Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire
by John Smith
New Statistical Account, that in 1832 there was laid bare under a sand mound at Dubbs, a causeway 18 feet long by 2 feet broad (Fig. 35). At one end of this causeway there was a stone about a ton in weight, and at the other end a stone coffin, 3 feet long by 2 feet wide, which contained two urns and five jet buttons. The 'jet buttons ' were probably constructed of parrot coal, the substance of the district which lends itself best to be made into articles of this description, and of which a great many ancient things got in this neighbourhood have been manufactured. I have seen none of these local ancient articles made of real jet. One of the greatest emporiums in the West of Scotland of antiquarian articles is the Ardeer Sands. They have yielded several thousands of weapons, implements, ornaments, fragments of fictile ware, etc. The most abundant implement is the flint scraper, and
of this the most common form is
that in shape of a thumb-nail (Figs. 37, 38, 40, 41 and 4 2). Some are
duck-bill-shaped (Figs. 44 and 45), and a few have been chipped hollow, and
evidently used in making arrow-shafts, bone needles, etc. (Fig. 46). It is very
rarely that one is found which has been chipped all round (Fig. 43). An
occasional one has got a very long handle, as is represented in Fig. 36. In
nearly every case the flint scraper-maker has taken advantage of the conchoidal
manner in which flint breaks, and by breaking chips off the convex side of a
flake has brought his implement to a very sharp edge. Awls and borers of flint
are of much rarer
occurrence than the scrapers.
The borers are generally chipped on alternate sides, which gives them somewhat
the appearance and advantage of an engineer's drill (Fig. 47). A few flint
implements, only about a quarter of an inch wide, have turned up, and these have
probably been brogs for boring holes in skins (Fig;. 5 I),
Flint knives, double-edged and sharp-pointed, are rarely got. Three of them are
represented in Figs. 57, 58, and 59. Some flint knives are beautifully worked
all over the surface , as In Fig . 60; others are more rudely shaped (Figs. 61 ,
62, and 63). Oddly-shaped articles of flint, such as those represented in Figs.
64 to 70, may have been used as strike-a-lights, etc.
Flint saws (Fig. 71), curiously-toothed articles (as in Figs. 72 and 73), cores from which flint flakes for forming the various articles had be en struck (Fig. 74), and flakers of flint , which had been used in fashioning the other articles, and easily known by their bruised edges (Fig. 75), are sometimes amongst the spoil. The flint arrow-heads form a desirable feature in the spoils to be procured from the sands. They are of seven types . The triangular and the lozenge-shaped patterns are equally rare with
that of the leaf-shaped (Fig. 76). Fig. 77 may also be a leaf, but, from its
serrated edge, it could easily have been used as a saw. The type with the hollow
base, as represented in Figs. 78 and 79, is found in about the same proportions
as the above . Fig. 79,
wanting (Fig. 89), the specimen figured being very rudely made, evidently the work of an apprentice, but having notches at the sides for holding the sinew with which it was fastened to the shaft, a feature which is unique in an Ayrshire arrow-head. The one represented in Fig. 88 is formed of quartzite. I have a curious implement of carboniferous chert 3 inches long, with a wide flat handle and a round blunt-pointed stem. From the manner in which it has been worn -away, it has evidently been in use for a long time as a borer or widener (Fig. 91). Bronze articles generally consist of pins (Fig. 92 ) and needles, some of the latter with an ' eye ' ; and I have a well-shaped bird, which has formed the head of a pin, on one of its wings being a
centre -punch mark , and it is placed on top of what appears to have been a ringed cross, on which there are numerous centre punch markings (Fig. 93). Fig. 94 represents part of a clasp, Fig. 95 a socketed gouge, and Fig. 96 may have been a surgical instrument, or perhaps an ' elshin.' [ Shoemaker's awl] Curious little hollow bits of bronze, not much more in diameter than a darning-needle, are got. They have been made by bending a strip of the metal into the form of a long tapering cone; but what they have been used for it is difficult to conjecture.
Of iron objects a few have come to light by the away-blowing of the sand. They are always reduced to rust, and I have a barbed and socketed fish-spear preserved in this manner, and still retaining its shape pretty well, being 3 5/8 inches long, and another similar, but not so shapely. The sand has acted like a sort of salt, and, getting amalgamated with the rust, has bound it together (Fig. 103) .
Two kinds of pottery are
found-a hand-made variety, which is very coarse, and rather rare; and a
wheel-turned kind, which is abundant. The former is never glazed ; the latter
sometimes has got a greenish glaze (Fig. 104). The pottery is for the most part
plain, but sometimes ornamented
Some of the paste of the hand-made variety had, by way of tempering it, been mixed with pounded white vein-quartz, in fragments of about 1/16 of an inch. I have never seen a complete piece of pottery got from these sands, but I am informed that about fifty years ago some boys found a complete urn, which they demolished by throwing stones at it. From the great quantity of fragments lying about, this must often have taken place. I have a bit of this pottery, which has the mark of the point of a human finger imprinted on it. I have never seen any lettering, or figures of men or animals, on any of this pottery.
About thirty yards from this place the remains of two handmade urns were laid bare by the away-drifting of the sand - a large sand dun, about 60 feet high and a quarter of a mile wide at the base, had passed over them. These urns had been shaped and fired, were evidently being kept ' in stock, ' and had never been used, as no bone fragments were found in connection with them. Rings (Figs. 105 to 107) made out of the parrot-coal (a species of gas-coal which takes a bright polish) of the neighbourhood are fairly common. Most of them are hand-made, but a few of them have the appearance of having been turned ; but of course this might be done with the hand in a circular groove cut in a bit of sandstone. As this coal splits into laminae by long weathering, it is seldom that a complete ring is to be got. Fig. 105 represents a brightly-polished fragment of a bracelet. Perforated pieces of the same kind of coal are frequently got, but no attempt has been made to reduce these bits to an ornamental shape, and they have possibly been used as charms, or, like the horseshoes of a late generation, hung up on the aboriginal native huts to keep away the witches, as in Fig. 108, the hole having been made entirely by chipping.
I have a single hit of coal-money, not quite complete, just a shade larger than our crown piece, and in its day probably much more valuable (Fig. 109); and Mr. Downs has another bit, smaller, and not quite circular, from a shell mound in West Kilbride parish, got at a depth of about 4 feet (Fig. 110).
And the answer is : They came out of the sand. I have gathered more flint nodules from the sand than would make all the flint articles that have been got. But flint is not generated in sand, and the further question arises : How did it get there? I think by seaweeds carrying it from the coast of Ireland (Antrim); but I have discussed this question in a paper printed in the' Transactions of the Geological Society of Glasgow,' vol. vi., part 2. Seaweeds are great carriers of stones, but their carrying capacity is limited ; so is the size of the flint nodules in the sand: they are all of small size; so are the manufactured flints all of small size compared with those which are got in districts where large flint can be obtained. When the wind drifts away the fine sand in this district, the stones are left, and these are found to be polished by the wind having blown the sand against them. So is it with the flint articles: they are all highly polished and glitter.
An occasional one which may be got in a permanently damp spot is found to have its surface slightly porcelainized. At certain parts numerous scaly chips of flint are to be seen, and these, like many of the worked flints, are all highly polished, and are evidently bits knocked off when the manufactured flints were being got into shape. These thin chips are often blown on to the top of the sand-duns, a position in which no worked flint is ever found. In many cases they are so transparent as to admit of microscopic examination, when some of them are found to be filled with minute fossils. Sometimes larger fossils are got in the flint-shells, -sea-urchins, remains of belemnites, polyzoa, etc., all generally converted into flint. Some of the worked flints are cracked all over their surface in the manner of calcined ones, and no doubt these have either been accidentally burned, or perhaps placed on the funeral-pyre when the act of cremation was being performed.
The remains of ancient fireplaces sometimes turn up, and, of course, are of a very primitive description. One of them was simply -surrounded by a ring of water worn stones, and the remnants of the fire were still inside of the stone ring, and consisted of charred branches of trees. Another was peculiar in having a layer of tough yellow clay, such as is still to be got in certain localities, where it appears to be a rewash from the surface of the boulder clay, before it became covered with vegetation, placed about 4 inches below the bottom of the fire, the intervening space being filled up with sand. Glass beads, composed of a greenish coarse paste (Figs. 111 and 112), and all but opaque are occasionally, but very rarely, got, and others of a fine deep blue' colour, and composed of a more refined material, sometimes turn up (Figs. 113 and 114). The one shown in Fig. 112 is spirally twisted. The implements with which the ancient flint articles were manufactured are also well represented, in the shape of flakes of flint; small anvils of quartzite, and hammer-stones, generally of the same material, but sometimes of chert or vein-quartz. It is astonishing with what care these hammers have been used, and in using them sharp ridges, sometimes of great symmetry, have been produced, generally on all the worn angles of the quartzite pebbles selected. Sometimes, of course, they have been broken when too hard a stroke has been struck. Some of the quartzite anvils have by long usage got a shallow groove worn along the summit of a blunt angle, showing us that flakes of flint were held edgeways in this groove when being worked into shape. Polishers, in the shape of small dressed blocks of sandstone, are sometimes got, but they must belong to a later period than that of the flint, as not a single particle of flint got here shows the smallest signs of having been rubbed on a polisher ; the polishers were therefore, in all likelihood, used in sharpening the bronze and iron articles, and in giving them their final shape (Figs. 115 and 116).
The stone implements and
weapons got in this district are generally very neatly formed, but I have a few
which simulate palaeolithic types, although I believe nothing palaeolithic
has ever been found in Scotland, this country having at that period "been
covered by ice. Fig. 118 shows one of these palaeolithic-looking
articles, and is made of carboniferous chert. Figs. 119 and 120 represent
specimens equally rude, and are
I have a finger and thumb hammer - stone (that type with hollows worked into each side) from Stevenston Sands. It measures 3 1/4 inches in length, by 3 in breadth, and is 2 inches thick. It is made of quartzite, has been very much worked with, especially on the ends, and has got somewhat cracked with the frost. This is a very rare type of implement in Ayrshire, only some two others having been found.
A short distance to the north-east of the sand-hills, and at the spot where the Caledonian Railway crosses the Penny Burn, there was discovered, when the foundation-pits for the bridge were being excavated, the remains of an ancient crannog. Several of the mortised oak beams were taken out, and some of them are still preserved. They have been roughly dressed, the largest one being 11 inches "square," with, mortise-holes, and the smallest one is 4 inches square, with mortise-holes. Last winter the wind laid bare a small mound on Ardeer Sands. It was 16 feet in diameter, and completely covered over with gravel. I turned it completely over, but found no relics. A somewhat similar structure was blown bare on the Torrs sand-hills , near Glenluce, and on the sand being blown away, two urns, with bronzes and quartz pebbles placed beside the burnt bones, were discovered. In this case the gravel had not completely covered the mound, and was left as a ring when the sand was blown away.
In Ashgrove Loch there are probably the remains of
crannogs, and of one of them I made a pretty thorough exploration.
In recent years the level of the loch has been considerably
lowered by drainage, a deep ditch, locally called a 'cunnel,'
having been cut; and on a hole being dug for a fence-post, considerably
within what used to be the limit of the loch, sea-shells,
horns, and bones, were found. This turned out to be the refuseheap
in connection with a crannog. This crannog was peculiar,
if not unique, of its kind, in having been
built of stone, without
the intervention of wooden piles or beams (Fig. 121).
The stone wall was nearly circular, and 43 feet in its largest
outside diameter, being 9 feet thlick towards the land-side, and
about half of that thickness on the loch-side. The stones it was
built of, mostly sandstone, were all rough and unhewn, and laid
in a mortar of tough yellow clay, similar to what we have seen
under an old fireplace on the Ardeer Sands.
Within the area of this wall the following section was cut
The drain had been excavated in peat moss, and the sides of it built with rough sandstone blocks. It was got in several trenches, and found to have been built in a zigzag fashion. It appeared to have been entirely constructed within the area of the wall, and no trace of it was found either through or on the outside of the wall. Where the sandstone covers were taken off it was in perfect condition, and nearly filled with water, and it is still in its original state.
From these appearances the inference was drawn that here we
had a primitive water-tank, so as to insure a supply of good water
in the event of the place being besieged, and the zigzag manner in
which it has been built possibly indicates that the area within the
circular wall was divided into compartments, as if the place had
been inhabited by different families, each having an independent
That this building was a fortress we see from its position-in a
lake-and from the strong manner in which the part of the wall
most exposed to the enemy has been built, and that at the same
time it was a dwelling, carpeted with heather, we shall see from
what follows. .
The refuse from this habitation had been thrown into the lake
at a point on the south-east side of the wall, and in trenching this
bit of ground over the following section was laid open :
In the relic-bed
No. 2 were got a large number of bones,
both entire and split, of red deer, oxen, pigs, sheep, and goats,
several of which were made into implements; the one figured
(Figs. 122 and 123) is made of the bone of an ox. The largest
one measured 6 1/8 inches in length ; a bone awl (Fig. 124) has
been made from a splinter of a large bone ; a bone knife
(Fig. 125) 7 5/8 inches long, with a remarkably small handle, made
from a split rib - in fact, a number of the ancient relics got in the
district conclusively prove that they had been used by a very
small-handed race of people; a bone needle perforated in the
centre (Fig. 126); a well-made bone spoon (Fig. 127 ), 4 1/2 inches
long ; bone implements of simple construction (Figs. 128 and
129) several hammer stones and a few smooth stones; a bit of
parrot-coal with a hole bored through it (Fig. 130) ; and a pair of
steel sheep-shears, of the pattern still used, but small (Fig. 131).
The last article was of considerable interest, as occurring along with such primitive relics ; but there could be no doubt of its having been contemporaneous with them, as I took it out of the relic bed with my own hands ; but, of course, iron articles are frequently found in Scotch crannogs, Several portions of stags' horns were got which had been divested of the tines, except the brow one. The largest of these measures 22 inches in length; they look remarkably like picks (Fig. 132), and have probably been used as such.
It had probably lasted for a considerable time, but its final overthrow came, indicated by the sand stone debris, and possibly a large amount of which had at one time been taken away to build a neighbouring dry-stone dyke, the tail end of the debris and 'kitchen midden' being covered over by a deposit of fine mud, a foot in thickness, laid down by the waters of the loch.
Some of the articles, especially the stags' horns, were covered over with a coating of amorphous vivianite , or phosphate of iron, frequent in and on bone and horn articles got from caves and crannogs. The site of this stone crannog was indicated by a small grassy mound rising above the waters of the loch when the sluices are, shut in the winter-time ; but this mound, formed by the collapse of the crannog, when it was possibly taken and destroyed by an enemy, had no name, neither were there any tradition s in the neighbourhood regarding this one, or any of the other fortress-'dwellings in this loch, which, when in there ' glory, ' must have formed a rather quaint little lake-village. It is rather a pleasant spot during spring and summer, with abundance of the beautiful bog-bean flowers, water-lilies, both white and yellow, cowbane, loosestrife, and the tall ' binnels, ' Scirpus lacustris, with many other flowering plants and mosses; and during certain seasons of the year the loch is visited by thousands of water-fowl, and being nearly surrounded on all sides by rising ground, it forms for them a pretty snug retreat.
In Kielziebar Loch, Argyle, as the Rev. J. Mapleton tells us, there is a crannog not yet properly explored, but, like the last one, probably a more recent stone structure raised on an older wooden crannog, as considerable remains of woodwork are to be seen on its east, south, and west sides.
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