Excavating rock art in Strath Tay day 1: Quartz beneath the turf

This is the second season of excavation at a rock art site in Strath Tay. The location is characterised by a series of rocky outcrops upon the crest of a natural mound. The largest outcrop is decorated with cup marks, some surrounded by rings.

In 2017, a small team excavated a series of trenches around the carvings. Our aim was to explore the context within which they were made, and to potentially date any associated activity. We found some curious features, including a detached slab of stone bearing a single cup mark, and a series of placed quartz deposits. Two charcoal samples were submitted for radiocarbon dating, but these turned out to be relatively modern.


Above: The natural mound with upon which these excavations are focused (Photo: Aaron Watson, September 2017)


In 2018, the plan is to expand upon last years trenches. Some of the stones they revealed looked to be part of a structure, possibly a cairn defined by a kerb. Indeed, a 19th century account had described a cairn in this location. If there was such a feature, was it associated with the cup and ring markings?

On the first day, we decided upon the position of the main trench and, following some strimming to remove nettles, began to remove the overlying turf.

Above: Beginning work on removing turf above the decorated outcrop. One of last years trenches is visible nearby (Photo: Aaron Watson, September 2018)


Above: A short video of the de-turfing (Video: Aaron Watson, September 2018)


Above: Low sunlight highlighting the cup and ring marked rock (Photo: Aaron Watson, September 2018)


Above: In the foreground is another of last years trenches, revealing stones which might be part of a larger structure (Photo: Aaron Watson, September 2018)


Similar to 2017, we soon began to find pieces of quartz. Many were worked and had been carefully placed in cracks and fissures in the bedrock.


Above: My trowel is pointing towards a large block of quartz placed within a fissure in the bedrock (Photo: Aaron Watson, September 2018)


Above: Many of the quartz pieces had been deliberately shaped (Photo: Aaron Watson, September 2018)


By the end of the day we had removed turf from most of the largest trench.

The 2018 excavations in Strath Tay were co-directed by Richard Bradley and Aaron Watson, assisted by Ronnie Scott and Moyra Simon. Many thanks to the landowner and estate staff for their support.