Archaeologist Discovers Ancient Deer Carvings in Scotland

by johnsmith

Scottish archaeologist Hamish Fenton has discovered prehistoric animal carvings — thought to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old — inside Dunchraigaig Cairn in Kilmartin Glen, Scotland: the carvings include depictions of two male red deer; full-grown antlers can be seen on both animals, while anatomical detail including a short tail can be seen on one; three other quadrupeds are also visible, two of which are thought to be juvenile deer.

The 4,000- to 5,000-year-old deer carving in Kilmartin Glen, Scotland. Image credit: Historic Environment Scotland.

The 4,000- to 5,000-year-old deer carving in Kilmartin Glen, Scotland. Image credit: Historic Environment Scotland.

There are over 3,000 prehistoric carved rocks in Scotland. The majority are cup and ring markings which are abstract motifs created by striking the rock surface with a stone tool.

Most commonly, they are composed of a central cup mark surrounded by pecked concentric circles.

“It was previously thought that prehistoric animal carvings of this date didn’t 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,” said Dr. Tertia Barnett, principal investigator for Scotland’s Rock Art Project at Historic Environment Scotland.

“This extremely rare discovery completely changes the assumption that prehistoric rock art in Britain was mainly geometric and non-figurative.”

“It is remarkable that these carvings in Dunchraigaig Cairn show such great anatomical detail and there is no doubt about which animal species they represent,” Dr. Barnett added.

The Dunchraigaig Cairn is 30 m (98 feet) wide and contained three stone burial chambers, or cists.

The third cist, where the carvings are located, was dug directly into the ground, lined with drystone cobbled walls and capped with an unusually large stone over 3.5 m (11.5 feet) long.

“I was passing Dunchraigaig Cairn at dusk when I noticed the burial chamber in the side of the cairn and decided to slide inside with my torch,” Hamish Fenton said.

“As I shone the torch around, I noticed a pattern on the underside of the roof slab which didn’t appear to be natural markings in the rock.”

“As I shone the light around further, I could see that I was looking at a deer stag upside down, and as I continued looking around, more animals appeared on the rock.”

“This was a completely amazing and unexpected find and, to me, discoveries like this are the real treasure of archaeology, helping to reshape our understanding of the past.”

“This also tells us that the local communities were carving animals as well as cup and ring motifs which is in keeping with what we know of other Neolithic and Bronze Age societies, particularly in Scandinavia and Iberia,” Dr. Barnett said.

“Until now, we did not know of any area in Britain with both types of carvings, which poses questions about the relationship between them and their significance to the people that created them.”

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