Delicate prehistoric animal carvings dating back 4,000 to 5,000 years have been discovered for the first time Scotland In an ancient tomb.
The finds, which date to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, include depictions of two male red deer with fully developed horns, believed to be the largest deer species in Scotland at this time.
Carvings found at Duncharig Cairn, an ancient burial site at Kilmartin Glen, are also suggestive of young deer, said historical atmosphere Scotland (HES).
The paintings were discovered by chance by Hamish Fenton, an amateur archaeologist from Oxfordshire, who was exploring Duncharig Cairn, a Bronze Age burial mound, one evening.
After deciding to locate a cemetery on the side of Cairn, he went inside with a torch.
An archeology graduate from Bournemouth University, then noticed the unusual markings on the chamber’s capstone, or cover.
“As I shone the torch around, I noticed a pattern under the roof slab that didn’t seem to have a natural mark in the rock.”
“As I lighted around, I could see that I was watching a deer stag upside down, Ann.
“And as I continued to look around, more animals appeared on the rock.”
He added: “It was a completely surprising and unexpected discovery and, for me, such a discovery is a real treasure of archeology, helping to reshape our understanding of the past.”
The images are the earliest known animal carvings in Scotland, and are the first clear examples of deer carvings throughout Britain from the Neolithic to the early Bronze Age, HES said.
Kilmartin Glen is known for its high concentration of ancient relics of the period, including some clear cups and ring marks.
Hes said it is also the first time that animal carvings from this period have been discovered in Britain in an area with cup and ring markings.
At that time deer may have been of great importance to local communities as a valuable source of meat, skins, with bones and horns being used for a variety of tools.
Dr Tertia Barnett, head investigator for Scotland’s rock art project at HES, said: “It was previously thought that prehistoric animal carvings of this date did not exist in Scotland, although they are known in parts of Europe, so it is very exciting. They are now discovered here for the first time in historic Kilmartin Glen.
“This extremely rare find completely changes the notion that prehistoric rock art in Britain was predominantly geometric and non-figurative.
“It is notable that these carvings in the Dunchraig Cairn show such great physiological detail and there is no doubt what animal species they represent.
“It also tells us that local communities were carving animals as well as cup and ring motifs, similar to what we know about other Neolithic and Bronze Age societies, particularly in Scandinavia and Iberia.
“This incredible discovery in Duncharaigag Cairn makes us wonder if carvings of other animals that were previously unknown to the UK are hidden in unexpected places in our ancient landscape, waiting to be exposed in the future.”
There are more than 3,000 prehistoric carved rocks in Scotland, most of which are abstract icons of a central cup surrounded by concentric rings.
“Although many of these mysterious carvings can still be seen in open landscape today, we know very little about how they were used, or what purpose they served”, Hes said.
Cairn is currently closed, while HES further evaluates and takes measures to protect extremely rare, and delicate, ancient carvings.
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