Amateur archaeologist Hamish Fenton discovered depictions of deer dating to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age in a prehistoric burial tomb, the Historic Environment Scotland (HES) announced in a statement. This is the first time such carvings have been found in the country.
The rock art, estimated to be around 4,000 or 5,000 years old, was found in Dunchraigaig Cairn in Kilmartin Glen on Scotland’s west coast, an area with a number of prehistoric monuments, burial cairns, and carvings. Upon exploring the burial chamber on the side of the cairn, Fenton noticed unusual patterns in the rock. As he shined his flashlight up toward the roof slab, he noted, “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.”
The carvings can be identified as representing two male red deer and several fawns due to details such as full-grown antlers and short tails. Deer were a critical resource for prehistoric people, who ate their meat, made clothing from their hides, and carved tools from their horns.
Dunchraigaig Cairn comprises three chambers, including the one with the animal carvings. Archaeologists who excavated the site in the 1860s found human remains entombed with tools such as a greenstone axe, a whetstone, and a flint knife. Patterns of concentric circles, known as cup-and-ring markings, have been found on over 3,000 prehistoric carved rocks in Scotland, including at Kilmartin Glen. The deer art in Dunchraigaig is the first known to exist alongside the abstract cup-and-ring markings at a site in the United Kingdom.
“This incredible discovery in Dunchraigaig Cairn makes us wonder if other animal carvings previously unknown to the UK are hidden in unexpected places in our ancient landscapes, waiting to be uncovered in the future,” said Dr. Tertia Barnett, principal investigator for the HES Rock Art Project.
HES has temporarily closed the cairn to further study the rare carvings and to introduce measures to preserve them.