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Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire

John Smith



THE most interesting archaeological relic in the Kilmaurs district is the Buston Crannog, discovered by Mr.M'Knight, schoolmaster of Kilmaurs, and explored by Dr. Munro.

The site of this crannog is left uncultivated ; it is in a low-lying meadow, which formed the bottom of a lake at one time, and many of the piles are still to be seen standing in the erect position, and some of the mortised beams are lying about. It has been circular, and the distance over the piles measures 27 paces in diameter. Before the loch was finally drained, there was a small island - the site of the crannog - in it, called the Swan Knowe, of which, even at the time when the bog began to be tile-drained ,the farmer engaged in that operation, from the quantity of beams that ' were encountered, remarked, 'There maun hae ' been dwallers here at ae time.'

After detailing the results of the explorations of the Buston Crannog [ Buiston Crannog ], Dr. Munro sums up as follows :

1. 'The island, as far as could be ascertained from the investigations made, was composed of a succession of layers of the trunks and branches of trees, intermingled in some places with stones, turf, etc.

2. 'The whole mass was kept firmly together by a peculiar arrangement of upright and horizontal beams, forming a united series of circular stockades.

3. 'The outer circle was intended more for protection than for giving stability to the island, and in some parts, as at the east side of the refuse-heap, was neatly constructed after the manner of a stair railing; while the inner one not only gave stability to the island, but was used as a fence, or in connection with the superstructural buildings.

4. 'The central portion was rudely paved with wooden beams, many of which were firmly fixed to the lower woodwork by stout wooden pegs, as well as to, the encircling stockades, thus affording here and there, as it were, points d'appui.

5. 'While there was one general fireplace situated near the centre, evidence of occasional fires elsewhere was quite conclusive, one of which appeared to have been a smelting furnace.

6. 'The entrance to the central area was looking south-east, and in front of it there was a well-constructed wooden platform, made of large oak planks, supported on solid layers of wood to which they were pinned down.

7. 'Beyond the platform, but, separated from it by a massive wooden railing, was the refuse-heap; and to the right of it a pathway, also protected on its inner side by a railing, led downwards and westwards to the line of the outer circle, where there appeared to have been an opening towards a rude landing-stage at the water edge.

8. 'As to the kind of dwelling-house that no doubt once occupied this site, whether one large pagoda-like building or a series of small huts, the evidence is inconclusive, but so far as it goes it appears to me to be indicative of the former. In addition to what has already been stated, there remains to notice only a few broken pieces of wood containing round holes, together with a variety of large and small pins similar to those described and figured in my notice of the Lochlee Crannog. [at the farm of Lochlee near Tarbolton]

No gangway was discovered in connection with the Buston Crannog, but in searching for one at a distance of 12 yards from the crannog a large canoe, 19 feet 6 inches long, which had been considerably repaired, was discovered.

The relics from this crannog are numerous and important, as giving us a glimpse of the domestic economy and warlike equipment of the Buston Crannog dwellers.

Of objects made of stone there were the following : Hammerstones were exceedingly scarce ; there was a flat, circular one, with marks of use only on the flat surfaces, and an elongated one marked only at the ends.

Of polishers some seven or eight turned up, and the one figured is elongately oval. Sling-stones were equally rare with hammerstones.

Of whetstones, one is 1 foot long and 4 inches broad, and has a hole perforated near one end, its substance being bluish claystone.

FIG. 165.- Gas-coal-ring Polisher, Buston.

A small roughly-dressed block of sandstone has got two smoothed cavities cut in it, and is conjectured to have been used for polishing gas-coal rings. One of the cavities is a hollowed-out circle, 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch deep, the other cavity being straight, 3 inches long and 1/2 inch wide (Fig. 165).

Two fragments of a circular grindstone of red sandstone, which must have been about 15 inches in diameter, are interesting, as showing the early date at which this useful class of machine was used in Scotland.

That things were conducted  in a very methodical manner at the Buston Crannog is shown by the following relic, viz., a semiglobular -shaped mass of whitish sandstone, with a cup-shaped cavity in its upper surface. The surface of the cup round the stone is all marked as if by the sharpening of tools, the cup itself having no doubt held a convenient supply of water.

A small cup-stone is figured, smooth on the under and upper surfaces and on one side, the cup being also smooth, and 1 inch in diameter by 1/2 inch deep. It looks as if it had been a small mortar.

Fragments of two upper quern-stones were unearthed. A shale spindle whorl and a perforated piece of cannel coal [ Cannel coal, also known as candle coal, is a type of coal, also classified as terrestrial type oil shale, with a large amount of hydrogen, which burns easily with a bright light and leaves little ash. ] are figured.

Of flint objects there was a longish curved knife ; a bit of a finely-chipped scraper ; two flint cores, one of them 3 1/4 inches in diameter, which is large for an Ayrshire flint; and an elliptical flint implement 1 of an inch long ; one side of it being artificially polished is deserving of notice, as it is the only artificially polished flint that I know of having been found in Ayrshire. A number of flint chips were got, small polished pebbles, and discs of stone about the size of a halfpenny.




FIG. 166. - Bone Pin , Buston Crannog.


FIG. 167.- Bone Needle, Buston.


   FIG. 168.- Bone Comb, Buston Crannog:

Twenty bone pins were found, I 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches long, twelve of which are figured, some of them being neatly formed with rounded heads, and one has got two bands of diamond-shaped ornamentation. Fig. 166 represents a very finely made and highly-polished bone pin which was picked from amongst the material taken from the crannog. It is now in the Kilmarnock (Burns') Museum.

A 2 inch bone needle with eye is figured, and resembles a stumpy darning needle (Fig. 167). There are three bone knobs, two of which are figured, and one of them, with an iron pin for attachment, resembles in shape a mason's mell.

There is figured a very strange bone object, 1 3/4 inches long, the lower part rounded, and 7/8 of an inch wide, the upper also rounded, and Ii inches wide, the check between th e two on each side being equal. The upper part is about th e same in thickness as the lower, and has a groove cut out of the side flush with the lower part. The use of this curious object. which has also two holes in its side, is an enigma.

Three bone combs figured are peculiar, as being made in sections held together by riveted transverse bars on each side, the teeth having been cut after the pieces were riveted together. A perfect one is 3 1/2 inches long by 2 1/4 inches wide, has got forty-nine teeth on one side and forty-six on the other, with strong teeth at the sides as in a modern comb, and has a hole for suspension.

These combs are all ornamented by circles, placed in groups and lines (Fig. 168). Some fragments of combs with finer teeth than those illustrated were got.

Of objects in deer's horn two long pointed articles are figured: the one, polished, 7 1/2 inches long, may have been a dagger; the other, longer and blocked out, was never finished.

There is a well-made knife-handle, 4 inches long, figured; and another was got 3 inches long.

Of wooden articles other than the piles and beams few were got showing any workmanship.

Of iron objects there is a well-shaped axe, widening out at the curved cutting edge, but having no hammer-head. It is 4 1/2 inches long, 3 inches along the cutting edge, and 2 inches through the eye.

  FIG. 169.- Iron Object, Buston     FIG. 170.- Bronze Brooch, Buston  

There is a gouge 14 inches long ; six tanged knife-blades, 2 to 4 inches long; a 6-inch rectangular punch; three awls, 2 inches, 4 inches, and 7 1/2 inches long; a handsome socketed spear-head, 8 1/2 inches long, the socket being ornamented with two groups of circular grooves; three diamond-pointed socketed arrow-heads (?), the longest being 3 inches; a strange Chinese shaped padlock, with a sharp point, directed backwards, from which there are two springs, one on each side ; it is turned at a right angle for 1 3/4 inches, a round hole being pierced towards the end of the curved portion. Its length is 4 1/2 inches. Two objects resemble files, but if they were files the' cutting' has disappeared.

Two objects with short arms, one arm curved and the other straight, are twisted up in a closed spiral fashion. A small twisted object, with ornamented loop and cleft tang-point, looks as if it had been used for making small circles (Fig. 169).  here are various other fragments of iron .

Of bronze there is a circular brooch, 11 inches in diameter, ornamented by a series of ring-grooves (Fig. 170). Two neatly-made and ornamented bronze pins, one with a blue bead stuck in its top (Figs. 171 and 172) were found.

Of brass there are a button, 1 1/4 inches in diameter, and several bits of brass plate.

Of gold articles there are two spiral finger-rings, with an internal diameter of 5/8th of an inch. One is formed of sub-square wire, and has five and a half twists. The other is of round wire, ornamented with cut surrounding grooves for a bit at the ends, and has six twists (Fig.173). Their respective weights are 300 and 245 grains.


  FIGS. 171, 172.  Bronze Pins , Buston   FIG.173. Gold Ring , Buston  

A very valuable find in the shape of a gold coin was made by Mr. Robert Dunlop, of Airdrie. It measures about 5/8 of an inch in diameter. Within a rope-like, circular ornamental band there is the image of a human face. On the opposite side there is an equal-armed cross placed in the centre, with a surrounding double ring of short lines; outside of this there are parts of three chevrons, a cross, two crescents, and .four circles, a series of short lines having formed the border (Fig. 174). It is conjectured by J. Evans, Esq., F.R.S., to have belonged to the sixth or seventh centuries, and if so the crannog may have been in existence as a working institution at that time.

Of cannel coal, fragments of three armlets were picked up.

Of jet, a small link-like ornament, with two holes in one side, is placed as of doubtful antiquity (Fig. 175).

Of objects in vitreous paste there was a cylindrical-shaped bead, variegated with red, yellow, and clear glass (Fig. 176) ; half of a small yellow bead; a marble-sized object of variegated blue and white paste; a shilling-sized object of a white compact vitreous substance, convex on one side, flat on the other; bits of dark slag; arid fragments of bright green glass.


  FIG. 174.-Gold Coin, Buston. FIG. 175.-Jet Object, FIG. 176. - Paste Bead, Huston, Buston,  

Of pottery there was an unmistakable fragment of Samian toare, a small, handsomely-made mug of tinkling ware, black externally, and white inside, hollow below the rim, and bulging out at the middle; a larger and coarser vessel has been furnished with a lateral hollow spout; which is still intact in the fragment; and there is a small seal-like object of pottery. A portion of an ornamented button is made of a soft chalky substance. None of the pottery got in the Buston Crannog had any glaze.

FIG. 177 Fire-clay Crucible, Buston Crannog

Amongst the most interesting objects got in this crannog were two entire fire-clay crucibles, showing undoubted marks of use, in the shape of slag, and particles of a yellowish metal sticking to them; a fragment of a third has got small globules of gold still adhering to it. The one figured is sub-conical, sub-triangular at the mouth, its depth being 1 1/2 inches (Fig. 177).

No doubt many relics are still lying in the old lake bottom under the peat, near to the crannog.

The description of the Buston Crannog, with illustrations of the woodwork, and figures of sixty-two relics, in the text, will be found in the third volume of the Ayr and Wigton Archaeological and Historical Collections.

Mr. Robert Linton, of Kilmaurs, informed me that there was a mound on Berryhill [Berryhill possibly means Warrior's Grave-mound] which he suggested may be a corruption of Bury hill levelled some thirty years ago, when a stone coffin containing bones was got in it; and at Waterpark a similar tumulus [A tumulus (plural tumuli) is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves. Tumuli are also known as barrows, burial mounds, or kurgans, and can be found throughout much of the world. A tumulus composed largely or entirely of stones is usually referred to as a cairn.], with a stone coffin, was removed when the Glasgow and South-Western Railway was being made.

On Knockenlaw, near Little Onthank, a tumulus with urns has been removed; and about a sixth of a mile to the south of the ruins of Busbiae Castle which belonged to the Mowats is the site of another tumulus.

The Greenhill mound, tumulus, or moot-hill, is one of the best preserved in the county. There is a considerable view from it to the south and west. The circumference at the base is 140 paces; it is 15 feet 6 inches high, and measures 25 paces across the circular top, which is flat. A milkhouse has been constructed underpart of it, but perhaps was not hollowed out sufficiently far to find any relics.

On Woodhill, as pointed out to me by Mr. Linton, there was probably a camp, as there are the remains of part of a rampart on what has been its north-east side, which measures 6 paces across, and 3 feet high. It was near here where the remains of seven elephants (mammoths): were at one time discovered, but of course, they belonged to the Geological Period.

Kilmaurs Castle stood about a third of a mile south of the village, which latter was famous at one time for its edged-tool makers, who are said to have been brought all the way from Damascus by Lord Kilmaurs, and employed at first in making swords. Sheffield, as an edge-tool manufactory, is said to have been ' planted ' by a colony from Kilmaurs.

Kilmaurs cutlery was so good that the saying became proverbial ' that a Kilmaurs whittle [knife] could cut an inch before the point.'

The Villa de Cunninghame at Jock's Thorn, if not the first, was  probably one of the earliest residences of the family of that name in Ayrshire.

Near Knockenlaw there is a spring called the Roman Well; and not far from the remains of the monastic buildings and pigeonhouse is the Monks' Well.

Mi Lord's Place is situated near the village on the east bank of the Carmel Water -probably derived from caer meall, ' the hill fort ' ; and a chapel stood a short distance to the west of Busbiae Castle.

Murdock's Bridge was one of the first iron bridges in Ayrshire. Every person in the 'west' subscribed a penny towards its construction, and a galaday was held at its opening. It has been a bit of fine workmanship, and is still in good preservation.

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