Earliest known animal carvings in Scotland discovered

Scotland’s Rock Art Project, including staff from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, examined the carvings to confirm their authenticity.

HCA Technical illustration of the engraved slab in Dunchraigaig Cairn showing deer

The earliest known animal carvings in Scotland, and the first clear examples of deer carvings from the Neolithic to Early Bronze Age in the whole of the UK, have been discovered inside Dunchraigaig Cairn in Kilmartin Glen, Argyll. Thought to be between 4,000 and 5,000-years-old – dating from the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age – they include depictions of two male red deer and others thought to be juvenile deer.

The carvings were discovered by chance by Hamish Fenton, who has a background in archaeology, while visiting Kilmartin Glen. The Glen has one of the most important concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in mainland Scotland, including some of the finest cup and ring markings in the country.

Following their discovery experts from Scotland’s Rock Art Project examined the carvings. The Project is led by Honorary Fellow Dr Tertia Barnett and the team includes Dr Guillaume Robin (co-investigator) and School alumnae Linda Marie Bjerketvedt and Maya Hoole.

Dr Robin produced the technical illustration of the engraved slab.

“The process combines 3D recording and computer tracings on digital photographs. The carvings are very old and some of them are very weathered and faint, which required careful examination of the stone surface to identify man-made carvings and discriminate them from natural features such as cracks.  

‘It is extremely exciting to be directly involved in the study of such an amazing discovery, which changes the way we see prehistoric rock art in Scotland. With my colleagues from the Scotland's rock art project (ScRAP) we were very impatient to share the news. We are very grateful to Hamish Fenton who discovered these extraordinary carvings."

You can explore 3D models of the cairn and its carvings on the Historic Environment Scotland Sketchfab Account

You can read out more about Dr Barnett's experience of investigating the carvings on the Historic Environment Scotland blog

You can find out more about the Scotland's Rock Art Project on the project website


Dr Tertia Barnett's staff profile

Dr Robin's staff profile