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Double Stone Age find in Fife

Joy over double Stone Age find in Fife

TWO hugely significant Neolithic finds have been made in Fife within weeks of each other, thanks to sharp-eyed amateur archeologists. Historic Scotland has confirmed that intricate markings on boulders on the Binn Hill, a volcanic plug above Burntisland, are neolithic cup and ring marks which may be 4,000 years old. In a separate find, an outstanding example of a ceremonial Neolithic axe, which may have belonged to a leader or a priest, has been unearthed in a newly ploughed field at Mid-Conlan, just below East Lomond Hill.

Amateur archeologists Colin Kilgour and Jock Moyes contacted Historic Scotland after seeing photographs of Neolithic carvings in an exhibition and recognising the designs they had seen as children playing on the Binn Hill. "It was then we realised we had seen these markings before," explained Mr Kilgour. "When we were kids we used to play on the Binn Hill, and I remembered finding patterns just like that when we were building a gang hut. We went back and, sure enough, the carvings were still there. We knew what the markings were, but had never imagined they would be so important." Historic Scotland is now considering the best way to protect the neolithic cup and ring marks on Binn Hill.

Fife Council archaeologist Douglas Speirs said: "It's fantastic - truly amazing. The carvings are what is called a cup and ring design on a large boulder, with a spiral carved out on a nearby rockface. They are about 4,000 years old - which means they were already about 3,000 years old when the famous carvings were made in the Wemyss Caves. We know of examples of this style mainly from Perthshire and Argyll, and even there they are rare, so to find one here in Fife is hugely important. The fact that one of the cup and ring marks has not been completed gives us confirmation of the method used to carve them."

Cup and ring marks are found throughout Scotland and date from about 2000 to 3000 BC, making them up to 5,000 years old. But only six known examples have been discovered in Fife, and one of those, in a cave at West Wemyss, was lost in a rockfall in 1902. Common to all cup and ring carvings is a central scoop, or "cup" surrounded by spiral incisions and often surrounded by other curvilinear decorative designs. Archeologists are unclear about the significance of the recurring patterns, with theories that they were used for making offerings of milk or blood or that they are artistic representations of elemental forces. Despite the mystery which surrounds their creation, experts agree the find in Burntisland is of national historic significance. Councillor William Leggatt has pushed for the site to be both recognised and protected since the discovery came to light. "There's a lot more in Fife and I'm quite sure there is a lot more to find on the Binn Hill itself, because it has been an important site through the ages," he said.

The actor and poet Michael Kelly, who has appeared in films with Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson, made a similarly momentous discovery when he noticed something glinting at his feet in a freshly ploughed field, while scouting for film locations. The polished axe head, which may be 5,000 years old, is a very rare example of a ceremonial axe. The craftsmanship that has gone into its production means it could have been used or owned by an important individual or by a religious figure for ceremonial or ritual purposes. The stone itself is probably not native to the area and appears to have been imported from another region, possibly as far away as Cumbria, probably already as a finished tool.

Such long-distance trade in fine exotic axes is well recorded in the Neolithic period and there were various centres that produced axes that supplied large geographical areas. Mr Kelly discovered the axe head in April, but it wasn't until he showed it to a friend that he began to realise its true significance. He has so far resisted requests to hand over the small axe head, saying he intends to resist the law of treasure trove, which means artefacts of a certain age have to be handed over to the Crown. He said: "It really is something to hold in your hand, and think about what has happened. I found it two miles from my house and it makes you think about people working and living in your own wee town all those years ago." He added: "I am aware of the laws. But I want to make my film and I think if Fife Council want to put this in their museum or their library they should put up some money. I have been told I will be given about £300 or £400 for it but I think it is worth at least £5,000. If they don't manage to come up with that I might just lose it."

Mr Speirs has had an exciting few weeks, having been privy to two hugely significant Neolithic discoveries on his patch. Of the axe-head, he said: "This is exciting, a rare and remarkable find, and an outstanding example of a mid-neolithic ceremonial piece."

17 July 2003
nickbrand Posted by nickbrand
17th July 2003ce
Edited 17th July 2003ce

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