Ancient and Modern

Tom Gomez

Joined January 2008

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Artist's Description

Cairnpapple Hill is one of the most important prehistoric sites on mainland Scotland. Here you can see a 1949 reconstruction of a 4000 year old burial site and a 1990s communications tower, the very old and the very new.

The archaeology on the main site here spans a remarkable period of some 4000 years of activity, from about 3500 BC through to c.500 AD, with its major features being a Neolithic henge and circle, followed by a series of three Bronze Age cairns with cist burials, and a Late Iron Age cemetery.

Cairnpapple was used from about 3,000 BC to 1400 BC firstly as a ceremonial site then several centuries later as a burial site.

5000 years ago, or around 3000BC, our Neolithic ancestors built a henge here. This was made up of a circular ditch about 1m deep surrounded by an earth bank 1.2m high, probably intended to screen the interior from view. Within the ditch was a ring of 24 large wooden posts.

The finished henge would have looked a little like the stone henge at the Ring of Brogar in Orkney: but being less durable than stone the wooden posts have long since disappeared, leaving only the holes in which they stood.

About a thousand years later, around 2000BC, the henge was no longer in use. The local community sited an important burial near the centre of the ring, which they covered with a small cairn of stones. Some time later two more burials were added nearby in stone cists. These were covered by a much larger cairn that extended over the original burial cairn.

The footprint of the second, larger, cairn was used when an earth covered concrete cover was built for the burials in 1949: though this is probably much taller than the cairn it imitates. You enter the modern cairn via a short ladder. Inside you find the preserved remains of the original grave, known as the north grave, and one of the later cist graves.

Back outside the cairn there are two other sets of features that add further layers to an already complex picture. Some of the largest holes on the site lie within the stone covered area close to the base of cairn. These are thought to have been post holes, possibly supporting a screen used at about the time of the north burial. Their current impressive size is misleading.

The most recent features on the site are the traces of four late burials to the east of the cairn. These probably date back to the early Christian era in around 400AD.

Cairnpapple Hill is situated in the Hilderston Hills within the western range of the Bathgate Hills in the parish of Torphichen, West Lothian, in south-east Scotland.

References from Undiscovered Scotland.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Digital Rebel XSi in the USA)


Three bracketed JPGs converted to HDR in Photomatix.

Related shots can be found at: Lowland Scotland.

Artwork Comments

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