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Kilmartin Area


Sacred pool ringed by totem poles in Scotland's ritual glen

British Archaeology news
Issue 64, April 2002.

An early Bronze Age timber circle containing an inner ring of totem poles set around a deep, sacred pool is thought to have once stood at the head of the Kilmartin Valley in Argyll, site of one of Scotland's richest concentrations of prehistoric ritual monuments.

Post-excavation analysis of the pits and postholes found when the site was excavated in the 1990s (BA November 1997) has concluded that the timber circle was far more unusual than was initially thought. The circle stood on a terrace overlooking the valley; and at its heart was a large hollow nearly 7 metres wide and 2 metres deep. Now full of peat, the hollow must have contained standing water over a long period of time.

Around this pool was an inner ring of post-holes, thought to have once held totems. At the base of one was a cremation burial under a stone. From the outer ring of 30 oak posts, some 47 metres in diameter, a timber-lined processional avenue appears to have snaked down to the valley floor.

Clare Ellis, in charge of post-excavation at the Edinburgh firm AOC Archaeology, said the pool was likely to have been a 'votive pool' - a phenomenon thought to be unparalleled at any other known stone or timber circle in Britain. No metalwork was found in the pool, but offerings of 'organic materials' such as sacrificial animals could have been made, from which no evidence has survived. Traces of wood in the pool may have belonged to a fence.

In and around the timber circle were six contemporary cyst burials. In one, a woman in her 20s or 30s was buried with a decorated food vessel. The decoration on the pot had been created by pressing a fingernail repeatedly into the wet clay.

Traces of much earlier monuments were also found underlying the circle. One end of an early Neolithic cursus - a ritual procession monument - was uncovered at the edge of the terrace, a place with a magnificent view across the Kilmartin Valley. The massive structure, some 45 metres wide, was defined not by banks and ditches but by hundreds of close-set oak posts. By the time the circle was built some 1,500 years later, these posts had no doubt disappeared; but the memory of the sacred importance of the site had probably survived. Also found were a number of late Mesolithic cooking pits containing charcoal dated to about 4,500 BC, perhaps marking the site of an overnight camp.

Surviving monuments in the Kilmartin Valley include a 'linear cemetery' of Bronze Age cairns, several standing stones, a stone circle and numerous elaborate rock art panels.
Posted by phil
15th May 2002ce

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