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Major archaeological discovery on Scottish Water project

The remains of a dwelling occupied by prehistoric people about 6000 years ago have been discovered in Ayrshire during a major Scottish Water project.

Large post-holes belonging to a Neolithic house (c) GUARD ArchaeologyLarge post-holes belonging to a Neolithic house (c) GUARD Archaeology

Archaeologists found the remains of an early Neolithic structure believed to have been built by the some of the earliest farmers in Scotland more than 4000 years BC, before the Callanish Stones in Lewis and Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

The discovery, which is one of the most archaeologically significant in Ayrshire in recent years, was made in countryside near Kilmarnock while Scottish Water was working on an ongoing £120M project to upgrade the water mains network between Ayrshire and Glasgow.

The archaeologists, who have been excavating sites along part of the route of a major water main installation, unearthed a number of post-holes which formed part of a rectangular building and fragments of Neolithic carinated bowl, used for cooking and storage, near Hillhouse Farm north east of Kilmarnock.

The rectilinear hall, which measured 14m in length and 8m in width, belonged to a type of house built by the first farming communities in Scotland.

Kenneth Green, excavation director at GUARD Archaeology of Glasgow, who carried out the archaeological work for Scottish Water, said: “This is one of the most important discoveries of this type in south west Scotland in recent years.

“Heavily truncated by millennia of ploughing, only the deepest parts of some of the post-holes survived, arranged in a rectangular plan and containing sherds of early Neolithic pottery, hazelnut shell and charcoal.

“The width and depth of these post-holes indicated that they once held very large upright timber posts, suggesting that this building was once a large house, probably home to an extended family or group of families.

“Up until this time, during the earlier Mesolithic period (c. 8000-4000 BC), Scotland was inhabited by small groups of hunter gatherers, who led a nomadic lifestyle, living off the land.

“The individuals who built this Neolithic house were some of the earliest communities in Ayrshire to adopt a sedentary lifestyle, clearing areas of forest to establish farms, growing crops such as wheat and barley and raising livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.”

GUARD Archaeology’s operations manager Warren Bailie, said: “The pottery recovered from the Neolithic house are sherds of carinated bowl, one of the earliest types of pottery vessels ever to be used in Britain.

“Traces of milk fat have been found in other carinated bowls found elsewhere in Scotland. Carinated bowls are distributed across Scotland but very few have been found in the west so Hillhouse represents an important discovery.”

Mr Bailie added: “What we have unearthed will add significantly to our knowledge of the history of this area but we would not have made this discovery, and these ruins would probably have lain undiscovered, had it not been for Scottish Water’s project.

“It is also quite apt that we found evidence of an old watercourse, a winding line of peat suggesting an older channel, very close to the Neolithic house. The house was built on a small rise or hill above that channel. That suggests these early settlers chose this spot because of access to water.”

Commenting on the discoveries, Andrew Grant, an environmental advisor for Scottish Water, said: “As part of the project planning, Scottish Water identified the possibility of archaeology and so factored in time for the area to be excavated.

“However, the discoveries are even more significant than we had expected and we are delighted that, with the archaeologists’ help and expertise, we have been able to uncover something of such importance.”

Following these discoveries, Scottish Water, its alliance partners Caledonia Water Alliance (CWA) and GUARD Archaeology will liaise with the West of Scotland Archaeology Service (WoSAS), which works for a number of local authorities.

Scottish Water, as an infrastructure provider, is operating under its remit from the Government and in accordance with Scottish historic environment policy for public bodies.

The discoveries have been removed for recording and analysis and, like all archaeological finds, will be claimed by the Crown and deposited in keeping with Scottish legal requirements as set out in the Scottish Government’s Treasure Trove Code of Practice.

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Pipes & Pipelines
Tags: Scottish Water , water main

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