Prehistoric carvings made in a Neolithic tomb depicting adult red deer are the oldest of their kind ever found in the United Kingdom. The carvings were discovered in one of Scotland’s most well-known Neolithic sites called Kilmartin Glen in Argyll. This site is extremely important in regards to Neolithic and Bronze Age remains.
The carvings date back between 4,000 and 5,000 years and were discovered by an amateur archaeologist named Hamish Fenton who was in the area to explore a burial mound from the Bronze Age called Dunchraigaig Cairn. Dunchraigaig Cairn measures approximately 2.5 meters in height (8.2 feet) and 30 meters in diameter (98.4 feet). Back in the 19th century, excavations of the cairn revealed cremated bones, pottery, flints, and an axe.
Fenton was searching a burial cist which is located on the side of the cairn when he spotted some carvings on the capstone (cover) of the chamber. He explained what happened, “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. 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.”
Historic Environment Scotland announced that their team had taken 3D scans and digital models of the prehistoric carvings so that they can better see them and study them in further detail. Dr. Tertia Barnett, who is the project’s principal investigator, noted that the carvings of the prehistoric animals were the first ever to be found in Scotland. This is very significant as it was previously assumed that British rock art from that time period consisted mostly of geometric shapes.
She went on to say, “While there are a few prehistoric carvings of deer in the UK, the only other ones created in the early Bronze Age are very schematic. 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.”
A picture of the carvings, which included two male red deer with full antlers as well as younger deer, can be seen here.