Excavations around an outcrop decorated with rock art at Torbhlaren.

Excavations at Torbhlaren and Ormaig

Between 2004 and 2009 this project investigated rock art in and around Kilmartin Glen in western Scotland, and was directed by Dr. Andrew Jones. Alongside wider fieldwork, this included detailed investigations at two contrasting sites.

At Torbhlaren, outcrops decorated with relatively simple cup and ring marks, evidence was revealed of Neolithic and Bronze Age activities taking place. This included the burning of fires, flakes of flint, and substantial quantities of worked quartz. Some of the stone debris was interpreted as fragments of hammerstones that broke apart while being used to carve the cup and ring marks. Unusual materials had also been brought to this location from some distance away, including volcanic glass from the island of Arran. Environmental evidence indicated that people lived nearby, and it seems that the outcrops became a focus for diverse activities, some of which involved the creation of the abstract images upon the rocks.

The second site was Ormaig, a remote outcrop covered with elaborate carved images. In contrast to Torbhlaren, the project found few hammerstones, very little flint, and no quartz. This contrast suggests that this place was treated rather differently, which would accord with wider evidence that more elaborate rock art sites tend to be associated with lower densities of deposited stone.

Further reading

Jones, A., Freedman, D., O’Connor, B., Lamdin-Whymark, H., Tipping, R., Watson, A. 2011. An Animate Landscape: rock art and the prehistory of Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland. Oxford: Windgather Press.