Rock Art: Ancient acts of bioregioning

Here is one of the many ancient rock carvings found around the Kintyre peninsula. Some archaeologists think that they are located at transition points between lowland and upland, perhaps as waymarkers at what were then regarded as liminal spaces (more of this later).

The rock in the photograph is around 170m. above sea level near the head of Clachaig Glen (east of the village of Muasdale halfway down the west Kintyre coast).

You can see how it is surrounded by Sitka spruce plantations, so the view is very different now from the time of the Neolithic when it is thought these stones were carved. Then, a pastoral landscape was dominant (the photograph was taken from the forestry track created when the trees were planted).

I’m interested in our modern-day attitudes towards these enigmatic carvings. During the 19th and 20th centuries an interest in “Antiquities” created many Antiquarians, among whom were lairds who looked around their lands for interesting sites (or got their shepherds to do it for them). Nowadays archaeologists are running a programme of verification i.e. they are checking that recorded sites are, indeed, carved by humans and not by the erosive qualities of water. Then they are assembling 3D images of these amazing carvings.

In the case of this one, what we see today is a composite of a number of stones which had been broken up (some used to make culverts during the construction of the forestry road). According to The Field Guide to the Archaeology of Kintyre (Frances Hood), this reassembling was done in the 1990’s by Glasgow University archaeologists.

Whenever I see such carvings (the most common shapes that are carved are cups and rings – hence the common name for them) I am transported back to the Neolithic and imagine how differently people must have felt about landscape then. I am sure they indicate some form of spiritual belief-system – a similar version of which survives to this day amongst indigenous peoples. This outlook sees us humans as intimately connected to the natural world, very much a part of it not apart from it. In such communities it is the shamans who maintain and nurture these connections.

Today, there is revival of interest in such an outlook. For me, it is an essential – perhaps the core – aspect of bioregioning, and it is being taken up by land artists. More of this in my next post.

About edwardtyler

I live in Kintyre, the long peninsula acting as a natural breakwater for the Firth of Clyde, west of Glasgow. A Permaculture and Transition practitioner, I am working with fellow community activists to co-create a resilient and vibrant local bioregion.

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