love, don’t go away,” remember?). Good rock’n’roll behaviour stories too, but he doesn’t want me to put them in either.
He left the band to teach a bit (still does – guitar and music theory), but mainly to hillwalk. He found some rock art that hadn’t been logged before, and that got him started. There is something of the male, obsessive-collector thing about it, he says. He has a friend whose thing is photographing trains.
Of the 3,000 or so known carvings in Scotland, he has found around 680. He has a GPS to mark the positions of his finds. Now his work is part of a £1m, five-year project organised by Historic Environment Scotland, which will provide a digital database of Scotland’s neolithic and bronze age rock art.
Is there not a seen-one-seen-’em-all element, I wonder? Again, he dips into his other passion for analogy: “It’s a bit like the blues – it all sounds the same to everyone else but, to anoraks, it’s like, ‘Wow!’ ” He still gets it, the wow? “Most definitely. And there is that element of discovery, the first time anyone has seen this for x thousand years.”
I’m worried George has picked up on my initial underwhelmedness. It’s not the best day for seeing the art, he says. Winter is better, when the sun is low, and the rock wet … God, I’m sorry. And wrong. Because the more he talks about it, the more I want to know and see.
The next is more ornate, with markings all over it, including what looks like an acid house smiley face. George says it fits the bill to be the cover of a cist, an ancient burial chamber. He’s not saying it “is”, of course – just that it fits the bill, in terms of size. He says it’s “as good as it gets” and should be in a museum, and I’m beginning to agree.
The following day, we’re at another favourite haunt, inland up the Tay valley in Perthshire, above the town of Aberfeldy. We’ve walked for an hour or so, up through woods, chattering chaffinches, a distant cuckoo, burbling skylarks, to a moor where the only sound is the sad whistle of a curlew and the occasional embarrassed posh chuckle of grouse. It’s magic, a little secret, no other people around.
There were once, though, thousands of years ago. After faffing around for a while, re-consulting the GPS, walking in circles, we find what we’re looking for. Kneeling down, George pulls away a tuft of heather and turf, and brushes away (he’s brought an actual brush today) at the rock beneath to reveal a cup mark with an incomplete ring, and a long tail. Like a question mark, an ancient mystery, in the rock.
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The Caithness Broch Project is building a Lego Iron Age Broch model as an “eye-catching prop” to encourage people to find out more about the construction and use of brochs, reports the BBC. Brochs are Iron Age roundhouses, and ruins of these homes can be found in the north and west Highlands and Orkney.
Caithness in the Highlands has more broch sites than anywhere else in Scotland. Working with universities and heritage and archaeology groups, Caithness Broch Project is also planning to hold a range of events during 2017’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. These include clearing vegetation from broch sites to better aid their preservation and running art competitions for schools.
Specialist historical Lego Builders – ‘Brick to the Past’
Bones discovered in a cave on Eigg have been linked to a massacre of almost the entire island’s population during a clan feud in the 16th Century. More than 50 bones were found after tourists found some of the remains in the Eigg Island Massacre Cave last year. Analysis by archaeologists at Historic Environment Scotland has dated the remains to the time of the killings reported the BBC.