Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire

by John Smith



ON East Castle Hill, near Hullerbirst, there is a small mound 8 paces in diameter, and 2 feet high. The Castle Hill itself, from its commanding position, as well as from its name-for castle hills were originally prominences on which forts were constructed - was in all likelihood a fortified position; and in this case there may have been a stone and lime castle, for part of a foundation can be seen coming out from below the grass. We are informed by the late
Rev. David Landsborough, in the

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),

some of the brags being sharply pointed, as in Figs. 48, 49, and 50. Some of the flint implements are so delicately pointed that one is apt to think that they have been used for tattooing and surgical purposes (Figs . 53 to 56).


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,
although worked on both edges, and on both sides of the edges,

in the usual manner of an arrow-point, is peculiar in having one of the barbs longer than the other; and this is to be seen in several examples, so that if used as an arrow-point the arrow would not go straight; this may, of course, have been intentional. Although none of the arrow-heads are common, that form with a central stem and barbs is the most frequently found (Figs. 80 to 87); in which Figs. 80, 82, 85, and 86 are made of chalk flint, Fig. 82 of green jasper, Fig. 83 of chalcedony, Fig. 84 of carboniferous chert, and Fig. 87 of fine-grained felstone. A few of the stemmed arrow-heads have got very short barbs (Figs. 88 to 90), and in some specimens the barbs are entirely


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.

Bronze rings (Figs. 97 and 98) and ornaments (Figs. 99, 100 and 101) are of rare occurrence, Fig. 101 having probably been a brooch. Fig. 102 represents a brass buckle, peculiar in having a little flat handle at the side. Sometimes the fragment of a coin turns up, but generally so wasted by the wind-blown sand that it is next to impossible to make out to whose reign it has belonged. Landsborough tells us that ' a coin of Faustina, and a speare of mixed metall,' were got on the sands near ruins.


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
bits turn up. As burnt bones are abundant, the potsherds are likely in great measure to be the remnants of urns; and some fragments show that the potter's clay had been mixed with grass before being put into shape, and burned, in the same manner as the Egyptians did of old, refusing to the Israelites the luxury of straw to mix with the clay they made into bricks.


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.

At a certain spot on the moor there are so many roasted pebbles, generally in a fragmentary state, charcoal (of wood), burnt bones; urn fragments of the hand-made kind, that there cannot be the slightest doubt that this place was an ancient crematorium and urn-field .


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). 

A few spindle-whorls and fragments of same, generally made of sandstone, have turned up. One got by
Mr. Downs is made of a potsherd. Bits of heavy black slag-apparently iron-slag-are quite frequently to be got, and at one spot there are the remains of a bloomary, which has, in part, at least, been constructed of fireclay.

We see from what has been stated that what is now a howling sand wilderness, always shifting, or seldom at rest, was at one time a populous locality. But at that time there were no sandhills, unless perhaps along the shore-line . Here and there amongst the duns we can still detect patches of a black soil resting on sand. Under this soil not a single article of antiquity has been got, so that we may safely come to the conclusion that when the ancient people lived here there were no sand-hills. When once the sand is blown on to the soil, the latter seems to dry up, so that when the sand gets blown a bit further along, the soil is blown away with it, as well as some 10 or 12 feet of the sand below the soil. Very little of the sand has come from the shore, most of it having been derived from the deformation of the raised beach. As there is no chalk formation in the district, the question comes to be: Where did the flints of which the weapons and implements mentioned above come from ?


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).

On one part of the moor there is a small block of sandstone all worn over one face, as if articles had been often rubbed on it. I have at least one small oval slickstone 2 1/8 inches in length, and made of syenite. On one of its edges it is marked with five nicks, and these were probably the     private mark of the possessor. The late Mr. John Marshall of Stevenston, blacksmith, found on the Auchenharvie Sands a very fine clay slate celt, 10 1/2 inches long, by 3 1/4 wide at th e cutting-edge, and ending in a point at the butt-end. It is figured in the Ayr and Wigton Collections.
I have a Pict's knife of fine-grained schist, which was got by
Mr. Danneial Kirk some distance to the south-east of where the Auchenharvie celt was got. It measures 7 inches in length, and 2 3/4 inches at the broadest part, and there is a hole bored in the middle of the handle for suspension. I believe this is the only Pict's knife that has been found in the south-west of Scotland (Fig. 117).


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
made from chalk-flint.

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.

Lying on the moor there is a piece of sandstone in which a cup-working has been excavated . It has been fractured right through the middle of the cup. At one spot on the moor there is a small patch which has evidently been the magazine for keeping the clay with which the ancients manufactured their fictile ware. Here the sand is much mixed with clay, and does not drift. Near to it there is a stony patch, the stones having been all broken by heat, and probably this was the spot where the ware was burned. There are many forgeries of flint arrow-heads, etc., nowadays, but they are easily known from the genuine old article ; the art of producing the fine chipping or flaking which is seen on the old arrow-heads appears to have been lost.


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 six 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 through:
1. Sandstone rubble (under the turf) .. . 4 feet
2. Wattling of heather-carpet. .. 3 inches
3. Causewaying of rough sandstone slabs 4 inches
4. Built drain, covered with sandstone slabs (depth ) 2 feet

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 water-supply. 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 :
1. Rotted bits of yellowish sandstone and lumps' of sandstone ... 1 foot 2 ins
2. Dark sandy clay, with pieces of sand stone, whinstone, and a large quantity of periwinkle shells; complete bones, split bones, jaws, horn fragments of red deer, ancient implements, etc. ....2 feet
3. Brown peat ... 1 foot 1 ins
4. Fine bluish clay (not cut through)

The circular stone wall of this crannog had commenced to be built on the peat, and as if by way of stiffening the foundation a bit, a layer of branches had been placed under it.


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.

All around this stone crannog there was evidence of its decay in the layers of sand, and occasional stones which had fallen from the wall and got embedded in the sandy layers.

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.

This Ashgrove crannog is probably the first one entirely built of stone that has ever been discovered.
G. H . Kinahan, in his 'Geology of I eland,' has shown that stones were sometimes substituted for wood in the construction of artificial islands in 'lochs; and in' the Airrieonlland crannog, partly examined by Sir Herbert Maxwell, there is a wall 3 feet high, enclosing a circular space of 54 feet in diameter, built of thin flags; but in this case the stone wall was built on piles, driven into 7 feet of moss, which probably formed an original pile dwelling. Dr. Munro informs us that in the White Loch of Ravenstone, near Ravenstone Castle, there is the foundation of a rectangular building, 55 feet by 47 feet, divided into five compartments, but this building has been founded on the top of a more ancient wooden crannog.


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.

A description of the exploration of the Ashgrove stone crannog, with plan and section and illustrations of some of the articles got, will be found in the seventh volume of the Archreological Collections of Ayr and Galloway.

In the village of Stevenston there was an old pottery.

On the Ardeer Sands the action of the wind laid bare what looked like a grave, which had been surrounded by hewn blocks of sandstone, but no relics could be found in connection with it.

On the banks of the Glen Burn stand the ivy-covered ruins of Kerila Castle, one of the strongholds of the
Cunninghames, which was destroyed by one of the Lords of Eglinton in retaliation for a like compliment paid by the Cunninghames to Eglinton Castle. It is said that the hall of this castle was decorated with shields, bearing coats of arms of the nobility, taken from Kilwinning Abbey, and the story is likely to be true, as 'th' breest 0' th' Lord's Laft' in Kilbirnie Church is similarly decorated at the present day, and I have seen an inn in Ludlow where one of the rooms was ornamented with' boards of war' taken from a neighbouring castle. Another castle that belonged to this district was Castleweerock, said to have stood on the north side of what is now Saltcoats Harbour, but the site of which is not exactly known, and there is said also to have been a Rough Castle.

At the head of Saltcoats Harbour stand the ruins of an old salt manufactory, and the remains of other 'saut pans' stand on a jutting rock to the west of same.

At the base of Ardeer Bank there is said to be a natural cave, but, as far as I know, it has never be en explored ; and beyond the east end of the said bank stood the village of Piperheugh, the inhabitants of which are said to have been famous makers of jews-harps, called ' trumps.'

At the 'Old Kiln' there were got some curiously-formed earthenware pipes. They were made with a taper, and had been fashioned on the wheel, a spiral groove running from one end to the other of them, the narrow end of one pipe fitting in to the wide end of an other. They were highly glazed with a brown enamel.

The district of Stevenston is said to have taken its name from a  person of the name of
Stephen Lockhart, who erected the first houses in what is now the town.

There are the remains of three old canals, called 'cunnels,' amongst the Ardeer sand-hills, and the Master Gott has been made partly in the line of one of them. The house that contained the second steam-engine that was erected in Scotland for drawing water from coal-workings stands towards the west part of the district, and the wand-house, where coal-creels were made, is beside the Master Gott.

There are a number of march-stones surrounding Ashgrove Loch, and others are .covered by the shifting sands of Ardeer Wilderness.

Stevenston Fair occurs on October 30, which is St. Monoch's Day, popularly called Samyneuk's Day.







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