Site plan, showing in red the features excavated in 2005. © AOC Archaeology Group
Recent analysis of 4,000-year-old pots recovered during an excavation of two graves at Upper Largie, near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, has provided exciting evidence linking prehistoric Scotland with the Netherlands.
Analysis of the pots by Alison Sheridan, of National Museums Scotland, has revealed early international-style Beakers of the type found around the lower Rhine, which is the modern-day Netherlands and a strange hybrid of styles that suggest Irish and Yorkshire influences.
“These finds are very rare,” said Martin Cook, the AOC Archaeology Project Officer, who oversaw the excavations in 2005. “I think there are three or four other examples that early in Scotland. We initially didn’t realise how unusual they were, as it is so unusual to find three beaker ceramic vessels in the same feature.”
“The actual structure was very unusual, there’s only been one other grave excavated like that in Scotland – you just don’t get features like that generally.”
Upper Largie Footed Food Vessel © Trustees of National Museums Scotland
The excavations revealed two graves within a complex Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual landscape composed of monuments including an Early Neolithic cursus (long earthwork) and an Early Bronze Age timber circle.
Although no human remains were recovered in either grave – bone does not survive in the sand and gravel and the only other artefacts recovered from the earlier grave were two flint knives – Martin believes a human body had been laid in the pit.
The construction of the grave shows strong Dutch parallels suggesting that its occupant may have been a Dutch immigrant.
“The grave is so early and the style of ceramic is so rare for this period that it’s either an immigrant or a first or second generation descendant who still knows these techniques,” said Martin. “The pots are made from local material which certainly suggests an immigrant or a second generation person.”
The polypod pottery vessel as revealed during excavation. © AOC Archaeology Group
A ring ditch surrounding the grave was about 5.5 metres in diameter, with posts standing in it. Just to the south lay an associated arc of four larger pits that also held posts.
At a later date a second grave was dug, in which was placed a food vessel bowl of unique design. Its upper part is of classic Irish style as current around 2150BC but the four feet at the bottom are a Yorkshire feature. This ‘polypod’ hybrid-design vessel is also rare and unique, and it neatly reflects some of the external contacts of the Kilmartin valley elite during the Early Bronze Age.
Travel at this time would have been difficult with few established tracks and thick forests covering much of the British Isles – much of it populated by some dangerous wild animals. Seaward travel to or from Yorkshire and Ireland to pick up these influences would have been the slightly easier option.
“I think it just re-emphasises the importance of Kilmartin as a centre during this time,” added Martin.
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