Saturday, 15 June 2013

Kilmartin Cornucopia of Treasures

Today we walked and walked all day, but it was so rewarding with so many treasures to be seen. The Fort of Dunadd was our first site one of the most famous historic sites in Scotland. Rising as a rocky outcrop in Moine Mhor (or Great Moss), one of the most extensive areas of raised bog in Scotland. At 175 feet tall it takes only a little imagination to picture the strategic strength of the site, two gaps form easily defended gateways before the summit is reached. By tradition, it was the capital of the early Scottish kingdom of Dalriada, founded by Fergus Mor in about AD 500, and the probable site where their kings were inaugurated. It was a complex fortification, defended by four lines of walling on different levels. These structures appear to have been built between about AD 500 and 1000. Objects found in excavations show that the site was particularly important around AD 500. The main approach is up a rocky defile to the lowest terrace, which has a well-defined wall. Near the north end is a solidly built wall. Above this level, the walls are more ruinous. When you get to the top the views are amazingus. One of the most remarkable features is a series of carvings on a rock slab near the summit. What can be clearly seen is a rock cut bowl, which still holds water today, an incised boar, a footprint (size 7?), and a few lines of Ogham script (an ancient alphabet). The basin and footprint are said to have been used in the inauguration of the kings of Dalriada. The details of the ceremonies are lost to us now, but there is a tradition of carved footprints throughout Scotland and Ireland used either to install a new king or for lesser kings and chieftains to swear their loyalty. In times when the fate of a land was believed to be inextricably linked to the fate of its king, who could ask for a better symbol than planting your foot into the living bedrock at the summit of your greatest stronghold, thus making a very physical connection. Could this also be a possible oath to follow in the footsteps of your ancestors (quite literally) and continue the proud tradition of your people. It was not until the turn of the 6th century that Dunadd really came to prominence. Spreading out from modern day Antrim came the Gaelic speaking tribes from the Kingdom of Dalriada. These were the Scotti, and from them comes the very name of Scotland. Dunadd became the capital of a kingdom spread across the north of Ireland and increasingly encroaching on the territory of the Picts. As well as an excellent fortification and seat of kings it was also a centre of metalworking, producing fine jewellery and brooches and with trade links throughout the British Isles and Europe. There is some speculation that this may be where the Hunterston Brooch was made, one of the finest pieces of work from this period anywhere. 

The Well

Kevin standing the footstep of the Kings of Scotland

The boar is now very faint to see

The Ogham Script in just above the two cut lines in the stone

Achnabreck Rock Carvings these are the most extensive group of prehistoric rock carvings in Scotland. The most common motif is a hollow or cup surrounded by up to seven rings, often with a gutter running from the cup outwards. Other figures include spirals, multiple rings, peltas, ringed stars and parallel grooves. 

The cup and ring sample is 1 meter in diameter

Kilmichael Glassary Rock Art has several rock faces and boulders that have been carved with cup-marks, and the best of these has been fenced off and is in state care. The sloping rock surface has a fairly dense covering of deep cup marks. What makes this site a little unusual are the rings around some of the cup marks. Several are key-hole shaped rather than round. Others are incomplete rings. Some enclose several cup marks.

Dunchraigaig Cairn was in use around 2000 BC, the mound was excavated in the late 19th C. revealing cremated and unburnt human bones in three stone-lined burial chambers, together with a stone axe, flint knife, whetstone, pots and pottery fragments. It measures 30m (98 feet) in diameter and 2.5m (8 feet) in height, but has been heavily disturbed and robbed of stone.

At Ballymeanoch there two rows of stones. One has two stones, a third stone with a hole pierced through it stood with them until sometime in the last one hundred years, and the other has four stones. Together they form part of what was a large megalithic avenue. Within a very small distance of these stones are the remains of a henge monument - now ploughed almost flat - and a burial cairn. 

See cup marks on this standing stone 

The Nether Largie standing stones are situated some 300m to the south-east of the Temple Wood stone circles and are probably broadly contemporary with them. They stand in a rectangular or X-shaped setting which is formed by two pairs of standing stones, placed about 35m to the north-east and south-west of a central stone. With the exception of two stones all the Nether Largie stones are cupmarked, and one on its south-west side, has a large number of these, some of which are surrounded by rings and are connected to other cupmarks by grooves.

Center Stone

The Nether Largie South Cairn dating from the Neolithic and built on the valley floor, near the center of the line of tombs. This cairn has a diameter of over 40 m (130 ft) with an oblong (6 x 1.2 m/20 x 14 ft) central chamber constructed of schist slabs and drystone walling, entered from the north. In the edge of the cairn are two stone cists (one visible), probably inserted later in the Early Bronze Age.

I entered the tomb from this tight entrance descending into the under world as the ancients once did

Then re-emerged into the world at this larger opening at the other end

Temple or Half Moon Wood Stone Circle in Argyll. According to Burl, this is one of the earliest stone circles in Britain, dating to 3500 BC. The site includes two circles (north and south). The southern circle contains a ring of 13 standing stones about 12 meters (40 feet) in diameter. In the past it may have had 22 stones. In the center is a burial cist surrounded by a circle of stones about 3 meters (10 feet) in diameter. Other later burials are associated with the circle. According to the Historic Scotland information marker at the site, the southern circle's first incarnation may have been constructed around 3000 BCE. The northern circle is smaller and consists rounded river stones (which also fill the southern circle). In its center is a single stone; another stone is found on the edge of the circle. This circle may have originated as a timber circle. The name of the site originates in the 19th century (coinciding with the planting of trees around the circles) and has no relevance to the purpose of the site.

The first stone circle in the foreground with the second and the grove of trees in the background
Ri Cruin Cairn with a diameter of 20 mtr. is a very much spread cairn, 6' above the marsh, was excavated in 1870 by Mapleton. Three cists, all with grooved side-slabs were found, containing fragments of inhumed bone. Cist (1) measured 4'5" x 2'1" x 1'8": 2), 21' S of (1), was partly destroyed when making a lime kiln, only the side-slabs remained, 6' and 5' long. (3), 5' S of (2), was 6'5" x 3'4" - 2'2" x 3'4". It contained slabs sculptured with axe-carvings is still in situ; the other was lost in a fire at Poltalloch.

The Baluachraig Cup and Ring Marks are located in the Kilmartin Glen area there are three rock outcrops located within the protective enclosure erected by Historic Scotland in a field. The largest outcrop is approximately 30 x 7 feet and has easily over 100 cupmarks and over 30 ring marks. The other two rock-sheets (measuring 1.8m x 1.8m and 2.4m x 1.7m) bear ten cupmarks (to the west) and one cup with a single ring and a plain cupmark (to the north). The markings were chipped out of the rock with a stone hammer.

Next we visited the Kilmartin Grave Slabs at the Church of Scotland Kilmartin. The earliest stones date back to the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, with the most recent ones dated 1707 and 1712. Originally, the stones would have been laid flat on the ground to cover a grave. After the Reformation, however, many of the stones were moved, and in 1956 they were moved inside a shelter to protect them from the weather. The symbolism of the motifs carved onto the slabs is the subject of much discussion and speculation. Many feature swords or claymores, some alone, others with surrounding designs of twining or interlaced foilage. Several depict armed men. Other motifs include crosses, animals and shears; a comb appears with shears on one stone. It has been suggested that several of the slabs may commemorate Knights Templar but this theory is unproven.

Solar and Lunar Dial - the shadow in the cup reads the ascent and declination of the sun daily and yearly. Also passages of the Moon.

Kilmartin Glen is located between Oban and Lochgilphead, surrounding the village of Kilmartin, on the west of Scotland. A short walk back in time to the stone shrines and monuments in the valley of the ghosts. The area spans 5,000 years with a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles. Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland. There are more than 350 ancient monuments within a six mile radius of the village, with 150 of them being prehistoric. Monuments include standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘linear cemetery’ comprising five burial cairns. Several of these, as well as many natural rocks, are decorated with cup and ring marks. The remains of the fortress of the Scots at Dunadd, a royal centre of Dal Riata, are located to the south of the glen, on the edge of the Moine Mhòr or Great Moss. Most of the other archaeology on view in the Glen falls into one of three categories: cairns, standing stones and rings, and the almost commonplace cup and ring marked rocks. You wonder just how these remains have survived over so many thousand years. 

Glebe Cairn is 30m in diameter and 3 m high. It was excavated in 1864, where they found a food vessel and a jet necklace. There is also a cist in the center which is not viewable.

Ba Ba Black Sheep
The Bronze Age Nether Largie Cairn North in Kilmartin Glen is almost nine feet high and over 65 feet in diameter. Rebuilt since its excavation, it covers a central cist, now accessible through a roof hatch and contains a carved slab decorated with about 40 cupmarks and 10 axehead markings.

Amazing Spider webs on the roof glass tiles used to light the cairn.

The Nether Largie Mid cairn dates from the Early Bronze Age; two stone cists are visible, and originally the cairn was 3 m (10 ft) high. Since then, many stones have been carted away from this 30 m (100 ft) wide cairn -as with the other cairns in this cemetery- for road-mending and other purposes.

No comments: