Home eBooks Index eBooks by Author Glossary Search eBooks

The Clyde Mystery

The following is from The Clyde Mystery by Andrew Lang:

IV--Dunbuie

To return to the site first found, the hill fort of Dunbuie, excavated in 1896. Dr. Munro writes:

"There is no peculiarity about the position or structure of this fort which differentiates it from many other forts in North Britain. Before excavation there were few indications that structural remains lay beneath the debris, but when this was accomplished there were exposed to view the foundations of a circular wall, 13.5 feet thick, enclosing a space 30 to 32 feet in diameter. Through this wall there was one entrance passage on a level with its base, 3 feet 2 inches in width, protected by two guard chambers, one on each side, analogous to those so frequently met with in the Brochs. The height of the remaining part of the wall varied from 18 inches to 3 feet 6 inches. The interior contained no dividing walls nor any indications of secondary occupation."

Thus writes Dr. Munro (pp. 130, 131), repeating his remarks on p. 181 with this addition,

"Had any remains of intra-mural chambers or of a stone stair been detected it would unhesitatingly be pronounced a broch; nor, in the absence of such evidence, can it be definitely dissociated from that peculiar class of Scottish buildings, because the portion of wall then remaining was not sufficiently high to exclude the possibility of these broch characteristics having been present at a higher level--a structural deviation which has occasionally been met with."

"All the brochs," Dr. Munro goes on, "hitherto investigated have shown more or less precise evidence of a post-Roman civilisation, their range, according to Dr. Joseph Anderson, being "not earlier than the fifth and not later than the ninth century." {17} "Although from more recent discoveries, as, for example, the broch of Torwodlee, Selkirkshire, there is good reason to believe that their range might legitimately be brought nearer to Roman times, it makes no difference in the correctness of the statement that they all belong to the Iron Age."

So far the "broch," or hill fort, was not unlike other hill forts and brochs, of which there are hundreds in Scotland. But many of the relics alleged to have been found in the soil of Dunbuie were unfamiliar in character in these islands. There was not a shard of pottery, there was not a trace of metal, but absence of such things is no proof that they were unknown to the inhabitants of the fort. I may go further, and say that if an person were capable of interpolating false antiquities, they were equally capable of concealing such real antiquities in metal or pottery as they might find; to support their theories, or to serve other private and obscure ends.

Thus, at Langbank, were found a bronze brooch, and a "Late Celtic" (200 B.C.?--A.D.) comb. These, of course, upset the theory held by some inquirers, that the site was Neolithic, that is, was very much earlier than the Christian era. If the excavators held that theory, and were unscrupulous, was it not as easy for them to conceal the objects which disproved the hypothesis, as to insert the disputed objects--which do not prove it?

Of course Dr. Munro nowhere suggests that any excavator is the guilty "faker."

I now quote Dr. Munro's account of the unfamiliar objects alleged to have been found in Dunbuie. He begins by citing the late Mr. Adam Millar, F.S.A.Scot., who described Dunbuie in the Proceedings S. A. Scot. (vol. XXX. pp. 291-308.)

"The fort," writes Mr. Millar, "has been examined very thoroughly by picking out the stones in the interior one by one, and riddling the fine soil and small stones. The same treatment has been applied to the refuse heap which was found on the outside, and the result of the search is a very remarkable collection of weapons, implements, ornaments, and figured stones."  There is no description of the precise position of any of these relics in the ruins, with the exception of two upper stones of querns and a limpet shell having on its inner surface the presentation of a human face, which are stated to have been found in the interior of the fort. No objects of metal or fragments of pottery were discovered in course of the excavations, and of bone there were only two small pointed objects and an awl having a perforation at one end. The majority of the following worked objects of stone, bone, and shell are so remarkable and archaic in character that their presence in a fort, which cannot be placed earlier than the Broch period, and probably long after the departure of the Romans from North Britain, has led some archaeologists to question their genuineness as relics of any phase of Scottish civilisation.

OBJECTS OF STONE.--Nine spear-heads, like arrow-points, of slate, six of which have linear patterns scratched on them. Some are perforated with round holes, and all were made by grinding and polishing. One object of slate, shaped like a knife, was made by chipping. "This knife," says Mr. Millar, "has a feature common to all these slate weapons--they seem to have been saturated with oil or fat, as water does not adhere to them, but runs off as from a greasy surface." Another highly ornamental piece of cannel coal is in the form of a short spear-head with a thickish stem. The stem is adorned with a series of hollows and ridges running across it; radiating lines running from the stem to the margin. Another group of these remarkable objects shows markings of the cup-and-ring order, circles, linear incisions, and perforations. Some of these ornamentations are deeply cut on the naturally rough surfaces of flat pieces of sandstone, whilst others are on smooth stones artificially prepared for the purpose. A small piece of flint was supposed to have been inserted into a partially burnt handle. There are several examples of hammer-stones of the ordinary crannog type, rubbing-stones, whetstones, as well as a large number of water-worn stones which might have been used as hand-missiles or sling-stones. These latter were not native to the hill, and must have been transported from burns in the neighbourhood. There are also two upper quern stones.

MISCELLANEOUS OBJECTS.--A number of splintered pieces of bone, without showing any other evidence of workmanship, have linear incisions, like those on some of the stones, which suggest some kind of cryptic writing like ogams. There are also a few water-worn shells, like those seen on a sandy beach, having round holes bored through them and sharply-cut scratches on their pearly inner surface. But on the whole the edible molluscs are but feebly represented, as only five oyster, one cockle, three limpet, and two mussel shells were found, nearly all of which bore marks of some kind of ornamentation. But perhaps the most grotesque object in the whole collection is the limpet shell with a human face sculptured on its inner surface.

"The eyes," writes Mr. Millar, "are represented by two holes, the nose by sharply-cut lines, and the mouth by a well-drawn waved line, the curves which we call Cupid's bow being faithfully followed. There is nothing at all of an archaic character, however, in this example of shell-carving. We found it in the interior of the fort; it was one of the early finds--nothing like it has been found since; at the same time we have no reason for assuming that this shell was placed in the fort on purpose that we might find it. The fact that it was taken out of the fort is all that we say about it."

Mr. Millar's opinion of these novel handicraft remains was that they were the products of a pre-Celtic civilisation. "The articles found," he writes, "are strongly indicative of a much earlier period than post-Roman; they point to an occupation of a tribe in their Stone Age."

"We have no knowledge of the precise position in which the 'queer things' of Dunbuie were found, with the exception of the limpet shell showing the carved human face which, according to a recent statement in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association, September, 1901, "was excavated from a crevice in the living rock, over which tons of debris had rested. When taken out, the incrustations of dirt prevented any carving from being seen; it was only after being dried and cleaned that the 'face' appeared, as well as the suspension holes on each side."

So, this unique piece of art was in the fort before it became a ruin and otherwise presented evidence of great antiquity; but yet it is stated in Mr. Millar's report that there was "nothing at all of an archaic character in this example of shell-carving." {21}

I have nothing to do with statements made in The Journal of the British Archaeological Association about "a carved oyster shell."  I stick to the limpet shell of Mr. Millar, which, to my eyes looks anything but archaic.

V--How I Came Into the Controversy - Footnotes


Copyright Scotland from the Roadside 2019