5,000-year-old home of capital's first farmers discovered
THE remains of a hilltop home believed to be about 5,000 years old have been discovered on the outskirts of Edinburgh, The Scotsman can reveal.
The Neolithic roundhouse, found on a site where a quarry is due to be expanded, is one of the oldest prehistoric buildings to be discovered in the capital.
Archaeologists have hailed it as one of the most important finds ever made in Edinburgh because of its age – about the same as Skara Brae in Orkney – and unique location.
It is also expected to help fill in a largely unknown chapter in Scottish history, when farming had only recently spread to Britain from Europe.
The site, at Ravelrig Hill, near Dalmahoy, enjoys spectacular views across the Lothians and Fife, including landmarks such as Arthur's Seat.
Experts believe the roundhouse was probably built by one of the first families of farmers to start producing their own food in the area.
Experts from Glasgow University's Archaeological Research Division (Guard) have spent several months working in the area, which is already home to the remains of two prehistoric hill forts. The house, remains of which were found in a huge circular ditch, was surrounded by a larger egg-shaped enclosure.
Although no materials such as pottery have been discovered, archaeologists have been able to date flint recovered from the site, and the remains of an internal fireplace were found.
The site is thought to be roughly the same age as the cairn at Cairnpapple Hill, which is widely regarded as Scotland's most prehistoric burial site and can be seen from Ravelrig Hill.
Donna Maguire, project director for Guard, said there may once have been a number of settlements on the hill, lost when quarrying began in the area more than 150 years ago.
The discovery was only made because Edinburgh City Council insisted that an archaeological dig was carried out before construction giant Tarmac was allowed to expand its quarrying operation in the area.
Ms Maguire told The Scotsman: "We had no idea we would find anything like this, so it was hugely exciting. There's been very little like this discovered anywhere in the Central Belt. It dates from around the time of early farming but very little is known of that era in Scotland and that's why it's so significant.
"It was clearly built at the top of the hill because of its location overlooking the landscape. In a way, it was intended to make people see it and regard it as an important landmark."
John Lawson, the city council's archaeologist, said: "Although remains of buildings discovered at Cramond within the last ten years have been dated to 8,500 years ago, this is one of the most significant prehistoric sites to have been found in the wider Edinburgh area for many years."
All materials recovered are being taken away for analysis. The discovery is not expected to delay work to expand the quarry. Tarmac has been quarrying there since 1987.
By BRIAN FERGUSON
Posted by moss
23rd March 2009ce