Swordale Hill (G-B): Ancient rock art uncovered
A sandstone slab with 32 ringed cupmarks pictured during midwinter sunrise
The highest concentration of ancient rock art ever discovered in the Highlands has been found on hillside farmland in Ross-shire, it has been revealed.
Bronze Age cupmarks carved into rocks up to 5,000 years ago have been found on twenty-eight separate sites on Swordale Hill outside Evanton.
The remains of an enclosed henge have also been found on the hill’s Druim Mor ridge, which is also the location of a chambered cairn.
The majority of the cup-marked stones, as well as the henge, have been identified and recorded by Tain man Douglas Scott who says all the evidence suggests the hill was once a “ritual centre of some significance” where ancient people worshipped the sun.
It is thought the cupmarks were ground into rocks with quartz between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago to symbolise the sun and connect with ancestors during ritual gatherings to celebrate midwinter and the equinoxes.
Through taking photographs and co-ordinates during surveys, Mr Scott has discovered the various cup-marked stones and henge were positioned to align with the rising and setting of the sun and moon.
One of the 28 stones on Swordale Hill which bear Bronze Age cupmarks
He has lodged his findings with the Highland Historic Environment Record, the Royal Commission of Ancient Monuments and has produced a photographic guide, Druim Mor Cupmarks, which he has sent to ARCH Highland in Dingwall.
He also regularly sends his survey findings to rock art experts, including Professor Richard Bradley, an archaeologist from Reading University, who excavated the Clava Cairns about 20 years ago.
Mr Scott formerly ran his silversmith business, Tain Silver, and since his retirement has dedicated more of his time to his life-long passion of archaeology.
In 1986, he and the late Bob Gourlay, the then Highland Regional Archaeologist, went to Swordale Hill to search for rock art. The existence of a few cup-marked stones, some found by farmers, and the remains of a chambered cairn, was already known of at that stage.
During their surveys the pair recorded and photographed 14 cup-marked rocks on the ridge.
“We meant to go back, then Bob moved away and later died. I’ve been meaning to go back up there out of respect to him to complete the job and I decided to do that a couple of years ago,” he said.
During the last two years, Mr Scott has returned to Swordale Hill to plot the stones he and Mr Gourlay found and has discovered another nine cupmarked rocks, bringing the total to 28.
He also discovered a wide circular ditched enclosure, with a small central standing stone next to a cupmarked stone, which suggested it was the remains of a henge.
He carried out a survey, confirming that the entrance of the henge is in line with the midwinter sunrise.
Said Mr Scott: “It is the biggest concentration of rock art found so far in the Highland and shows the area was a ritual centre of some significance.
“It is important that people know about this. I think that here in Scotland we have a better sense of ourselves since we’ve had our parliament, and it is good to promote local knowledge.”
Douglas explained that most of the 28 stones bore simple cup marks, but three have panels of cup and ring marks.
His guide explains that at first there was nothing obvious to suggest any function for the cupmarks or to explain why only certain rocks were chosen.
However, the surveys suggested there could have been “general orientations between some cup-marked stones to the rising and setting of the suns at midwinter, midsummer and equinoxes”. There is also evidence of a connection to the rising and setting of full moons.
This is in keeping with his previous surveys of over 100 groups of cupmarks throughout Scotland.
“The position of the cupmarks between the cairn and the henge suggests that this was one of the most important ritual sites in the area during the Neolithic or Bronze Age. It is proposed that the cupmarks were created as a means to contact the spirit ancestors in the underworld as the sun or moon rose out of, or set into the land of the dead,” his guide states.
He said the area at Druim Mor ridge is scheduled which means it is protected by law and can’t be excavated without the proper permission.
He now wants to encourage local people to get a copy of his guide from ARCH or himself to find out more about the ancient rock art there.
“This is information for everybody, it belongs to us all,” he said.
For a copy of the guide contact Mr Scott on firstname.lastname@example.org