Prehistoric Burntisland

The site itself

The following extract was taken from 'Fife On Line' July 10th 2003:

Ancient stone carvings found on Burntisland's Binn Hill have excited major interest among archaeologists. As a result they look likely to be designated a scheduled ancient monument, given the same status as national treasures such as Edinburgh Castle. And local enthusiasts hope it could prompt a fresh archaeological survey of the whole area, believing more discoveries could be waiting. The object of such excitement is a set of rock carvings thought to be about 4000 years old and of a design rare in Scotland and almost unique in Fife.

Fife Council Archaeologist Douglas Speirs enthused: "It's fantastic - truly amazing. The carvings are what is called a cup and ring design on a large boulder, with a spiral carved out on a nearby rockface. They are about 4000 years old - which means they were already about 3000 years old when the famous carvings were made in the Wemyss Caves. We know of examples of this style mainly from Perthshire and Argyll, and even there they are rare, so to find one here in Fife is hugely important. The fact that one of the cup and ring marks has not been completed gives us confirmation of the method used to carve them."

The rock covered in cup marks

The find has also excited Historic Scotland, which is set to declare the site a scheduled ancient monument, giving it the maximum legal protection from development or other damage. Councillor William Leggatt has pushed for the site to be both recognised and protected since the discovery came to light. "There's a lot more in Fife and I'm quite sure there is a lot more to find on the Binn Hill itself, because it has been an important site through the ages," he said.

The cup and ring mark carvings

The discovery was a tale in itself. Local men Colin Kilgour and Jock Moyes, who shared an interest in archaeology, came across a picture of cup and ring-marked stones at an exhibition. "It was then we realised we had seen these markings before," explained Colin. "When we were kids we used to play on the Binn Hill, and I remembered finding patterns just like that when we were building a gang hut. We went back and, sure enough, the carvings were still there. We knew what the markings were, but had never imagined they would be so important.''

The Courier described it thus:
As young lads, Colin Kilgour and Jock Moyes loved nothing better than roaming about the countryside near their homes in Burntisland. One day while playing on some land at the Grange Farm, they came across some strange carvings on an outcrop of rocks. Being youngsters, they thought little of it at the time but now it has been revealed that Colin and Jock discovered a very rare form of prehistoric rock art which is about 4000 years old and dates back to the bronze age. Historic Scotland intends to protect the site as a nationally-important monument and the find is set to be included in an important database detailing archaeological sites all over the country.

Colin, now 37, said, "We discovered the cup and ring carvings and another of a big cross on a rocky outcrop on a hillside. We didnít think much of it at the time but later Jock came across similar markings in a museum and I started to look into it a bit more. We did a bit of research, but when we had taken it as far as we could we got Fife Councilís architect, Douglas Speirs, involved and heís thrilled to bits. He reckons thereís been nothing like this discovered as far east as this before and itís likely that there was a Pictish settlement in the area." Colin and Jock also found what appeared to be a stone tool which they gave to Douglas and are currently waiting to here what it is.

Local councillor Willie Leggatt has been influential in persuading Historic Scotland to protect the site. "This sort of carving is very rare in Fife although they are a lot more common in the Perth area," he said. Douglas Speirs described the find as exceptionally important. "Examples of this type of rock art are reasonably well recorded in other parts of Scotland but not in Fife. In fact, it is almost unknown in low-lying areas. I think itís unlikely to have been a burial site, because bronze age burials are well understood and almost all are in stone kists. Similar markings appear from Shetland right down to England and it would have taken hundreds of hours to produce a single one."

At a single stroke, here is proof that the Burntisland area has been inhabited for 4,000 years or more. Since neolithic people took the trouble to erect the standing stones at Glassmount on Longloch Farm, just above the Binn, it would appear that the Burntisland area was an important enough region to warrant a permanent reminder of their occupancy. Many other traces of their lives have been found over the years - a shell midden near Newbigging farm, between Aberdour and Burntisland; six polished stone axes up near Glassmount; cists and barrows near Blabie and Orrock farms, which yielded skeletons, a bronze spearhead, bronze armlets and an amber bead; cinerary urns near the old Binn House and Greenmount Hotel; and both chert and flint knives. Proof enough that this was a popular area even so many thousands of years ago!

The Glassmount standing stones above the Binn

Cup and ring marks are an enigmatic reminder of our ancient past. They have been found in many places all over Scotland, but rarely in Fife. The Kilmartin area of Argyll is perhaps the best known region - there are many hundreds of these symbols to be found there. Many places scattered across Perthshire also contain these carved reminders of our past. They have very rarely been found in Fife, despite many other traces of our ancestors which remain in view to the present day, and this is why this particular discovery is so exciting. It is a unique glimpse into the distant past. Who knows - perhaps some of the descendants of the ancient sculptors still live in the town? From research done in the Cheddar area of Somerset, this is not nearly as far-fetched as it might seem!