Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire

John Smith

Published 1895




COMMANDING the greater part of the district just described is Knockewart Hill, on top of which there is said to have been a vitrified fort. If this was so, all that is now to be seen is a low grassy mound, on which there is a small cairn of stones.

Opposite, and to the south-east of Knockewart Hill, is Coalhill, a small, narrow eminence, the summit of which has been fortified. The fort measures 18 paces by 13, and on the north side is defended by two trenches and an intervening turf wall, the northwest trench being 7 feet 10 inches deep below top of wall. On the south side there is a wide trench, which is 10 feet deep below south end of fort. The interior of the fort is slightly hollow. On the west side the hill-slope is very steep, not so much so on the east side. The view from it of the Garnock Valley is very extensive, and Knockrevoch Mound, to be described by-and-by, is visible from it.

Knock-Georgan Fort, on the summit of the hill of that name, and south from Knockewart Hill, is in a fine state of preservation (Fig. 29). This fort is a long oval, north and south, and 150 paces in circumference. In the middle of it there is a mound of stones and earth, 15 paces in diameter. It is strongly defended on three sides by the precipitous declivity of the hill. On the south side there are three ramparts and two ditches. The first ditch, 10 paces wide, is 9 feet 4 inches below the inner rampart, and the next ditch, also 10 paces in width, is 7 feet 6 inches further down hill.

Two gateways, placed in the south-east corners of the inner and  second ramparts, are in excellent preservation. The view from it of the Firth of Clyde, and a large part of Cunninghame, Kyle, and even Carrick, is very extensive. Auldmuir Mound and Knockrevoch Mound are also visible from it.

The new statistical account has it that " On another hill (near Knock-Georgan) there is an artificial mound of the form of a parallelogram, 16 yards in length, 9 in breadth at the top ; and its sides, which are sloping, about 9 yards in height. The above fortification and mound stand in very elevated situations, from which there is a prospect of many miles both by sea and land.' I could find no mound near Knock-Georgan ' in an elevated situation '; besides, the shape given of said ' mound ' is unusual in Ayrshire.

FIG. 29.-Fort on the Summit of Knock-Georgan

Placed at a short distance to the south of the remnant of Monfode Castle -it belonged to a family of that name- is Monfode Mound. It has got a flat top, 31 paces by 20, but was probably circular when entire, the burn which flows at its east base having evidently carried away a bit of it. On its shallowest side it is 7 feet deep, and on its deepest 20 feet 8 inches. On the 6-inch Ordnance Sheet XVI. it is called a 'fort.' It is an accumulated structure in the manner of mounds, and may have served first for a burial mound, subsequently for a fort, and then as a court-hill. Being placed low down, and not far above sea-level, the view from it is not commanding, although extensive enough on the Firth of Clyde .

Knockrevoch Mound is placed on an eminence near Meikle Laught, which signifies the Big Grave; perhaps the mound is the big grave. It is 95 paces in circumference at the base, and 12 feet high, its top being flat, with a diameter of 13 paces. A small part of it has been removed. This took place some fifty years ago, a farmer having taken it in to his head to cart it away and improve his land a bit with it, but was deterred from finishing his job by the appearance of an apparition. Perhaps this was the ghost of Sir John Lubbock's Bill looking after its own affairs.

Situated at the base of the original Ardrossan, the high point, and a short distance to the south-west of the old castle, which belonged of old to the Barclays-Barons of Ardrossan-there is an ancient shell mound, one of the most interesting of its kind in the country. I turned this shell mound bodily over, and an account of its exploration will be found in the ' Glasgow Geological Society's Transactions,' vol. ix., part 2, and in the Ayr and Wigton Collections.

FIG. 30.-Stone Anchor found in Ardrossan Shell Mound

The most interesting points in connection with this mound were the finding of human remains, occurring in such a manner as to leave little doubt that the builders of this mound had been cannibals, as well as the occurrence in it of Trochus Lineatus, a shell now extinct in the Firth of Clyde. The absence of certain good edible species of mollusca -now abundant along the coast of the district- was also interesting as indicating that considerable changes had taken place in the fauna of the Firth since the Shell Mound Period.

The shell-mound people had evidently command of the hunting privileges of the district, as witness the following list of animal remains obtained from the mound: Long-faced ox, goat, sheep, red deer, pig, rabbit, roebuck, hare, horse, beaver, and seal.

The remains of the following animals were also obtained: badger, otter, fox, weasel, gray goose, pheasant (?), oyster-catcher, red grouse, herring-gull, puffin, guillemot, conger eel, cod, and edible crab.

FIGS. 31-33-Bone Implements from Ardrossan Shell Mound.

The two principal shells, of which the mound was in great measure built up, were the periwinkle and limpet. The antiquities obtained from this shell mound included a stone anchor, the rope which had been fixed to it having been carried round a groove cut in the stone (Fig. 30). There were a few fragments of hand-made pottery of very rough construction, and of uncertain position as to their occurrence in the mound. Of bone articles there were got a rude implement (Fig. 3I ), a ' diamond-pointed ' implement (Fig. 32), and a rather slender little implement (Fig. 33); besides an implement made of human bone, and a bone needle. A rudely made and perforated bit of gas-coal may have been held in estimation as a charm, seeing it was a stone they could burn. It is interesting to note that not a fragment of flint was got in this mound, although on the sands not far away hundreds of worked flints have during recent years been collected. On the top of the mound, but entirely separated from it, there was a deposit containing wheel-turned pottery and black slag.

From the information gathered from this mound, and from other parts of the county, I have been able to tabulate the Ayrshire archeological periods as follows :

1. Slag and wheel-turned pottery period (the most recent ).

2. Bronze period.

3. Flint period, with arrow-heads, scrapers, etc.

4. Shell-mound period, with hand-made pottery.

5 Period of the 20 to 40 feet raised beaches.

The old hand-made urns, with burnt bones, flints, polished celts, and perforated hammers, should probably be correlated with the third period, as well as with the fourth. Some of the articles from this shell mound have been figured in the seventh volume of the Ayr and Galloway Archeological Collections.

In the Kilmarnock Museum (Burns) there is a very peculiar celt with hollow faces, one of them slightly excavated , and thick in proportion to its length . It looks as if it had been intended for an axe-hammer, the hole never having been bored. It was got at Kingswell, Saltcoats, by Mr. James Tyre. Its length is 4 5/8ths inches, 2 1/2ins  broad at one end, and 2 at the other, and it is composed of syenite.

The following articles have also been found in this district : a stone axe-hammer of dolerite, perforated, and with concave faces, having two parallel grooves on each side, and two knobs opposite the shaft-hole. It was found in a field at Monfode, is a very elegant implement, measures 5 inches by 3, and is in the possession of Dr. Brown of Saltcoats. It is figured in the third volume of the Ayr and Wigton Collections (Fig. 34).  

When some recent improvements were being made on the railway works below the old castle, a gilt bronze finger-ring with 'w ' engraved on it turned up. It is conjectured that it belonged to Sir William Wallace, and was lost when he besieged the castle of Ardrossan. Said railway works also disturbed some ancient graves.

FIG. 34.- Monfode Stone Axe-hammer.

Roman baths are said to have been at one time unearthed in the neighbourhood of Ardrossan, and on top of the Castle Hill, are the remains of an old church, blown down in 1691, and a graveyard.

By the side of Stanley Burn there is a chalybeate spring of some fame.







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