About 4,500 years ago, Neolithic toolmakers used this site like a giant whetstone to polish axes. The large sandstone was discovered by archaeologists and volunteers who examined an area close to Balfron, near Stirling, Scotland.
There are many magnificent ancient monuments and sites in Scotland. “The merging of the Neolithic Age into the Bronze Age also sawthe flowering of an extraordinary architectural phenomenon – the erection of stone circles and standing stones.” 1 The sacred Callanish stone complex on the Isle of Lewis and the intriguing Neolithic Skara Brae village are just a few examples one can mention.
“Over 5000 years of human history can be traced across the Kilmartin valley. Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland.
There are at least 350 ancient monuments, of which 150 are prehistoric. Of particular interest are chambered cairns, round cairns, cists, standing stones and rock carvings.
These Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, together with the stone circle at Temple Wood and the standing stones at Ballymeanoch are all part of the ritual landscape of Kilmartin Glen.” 2
“The Neolithic period (or New Stone Age) began approximately 6,100 years ago and ended around 4,500 years ago (4,100 BC to 2,500 BC), which begins with the earliest evidence of a farming way of life and ends when copper tools are first used.
During this time, farmers arrived from what is now mainland Europe – and since people were now staying in one place for longer periods of time (rather than having to roam around for food), they also started building permanent structures such as stone dwellings and tombs.
This means that there are a lot more clues for archaeologists compared to the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods.” 3
Archaeologists have previously found many polished stone tools (axeheads), but now scientists get a better understanding of how these Neolithic tools were kept in working condition.
The recently unearthed axe grinding site represents Scotland’s largest concentration of Neolithic axe grind points and one of only two known Scottish polissoir sites.
“Experts believe people may have traveled for miles to smooth or sharpen axes at the sites.
Scotland’s Rock Art Project volunteer Nick Parish and Stirling Council archaeologist Dr Murray Cook were among those who stripped turf from the sandstone and recorded the polissoirs at Balfron,” BBC reports.
The finds have been listed among archaeological highlights from this year by the Dig It! project, external.
Hoard of Medieval Silver Coins Discovered in Scotland
Metal detectorists have unearthed what may be one of the largest hoards of coins ever discovered in Scotland, in a field in the southwest of the country. The hoard is made up of more than 8,400 silver coins that date from the medieval period, mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries.
Ken McNab, a spokesman for the Scottish government, told Live Science that many of the coins are “Edwardian pennies” named after King Edward I, who reigned in England from 1272 to 1307.
Finding any coins in Scotland is rare, and this hoard is especially large. “This is the biggest medieval coin hoard found in Scotland since the 19th century,” McNab told Live Science in an email.
The metal detectorists unearthed the coins last year in a field near the village of Dunscore, in the Dumfries and Galloway region about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Glasgow, and reported the hoard to the Treasure Trove Unit of National Museums Scotland, which oversees such finds.
McNab said the site was then investigated by archaeologists from National Museums Scotland, and each coin would now be identified, weighed, measured, and photographed — a lengthy process.
Scotland and England were independent kingdoms in the medieval period and often fought each other for control of their shared border. However, in 1296 Scotland was finally conquered by the armies of Edward I — earning the king the nickname “Hammer of the Scots.”
But the invasion sparked years of insurrectionist warfare, beginning with the famous rebellion led by William Wallace in 1297, and Edward’s descendants were troubled by uprisings until peace was agreed with the Scottish king Robert the Bruce in 1328, under the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton.
During his rule, Edward I reformed the coinage of his realm and introduced distinctive silver pennies with his face on one side and a Christian cross on the other.
The design influenced English coins for hundreds of years, and today silver pennies from the reigns of Edward I and his son Edward II are much-prized by collectors.
Each of the newly discovered medieval coins is likely worth several dollars today, and the entire hoard is thought to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, quite apart from its archaeological value.
According to the Scottish newspaper Daily Record, any artifact of archaeological significance, whether made from precious metals or not, technically belongs to the Scottish government and must be reported to the authorities.
The government doesn’t always act on possible claims, however; and McNab said the decision on how to allocate the coins and any remuneration paid to the finders would be considered by the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel, which advises a government official known as the King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (KLTR).
McNab added that 12,263 artifacts were recorded by Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit in 2022, including the 8,407 silver coins from the Dunscore hoard.
Amateur Metal Detectorists in Scotland Have Unearthed a Stash of 8,400 Medieval Coins
Some used pandemic downtime to learn how to crochet or brew a batch of kombucha. In Scotland, many escaped the boredom of lockdown restrictions by taking up metal detecting—so much so the country’s Treasure Trove Unit is struggling to keep up.
Most recently, the government organization responsible for investigating, handling, and archiving the discoveries of amateur detectorists announced the Dunscore Hoard, one of the biggest discoveries in Scottish history.
Last summer, 8,400 medieval silver coins were found in a field close to Dumfries, a southwestern town 25 miles from the Anglo-Scottish border.
Named after the nearby Dumfriesshire village, the Dunscore Hoard is the largest uncovered in Scotland since the 19th century and is primarily comprised of Edward I and II pennies dating from the 13th to 14th century—a period of frequent war between England and Scotland that cast forth characters such as William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.
“The hoard is still being catalogued,” Ken McNab, Senior Communications Officer at Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, told Artnet News. “It’s an ongoing process and we don’t have a timetable at this point.”
This process involves identifying, photographing, measuring, and weighing each coin before museum allocations are decided.
The hoard contains a mix of English, Irish, Scottish, and mainland European coins. Although a value is yet to be determined, the size, breadth, and rareness of the hoard means it is likely worth several hundred thousand dollars.
In May 2020, the Treasure Trove Unit concluded a multiyear survey of Scotland’s hobbyist metal detecting scene and estimated the number of active hobbyists at 520.
Their number seems to have ballooned since the beginning of the pandemic, with the Treasure Trove Unit reporting 12,263 artefacts found so far in 2022, compared to around 1,500 in 2019.
“The team has had to take on more staff to help process items found post-Covid,” McNab said.
Fortunately, the survey showed the hobbyists have a high awareness of the country’s heritage legislation and are keen to work more closely with the heritage sector in the coming years. Expect more finds like the Dunscore Hoard.
Rare medieval script discovered on stone carved by Scotland’s ‘Painted People’
Archaeologists and volunteers have discovered a stone bearing a mysterious inscription and carved birds that the Picts of Scotland crafted more than a millennium ago. The cross slab, found in a small cemetery last month, dates to between A.D. 500 and 700, and sheds new light on the historic interaction between heritage and faith in the northern U.K.
The Picts, or “Painted People,” were so-named by Roman historians because of their supposed war paint and tattoos (“picti,” is the Latin word for “paint”). They lived in northern and eastern Scotland in the early medieval period. Likely descended from Celtic tribes, the Picts are famous for successfully resisting Roman conquest. While the Romans painted the Picts as barbarous and backward, they were largely subsistence farmers, growing grain and herding domesticated animals.
After the Roman Empire withdrew from the British Isles in the fifth century A.D., Pictish society grew to form a permanent but unstable monarchy intent on protecting its territorial boundaries. Early missionaries from Ireland converted many kings of Pictland to Christianity in the mid-sixth century A.D. Then, at the Battle of Dun Nechtain in A.D. 685, the Picts pushed the Britons out of Scotland and created a mini-empire that would last until around A.D. 900 and the arrival of the Vikings.
But the newly uncovered cross slab, found in the Old Kilmadock cemetery near Doune, Scotland, a region that was historically a buffer zone between the Picts and the Romans, and later the Britons, complicates that tidy history. “The cross slab is the first one in this region, and may mean that the residents started to think of themselves as Picts,” Stirling Council archaeologist Murray Cook, who led the recent excavation, told Live Science in an email.
Carved stones from early medieval Scotland are relatively common, but the newly discovered one from the Old Kilmadock cemetery, which has yet to be fully excavated, has three intriguing features: a rounded top, animal figural decorations and an inscription written in a medieval alphabet called ogham.
At 47 inches (119 centimeters) high and 32 inches (82 cm) wide, the Old Kilmadock stone is similar in size and shape to a large grave marker. Experts, however, think that they may have served multiple functions.
Kelly Kilpatrick, a historian and Celticist at the University of Glasgow, told Live Science in an email that cross slabs “could be grave markers, and used to communicate Christian messages to a lay audience through imagery. Sometimes you find iconography from native Pictish religion intermixed with Christian iconography on these types of monuments.” But its rounded top and circular, knotted cross make the Old Kilmadock stone a rare type of Pictish cross slab.
“The tips of the scrolls end with bird heads; they might be pelicans, as there is a tradition of the pelican biting its own flesh to feed to its young, echoing Christ and the Last Supper, which becomes the Eucharist,” Cook explained. Below that, there is a Pictish style carved four-legged animal that looks like a bull. “The bull might be a symbol of a family, a region, or a god,” Cook said.
An ogham inscription running around the side of the stone has astounded researchers. Ogham was used to write an early version of the Irish language, and it was formed by making parallel strokes and slashes along a central line. About 400 of these inscriptions have survived to the present day, mostly in Ireland, but the one from Old Kilmadock is the first to be found in central Scotland.
Kelly Kilpatrick, who will be translating the inscription, said that “it is not possible to read the ogham inscription until the stone is lifted, because ogham is written on the edge of the stone and the letters can extend to either side of this.” Ogham inscriptions in general tend to spell out names of wealthy or powerful people, however.
“The cross from Old Kilmadock is a huge new find,” Adrián Maldonado, a research fellow at National Museums Scotland who was not involved in the discovery, told Live Science. “The most important part of the discovery is the ogham inscription; when it is fully revealed, it can tell us more about the language spoken by those in power in this area, and potentially add a new, unrecorded name in a time with very few historical sources.”
Cook suggests that the cross slab was originally used as “a public statue erected by a wealthy patron to celebrate both their Pictish heritage and their Christian faith. The ogham reflects the influence of Irish Christians.” Findings in other parts of the Old Kilmadock cemetery support that interpretation: Three additional inscribed stones have been found in two different alphabets. “I think this means they were a literate and intelligent religious community,” Cook said; there was “probably a monastery.”
The Pictish cross slab likely survived because it was reused in much later times as a grave covering in the Old Kilmadock cemetery. Cook and Kilpatrick plan to further study the cross slab once it is fully excavated and its pieces put back together. In collaboration with the local Rescuers of Old Kilmadock group, they are currently raising funds for this analysis, which will cost thousands of dollars.
“This discovery shows the value of archaeological investigation of early church sites in Scotland,” Maldonado concluded, “too few of which have been excavated. It is a huge win for community-led research, providing value both for local heritage and internationally.”
Rare golden sword pommel acquired by a Scottish museum
An “exceptionally rare” gold sword pommel discovered by a metal detectorist near Stirling has been acquired by National Museums Scotland. The pommel, which is about 1,300 years old, was found in 2019 and was declared to the Scottish Treasure Trove unit.
The gold decoration which would have sat at the top of a sword handle measures 5.5cm wide, weighs 25g and was valued at about £30,000.
The find has been described as “hugely significant”.
Dr Alice Blackwell, senior curator of medieval archaeology and history at National Museums Scotland (NMS), said goldwork from this period was “virtually unknown” anywhere in the UK.
She said it showed the spectacular skill and craftsmanship of the early medieval period.
The pommel is thought to date from about 700 AD.
The solid gold object is encrusted with garnets and intricate goldwork which features religious motifs and fantastical creatures.
The discovery was made at Blair Drummond towards the end of 2019 but NMS said that due to restrictions during the pandemic decisions about its acquisition were delayed.
It was allocated to them on the recommendation of the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel.
Dr Blackwell said its archaeological value was due to what it told us about important cultural, political and artistic interactions in northern Britain at this time.
She said its decoration combined elements from both Anglo-Saxon England and the kingdoms of Early Medieval Scotland.
“Early medieval Scotland is a really interesting period,” Dr Blackwell said.
“You have a number of culturally distinct kingdoms and the pommel’s design has taken from the different cultures and melded them together “
That melding of different cultural styles is known as the “insular art” style, which was made famous by illuminated manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Dr Blackwell said this fusion of styles had made it hard to determine where exactly it was made and to whom it may have belonged.
However, she said it potentially could have belonged to royalty due to the higher standard of goldwork the pommel had compared with other goldware found in this period.
“In a way, this is the start of the artefact’s journey,” Dr Blackwell said.
“A lot of research and work is still to be done to uncover what stories it can tell us about the political and cultural landscape of Northern Britain at this time.”
Well-Preserved Iron Age Butter Found At The Bottom Of Lake In Scotland
Now, the wooden butter dish remains one of the most evocative items left behind by Scotland’s ancient water dwellers who made their homes on Loch Tay.
The dish was recovered during earlier excavations on the loch where at least 17 crannogs, or Iron Age wooden houses, were once dotted up and down the water.
Built from alder with a life span of around 20 years, the structures simply collapsed into the loch once they had served their purpose, with an incredible array of objects taken with them.
Among them was the dish which, remarkably, still carried traces of butter made by this Iron Age community.
Rich Hiden, the archaeologist at the Scottish Crannog Centre, said the item had helped to illuminate the everyday life of the crannog dwellers who farmed the surrounding land, and grew barley and ancient wheats such as spelt and emmer, and reared animals.
The crannogs were probably considered high-status sites which offered good security as well as easy access to trading routes along the Tay and into the North Sea.
Mr Hiden said conditions at the bottom of the loch had offered the perfect environment to preserve the butter and the dish.
He said: “Because of the fantastic anaerobic conditions, where there is very light, oxygen or bacteria to break down anything organic, you get this type of sealed environment.
“When they started excavating, they pulled out this square wooden dish, well around three-quarters of a square wooden dish, which had these really nice chisel marks on the sides as well as this grey stuff.”
Liped analysis on this matter found that it was dairy material, with experts believing it likely originated from a cow. Holes in the bottom of the wooden dish further suggest that it was used for the buttering process.
Cream would have been churned until thickened until it splits to form the buttermilk, with a woven cloth – possibly made from nettle fibres – placed in the dish with the clumps of cream and then further pushed through to separate the last of the liquid.
The butter then may have been turned into cheese by adding rennet, which naturally forms in a number of plants, including nettles.
Mr Hiden said: “This dish is so valuable in many ways. To be honest, we would expect people of this time to be eating dairy. In the early Iron Age, they had mastered the technology of smelting iron ore into to’s so mastering the technology of dairy we would expect.
“So while it may not surprise us that they are eating dairy, what is so important about this butter dish is that it helps us to identify what life was like in the crannogs and the skills and the tools that they had
“To me, that is archaeology at its finest. It is using the object itself to unravel the story. The best thing about this butter dish is that is so personal and offers us such a complete snapshot of what was happening here.
He added: “It is not just a piece of wood. You look at it and you start to extrapolate so much. If you start to pull one thread, you look at the tool marks and you see they were using very fine chisels to make this kind of object. They were probably making their own so that gives another aspect as to how life was here.”
It is believed that 20 people and animals lived in a crannog at any one time. Many trees were used to fashion the homes, with the Iron Age residents having a solid knowledge of trees with their houses thatched with reed and bracken.
Hazel was woven into panels to make walls and partitions.
Plans are underway to relocate the Scottish Crannog Centre to a bigger site at Dalerb, with three to four crannogs to be built in the water there.
A metal-working site uncovered in Moray may have helped arm Caledonian tribes against the Romans, before being burned down by the invaders. Archaeologists have described the site at Lochinver Quarry, near Elgin, as fascinating and unusual.
Evidence has been found of metal production over a period of up to 2,000 years from the Bronze Age through the Iron Age.
Archaeologists believe they could end up excavating as many as 40 iron smelting sites.
Prior to these discoveries around 25 such sites have been found in the whole of Scotland. Lochinver appears to have been abandoned suddenly and homes and other structures burned down.
Archaeologists suggest one possible explanation could be that it may have been the actions of Roman soldiers following their victory over Caledonians at the Battle of Mons Grapius around AD 83.
Dr Clive Waddington, of Archaeology Research Services Ltd, said the evidence being found at Lochinver made it different from Moray’s other Bronze Age and Iron Age sites.
He said the later metal-working could possibly have been in response to the Roman invasion of Scotland, with iron needed for weapons.
Dr Waddington added: “Something happens on this site that removes any further activity.
“We have got these burnt timbers and abandoned pits for making charcoal.
“We have got pits with roasted ore – a valuable commodity – ready for smelting but just abandoned.”
Two cauldrons have also been found buried, possibly by the Lochinver’s residents in an effort to hide the highly valued items.
Dr Waddington said it was possible Lochinver was abandoned in the aftermath of Mons Grapius which saw Roman troops and cavalry defeat 30,000 Caledonians.
Suggested locations of the battle include Dunning in Perthshire, Carpow in Fife, Bennachie in Aberdeenshire and Culloden in the Highlands.
Dr Waddington said: “The battle was a big victory for the Romans and could explain why some sites were burned down, with Romans torching sites as they came through after the battle.”
Archaeological Research Services Ltd and Aberdeenshire Council are investigating the site supported by funding from building materials company Tarmac.
The work has been further supported by various universities including radiocarbon dating at the University of Glasgow, specialist artefact conservation at the University of Durham and expert knowledge from the National Museum of Scotland.