Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire

by John Smith



ON the small range of hills facing the sea, and opposite to the Wee Cambrae I stand, there have probably been three hill-forts. There are two level parts on the highest rocky summits of Goldenberry Hill, suggestive of ancient fortifications; and on Auldhill, overlooking Portincross Castle (which belonged to the
Boyds), there are some remains of a fortification. Carlung Hill has got a flat, circular top 12 paces in diameter. The name is suggestive, and the spot, though small, very suitable

for a fortification, and has been levelled in the manner usual to such places. Seamill Fort, at the mouth of the glen in which the Kilbride Burn flows, has yielded a hammer stone of quartzite; a stone ball; seven bits of stone discs, and perforated shale; perforated hit of bone (Fig. 3) ; five bits of deer's horns; a sandstone whetstone; bronze wheel, with attached loop (Fig. 4) ; a bronze disc (Fig. 5) ; five portions of sheet bronze; bits of glass, iron, etc., according to Dr. Munro, who has described it in the third volume of the Ayrshire and Wigtonshire Collections, figuring some of the articles.

This locality is quite famous for the number of archaeological remains that have been got at it. In making a road, a number of stone coffins were encountered, and at certain spots one has only

got to dig perseveringly enough to unearth a cinerary urn ; and the number of these which have been got, and as a rule broken, is astonishing, and quite entitle the place to the name of Urnfield (Fig. 6).

I once had the opportunity, in Mr. Boyd's house at Seamill, of seeing one of them emptied of its contents. This urn in which. the Ancient Briton's remains were contained was an elegantly shaped one, narrow at bottom, without ornamentation, but evidently manufactured by a workman who knew his job. A number of us stood round the table in solemn silence, the lid was removed, a sandstone one-it is strange that these ancient
urns are nearly always covered, unless when inverted, which is often the case, with a stone lid and the outpouring began, Mr.
Boyd acting as the officiating resurrectionist. The long bones were remarkably dense and heavy; they had,

of course, all been thoroughly burned, and were beautifully white, those of the spine as remarkably spongy and light. No relics save the bones were got in this urn. The people had been too poor to afford the luxury of a celt or flint arrow-head. and the person perhaps not good enough to deserve the honour even of a white chucky [Quartz pebble]. The individual whose remains lay before us had evidently been consigned to eternal oblivion j no more sport for him in the happy hunting-fields of the hereafter. Many were the observations made, generally ending in, 'We'll a' come to this !'  This urn was discovered in a drain by Miss Mary Boyd.

The cremation system has certainly great advantages over the burial one from a sanitary point of view, and although the stowing away of the incombustible parts in urns is perhaps not without its sentimental side, still, it adds a smack of romance to the final exit of the individual from all earthly concerns, though this bit of it might as well be carried out by scattering them about to make the rowans grow. There is not one atom of difference in the phosphate of lime in Homo Sapiens or Canis jamiliaris, and even as it is, in the long-run they come to be reduced to plant food,
and complete the eternal circle chalked out for them by natural law. Near the mouth of the
Gourock Burn, placed high on the point of its right salient, and overlooking the old raised beach, is a double fort in perfect preservation. The one towards the land side measures 16 paces in diameter on the summit, and is defended by a wide ditch 31 feet 4 inches deep, measured from the top of the rampart, which is 5 feet above the inside of the fort (Fig. 7).


Between this fort and the one placed on the outer point of the salient there is another ditch, 13 feet 8 inches deep, measured from top of inner low wall of the fort on the land side, and 6 feet below that of the outer fort. All the sides of this double fort are very steep down to the burn on the one side, and to the raised beach on the other. From the depth of the second ditch it will be seen that the outer fort is at a lower level than the inner or the one on the land side. The part of the wall next the land side is also much stronger than it is at any other part, and this is a feature common to forts of this description. The wall of the outer fort next the ditch is not so strong as the corresponding wall of the inner fort - in fact, both walls and ditches seem to have been constructed in proportional strength to the amount of danger expected from an outside enemy. No excavations have ever been made in connection with this double fort, so far as I know. The view from it on the Firth of Clyde is very extensive.

South a bit from the last one is what I have called the Tansy Fort, at Boydston, from the plant of that name which is growing in its interior, and perhaps a remnant of the flower-garden belonging to it, and if so introducing us to a happy feature in connection with the hill-fort people (Fig. 8).
It has been carved out of a point of land above the old raised beach, and defended on the land side by a broad ditch at present 13 feet 8 inches deep below the top of the outer rampart, which is constructed of earth and boulders, and is still 7 feet above the interior of the fort. This fort is steep on all the other sides, but is not in such a strong position as the last one. It measures 20 paces by 15, and the look-out from it on the Firth is extensive.

On the south edge of the Bush Glen there is a mound, now ploughed over, but still 25 paces in diameter. On the high side of the ground it is 4 feet high, and on the low side 6 feet. I t has been partly carved away owing to the slipping of the bank caused by the action of the river in the glen. The ground looks as if this mound had been surrounded by a ditch. A short distance to the south of Bush Glen there is situated on the top of a large boulder-clay drum a small mound, 14 paces in diameter, 4 feet high at one side, and 2 feet at the other. It is surrounded by a turf dyke with a hedge, and there are slight remains of an inner turf wall, the area within the hedge being covered with trees. There is a good view from both of these mounds of the hills to the east, Law Hill and the Goldenberry range, with Auldhill Fort to the north-west and at a lower level.

Castle Knowe, North Kilruskin, is on the opposite side of the railway from the farm house. It has been cultivated for a considerable time, but is still a prominent object in the landscape, being 37 paces in diameter at the base, 7 feet 6 inches high on one side, and 13 feet 8 inches high on the other. At its east base there is an oak-tree. There is a Castle Hill on the north edge of the Glen Burn, on Glenside Lands. It is in a capital state of preservation, circular, and 29 paces in diameter. On the  land side there is a low turf rampart, 42 paces in length, and about 5 feet above the level of, the ground outside. This fort is hollow in the centre, and the side towards the glen is very steep. On the west side - the low side- there is a recent quarry hollowed in reddish trap, but it has not spoiled the fort in the least. It is at present in a plantation.

On the top of Caldron Hill there is a large cairn of stones, and from here is to be obtained one of the most extensive and picturesque views, both land ward and seaward, in Ayrshire, parts of some seventeen counties being visible. It measures 30 paces by 20, the sides lapping over the ridge of the hill, and is not on the highest part. On Blackshaw Moor there is a stone circle first pointed out to me by
Mr. D. A. Boyd, of Seamill  (Fig. 9).
Near this circle I discovered, some fifteen years ago, a large series of cup and ring markings, etc., which
are amongst the most interesting marks of antiquity in Ayrshire. These have been fully described by Mr. Boyd and myself in the twenty-first volume of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The origin and significance of these sculpturings are lost in the mist of ages. Even tradition has preserved no account of them. It was only the other day that public attention was drawn to them. They have now been found in various parts of the world, and are inscribed on the ancient temples of India. The ones on Blackshaw Rock are perhaps as interesting as any yet found in Scotland. Besides the cups and rings there are hoofs and spirals. There are solitary cups and groups of cups ; sometimes the groups are enclosed by a ring. Some cups have two or three rings, and others have a shallow gutter running up from them, and some have two gutters. Sometimes the gutters cut through the rings, but do not enter, the cups. Two cups are sometimes connected by a gutter, and two gutters often meet at a sharp angle, or one runs into the side of another. In one instance the surrounding , ring is nearly square. Sometimes a ring is not connected with


a gutter coming out from a cup, and a gutter from a cup may run in between two rings. There is only one instance of a solitary ring without a cup inside of it (Figs. 10 to 19). Fig. 10 shows a fine group of four cups and rings, the largest cup with three rings, and. two gutters passing right through the rings; two cups each with two rings, one of the  gutters from the first cup passing in between two of the rings.  In Fig. 11 we have a group of fourteen cups almost surrounded by an incised ring, which at one time was probably complete, and there may originally have been eighteen cups, the action of the weather having obliterated four of them. Fig. 12 represents a small group of three cups, two penannular rings, and two curving gutters, one of which runs into the side of the other. gutters. It is evident the two fragments of rings on the left-hand side of the group do not form parts of once complete rings, as the cup with the short gutter stands in their way.


Similar remarks hold good for at least the middle ring of the principal cup in group Fig. 14, the small cup to the right standing in its way.


Fig. 15 is peculiar in so far that a gutter from a penannular cup runs into the deep side of a hoof-marking. Fig. 16 we have a gutter from a penannular cup, two pairs of gutters from four cups -coming together, one of the cups having two rings and two gutters.


One of the cups in Fig. 17 has two elliptical rings, and two gutters one of which does not reach the cup.


In Fig. 18 there is a 'spectacle' - that is to say, two cups are joined by a gutter; there is also a group of five cups surrounded by a gutter, and the two large cups still show the marks of the tools with which they were dug.

In Fig. 19 we have a double-ringed cup with gutter, and two hoof-markings.

Fig. 20 is unique in having a cup inside a sub-rectangular gutter,

Fig. 21 shows a group of nine cups.

Fig. 22 part of a group of sixty-six cups.

Fig. 23 is a group of small cups just large enough to admit the point of the finger. The hoof-markings are often single, sometimes in pairs, or even in groups. They are all more or less half-moon-shaped and deep only towards the concave side. In only two instances do gutters from ringed cups run into hoof-markings, and in these towards the deep side (Figs. 15 and 24).

 Fig. 24 represents a group of cups and hoof-markings, a gutter from a ringed cup running into the deep side of a hoof-marking.

Fig. 25 is a group of seven hoof-markings. The spirals turn both towards the right and the left, Fig. 26 being the only group of spirals on the Blackshaw Rock. It is generally supposed by those who have given the matter sufficient attention that the significance of all these markings is religious. Some think that the cups were filled with the blood of human victims, and that it ran in the little gutters or channels from one cup to another, whilst others suppose that they were filled with oil or fat four times during the year, and that the Druidical priests called down fire from heaven, which set the whole thing ablaze at the same time all over the country where this style of ceremony was performed. I think it is evident that the  markings are not mere artistic displays, or we certainly would have had figures of men, animals, and primitive hunting scenes.


We have very ancient and very spirited works of art. Witness the figure of the mammoth carved on a tusk of that animal, besides very true-to-nature drawings of deer, etc. In the field (but recently cultivated) in which the cup-marked rock occurs, and within a short distance of it, there was found, by Miss Boyd, an arrow-point of flint, and , in a joint of the rock, bits of a gas-coal ring.

The following tabulation will give a better idea than mere words of the. amount of ancient sculpturings on this bit of Blackshaw sandstone rock, which measures 45 feet in length by 19 feet at one end and 3 at the other:

Cups - 364    Rings - 63   Hoof-markings - 37    Gutters - 34    Spirals - 3   Spectacles-markings - 2

Besides Portincross Castle, already mentioned, and near which there is a cannon of iron, taken from a Spanish Armada ship which was wrecked near it. She sank in about 10 fathoms of water at no great distance from the shore, and from it were taken by a diving machine, in 1740 , brass and iron cannon, etc. is the castle of Crosby, which belonged to the Crawfords of old, and is still inhabited; the tower of Law Castle, Boyds, in good preservation, and perhaps the seat of the Baron of Tarbert, the hill of that name being a short distance to the south of it ; and Hunterston Castle, the seat of the King's hunters of old. ' Latet ult ima cursum perficio.' - find' which has caused considerable speculation In the archeological world is the Hunterston-brooch* (Figs. 27, 28), got near Hawking Craig in 1826. It is beautifully figured in gold, silver and red colours. In the first volume, in the first volume of the 'Collections, Archeological and Historical, of Ayr and Wigton.' It is of silver, richly wrought with gold filigree, set with amber, and has suffered no great damage. Several renderings of the runes inscribed on it have been given. and the following is that by Professor Stephans, of Denmark, who thinks it may be about 1,000 years old : 'Malbritha oweth this Dalk [brooch] Thyle [speaker, poet, or orator] in Lar.' It is not ' known where ' Lar' was situated. This brooch measures 5 1/8 inches by 4 1/2, and is now in the National Collection at Edinburgh.

Near the north end of Ardneil Bank is the Hunterston Rock Shelter, an ancient sea-worn cave, explored by R. W. Cochran Patrick, Esq., LL.D. There were three floors in this cave, and in it were discovered the remains of sheep or goats, oxen, stags, pigs, horses, and dogs; besides charcoal, a perforated bone article, two, stone objects, one of flint and another of slate, with bits of slag and fragments of two kinds of pottery.

At the south end of Ardneil Bank there is another cave, under a thick bed of quartzite conglomerate with crushed pebbles, but I am not aware that this one has ever been explored.

At Underbank there are the rather picturesque ruins of St. Annan's Chapel.

In the West Kilbride district have been got a hammer-axe, in the possession of Mr. McGillivary, of that town, 8 3/4 inches by, 3 by 2 inches ; three felstone axes ; a spindle whorl, 1 1/2 inches in diameter, with incised lines ; a stone celt, on Blackshaw Moor ; and on Chapelton a  perforated stone axe-hammer with concave faces, and three parallel grooves. It measures 4 1/2 inches by 2 1/2"  and weighs 11 ounces. It is figured in the third volume of the Ayr and Wigton Collections.

On a bit of slate from a shell mound, an attempt has been made to draw a few incised lines, with others crossing them at nearly right angles. Also a bit of coal-money, got in the same shell mound at a depth of about 4 feet.

Coming down to more recent times, the jugs which once hung on the wall of the old church can still be seen fastened to a wall close by.

On Chapelton there was a pot of silver coins unearthed by the plough.

Curving round the base of Law Hill, and going up past the Blackshaw cup-marked rock, there is an old bridle-road worn by usage-though not now in use-at some parts to a depth of 10 feet.

In the Andersonian Museum there is a bit of vitrified stone, presented by W. Keddiae, from Portincross.

St. Bryde's Day occurs on February 1, and the district evidently takes its name from this ecclesiastic, who was the patron saint of the Douglasses, and by whom they swore.











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