The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Fieldnotes by suibhne

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Cairnpapple (Henge)

Hmmm... - been a while since I came to this page, but it looks like CP is still rather neglected by megalithic enthusiasts. I guess one thing I forgot to mention 3 years ago last time I posted here (OK, I'm to blame, too, but I'm doing a whole website on the place, so can hardly be accused of neglect!) is that one of the upshots of my incumbency at CP in late 2003 was that I rediscovered the "lost" capstone of Cist B. However, although my re-find was authenticated by none other than Gordon Barclay, good ol' Historic Scotland still haven't flagged it up for visitors, so now totally fed up with that situation, I'm flagging it up here myself for any TMA readers thinking of visiting.

If you go inside the modern concrete flying-saucer that represents Cairn 2, you'll only see one of the two Bronze Age cists reconstructed there – the one Piggott called Cist A. The smaller Cist B was slightly to the east of Cist A (and square in shape). But why didn't the Ministry of Works reconstruct Cist B in the '50s? Many theories have been put forward, not least the erroneous auld saw currently being re-peddled by one of the 2003 Broxburn Library exhibition-boards currently being recycled in the visitor's centre: ie. the idea that Piggott's team somehow broke the Cist B capstone during excavation, and it was presumably subsequently secreted away under some conspiratorial carpet or something. This is complete tosh, of course – Piggott was far from incompetent!

The truth is that the Cist B capstone is now to be found dumped on the western side of the cairn area, curiously lined-into the kerb of Cairn 3. Stand to the west, and find the big, flat, square sandstone block that actually looks very obviously nothing like a kerbstone – in the kerb. That's the Cist B capstone, and it's been sitting there for 50 years and until I took a fag-break one afternoon in 2003, everyone had been walking past it - including the professionals...

One can only assume that when the MoW were doing the Disnae-Land reconstruction in the 50s, they did so without consultation of either Piggott or his plans. Look at his PSAS paper – there's no stone marked where this one is.

The pressing question now is – will Historic Scotland return it to its proper place inside the Cairn 2 flying saucer? So far, my nudges have come to naught, despite the weathering the stone is very clearly suffering in the open (unlike most stones onsite, this one's not igneous, but soft-ish local sandstone - just compare the photos from Piggott's original 1950 paper to its current condition) – "cost issues" is the best HS excuse I've heard so far (CP is a loss-making "property", most years) then "engineering issues" is clearly an excuse, but *institutional apathy* is more like it, I reckon. OK, if they ever bother to read this, I'll never work there again, obviously, but the fate of the Cist B capstone is more important than whether or not I ever get another part-time, slightly-above Minimal Wage job at Cairnpapple with these guys…

However, now you know where the second primary Bronze Age burial remnant is, and you know how to find it. Enjoy, and imagine it in back its rightful place, not far from Cist A inside Cairn 2. Maybe even say a prayer (faith not specified) for the poor guy who it used to belong to, before the MoW neglected to put it back where Piggott found it... :-)

Having been priviledged enough to have spent the last 3 months of the 2003 season as the site custodian, could I encourage visitors to NOT put plastic flowers into the grave-pits? They soon blow into the adjacent cow-field. :-)

Just to clear a common misnomer up, it's not the circle of uprights at Cairnpapple that had the solar alignments - it's the cove (was roughly around the West end of the North Grave) and semi-circle of pits (East side of the Cairn 2 reconstruction) that did this. This was possibly the earliest structure on the site yet identified. Standing in the centre of the cove and looking through the Northmost of the pits gives you the approximate horizon-point of sunrise on Summer Solstice, with the Southmost pit indicating sunrise on Winter Solstice, with both Equinoxes and the four Celtic festivals being indicated by the other pits. However, two pits indicate unknown festivals, suggesting that Cairnpapple has a fuller Neolithic Calendar than we currently fully know about. It's also worth noting that most Neolithic monuments with alignments indicate a small number of events - Cairnpapple, however, gives us the four Festivals, the two Soltices, the two Equinoxes, and four lost festivals. Impressively comprehensive! The other point worth noting is that the Ministry of Works reconstruction of the site in 1949 inexplicably only reconstructed six of the seven pits in the arc, the missing one indicating Beltain/Lunasdal - the location of this missing pit is just on the NW edge of a kerbstone in the NE perimeter of the Cairn 3 area which was damaged by a local taking it upon himself to build a Beltain fire on it in, if memory serves, 2001 (easily identifiable - the burn-marks are still there, and it's cracked - some locals refer to this kerbstone as "The Beltain Stone", although as a cairn kerbstone, it never functioned as such).

Hully Hill Monument (Artificial Mound)

As a local who grew up about a mile along the Ratho road (the Baird Road end), I know this site pretty well. Which is why I'm slightly bamboozled as to why the label on this page's header puts it down as having an "artificial mound"! It's not artificial at all - the cairn is the real deal. The only thing that's modern about it is the perimeter wall, which wasn't there when I was a kid and, I think, was added as a consolidation measure by the council when they tarted the place up in, if memory serves, the 1980s. Prior to that, it was a jungle in there, and was a great place for us local kids to romp around in and scare each other with stories of witches scarificing children on top of the cairn under the full moon! :-)
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