Prehistoric animal sculptures first discovered in Scotland
Prehistoric sculptures of animals were first discovered in Scotland.
Thought to be up to 5,000 years old, dating to the Neolithic or early Bronze Age, they depict two male red deer with fully grown antlers, while other sculptures suggest younger deer, Historic Environment Scotland said (HES).
The images were discovered by chance in an ancient burial site at Dunchraigaig Cairn, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, by Hamish Fenton, who has a background in archeology.
The images are the earliest known animal sculptures in Scotland and the earliest clear examples of Neolithic to early Bronze Age deer carvings across the UK, HES said.
Kilmartin Glen is known for its high concentration of ancient remains from the time, including some of the clearest cup and ring marks.
It is also the first time that animal sculptures dating from this period have been discovered in an area with cut and ring marks in the UK, HES said.
Deer are said to have been a valuable source of bones, meat, and skins, with their antlers used to make a variety of tools.
Dr Tertia Barnett, Principal Investigator for Scotland’s Rock Art Project at HES, said: ‘It was previously thought that prehistoric animal sculptures of this date did not exist in Scotland, although they are known in parts of Europe so it is very exciting that they have now been discovered here for the first time in the historic Kilmartin Glen.
“This extremely rare find completely changes the assumption that prehistoric rock art in Britain was primarily geometric and not figurative.
“It is remarkable that these sculptures by Dunchraigaig Cairn show such great anatomical detail and there is no doubt about the animal species they represent.
“It also tells us that local communities carved animals as well as cup and ring designs, which is consistent with what we know from other Neolithic and Bronze Age societies, particularly in Scandinavia and in the Iberian Peninsula.
“This incredible find at Dunchraigaig Cairn makes us wonder if other sculptures of animals previously unknown to the UK are hidden in unexpected places of our ancient landscapes, waiting to be discovered in the future.
Mr Fenton said: “I was walking past Dunchraigaig Cairn at dusk when I noticed the burial chamber on the side of the cairn and decided to slip inside with my torch.
“As I was lighting the torch, I noticed a pattern on the underside of the roof slab that didn’t appear to be natural marks in the rock.
“As I turned on the light, I could see that I was looking at an upside down stag deer, and as I continued to look around, other animals appeared on the rock.
“It was a completely amazing and unexpected find and, to me, finds like this are the real treasure of archeology, helping to reshape our understanding of the past.
There are over 3,000 prehistoric carved rocks in Scotland, the vast majority of which are abstract marks of a central cut mark surrounded by concentric rings.
“While many of these mysterious sculptures can still be seen in the open landscape today, we know little about how they were used, or what they were used for,” HES said.