Prehistoric Animal Carvings Dating Back to 5000 Years Discovered In Scotland

5,000 years old prehistoric Animal carvings including a red deer with antlers have been discovered in Scotland for the first time.

A deer head and antlers can be seen in this image

The carvings date back to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age and depict two male red deer with fully grown antlers, while other carvings are suggestive of younger deer, according to Historic Environment Scotland (HES), who confirmed the discovery.

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The creations were found by chance in an ancient burial site at Dunchraigaig Cairn in Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, by Hamish Fenton, who has a background in archaeology. The images are the earliest known animal carvings in Scotland, and the first clear examples of deer carvings from the Neolithic in the whole of the UK, said HES. Kilmartin Glen is known for its high concentration of ancient remains from the Neolithic period, including some of the clearest cup and ring markings. 

Prehistoric carvings found at Kilmartin Glen, Argyll

Deer would have been a valuable source of bones, meat and hides, with their antlers used to craft a variety of tools, making them a key feature of Neolithic life. Dr Tertia Barnett, principal investigator for Scotland’s Rock Art Project at HES, said it was previously thought there were no prehistoric carvings this old in Scotland.However, they have been found in other parts of Europe, so it ‘is very exciting that they have now been discovered here for the first time in the historic Kilmartin Glen.’

The layout of the carvings hidden inside Dunchraigaig cairn in Kilmartin Glen.

‘This extremely rare discovery completely changes the assumption that prehistoric rock art in Britain was mainly geometric and non-figurative,’ said Dr Barnett.

‘It is remarkable that these carvings in Dunchraigaig Cairn show such great anatomical detail and there is no doubt about which animal species they represent.

‘This also tells us that the local communities were carving animals as well as cup and ring motifs which is in keeping with what we know of other Neolithic and Bronze Age societies, particularly in Scandinavia and Iberia.

Dr Joana Valdez-Tullett, a research assistant on Scotland’s Rock Art Project, looks at the carvings

‘This incredible discovery in Dunchraigaig Cairn makes us wonder if other animal carvings previously unknown to the UK are hidden in unexpected places in our ancient landscapes, waiting to be uncovered in the future.’

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Hamish Fenton, who first made the discovery, said he was passing the area at dusk when he noticed the burial change in the side – and slide inside with his torch. 

‘As I shone the torch around, I noticed a pattern on the underside of the roof slab which didn’t appear to be natural markings in the rock,’ he added.

Dr Tertia Barnett said it was an extremely rare discovery

‘As I shone the light around further, I could see that I was looking at a deer stag upside down, and as I continued looking around, more animals appeared on the rock.

‘This was a completely amazing and unexpected find and, to me, discoveries like this are the real treasure of archaeology, helping to reshape our understanding of the past.’

There are more than 3,000 prehistoric carved rocks in Scotland, the vast majority of which are abstract markings of a central cup mark surrounded by concentric rings.

‘While many of these mysterious carvings can still be seen in the open landscape today, we know little about how they were used, or what purpose they served’, said HES.

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