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Machrie Moor on the Isle of Arran at sunset with two magnificent standing stones in the foreground. Source: swen_stroop / Adobe Stock

Vast 6,000-Year-Old Sacred Site Suspected On Scotland’s Isle of Arran

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Long before the pyramids of Egypt and England’s Stonehenge were even conceived, a functioning prehistoric ritual site was built in Neolithic times in Scotland, which is famous for its many megalithic standing stones. According to the experts, an “enormous ancient ritual site” is suspected to lie beneath the topsoil of the west side of the Isle of Arran.

The Isle of Arran is an archaeologist’s playground and boasts some of the oldest and highest standing stones in northern Europe. Arran is also home to one of the most intense concentrations of Neolithic burial tombs and monuments in the UK. Farmers terraformed the island as far back as 6,000 years ago.

Moreover, the Isle of Arran was “world famous” for its pitchstone (a dull black glassy volcanic rock similar to obsidian), which was used as the raw material for making various items from the Mesolithic through the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age.

A team of archaeologists working on the Scottish island are currently searching for a “large-scale ritual site.” According to a report in The Scotsman ancient people from distant regions across Britain made pilgrimages to this site as early as “5,000 years ago.” But this was no ordinary sacred site. The archaeologists said the attendees would have witnessed “a dramatic show of ceremony,” according to The Scotsman.

Archaeologists and volunteers investigating the site of the possible cursus monument. (The Scotsman)

The Isle of Arran’s Drumadoon “Afterlife Matrix”

The Neolithic period (10,000–4,500 BC) was a time of significant social and cultural change in the ancient world. In Scotland, the Neolithic era occurred about 4000 BC with the first forms of farming and permanent settlement.

In the Neolithic period humans worshipped a wide pantheon of hunting spirits, who were believed to protect fresh-water springs, fish-abundant rivers and mushroom patches. They also worshipped all-powerful farming deities who “governed” the seasons. Together, these spiritual views resulted in the erection of many great standing stones, which symbolically represent the union of the earth (fields) with the sky.

A typical scene on the west side of the Isle of Arran: two megalithic standing stones surrounded by fertile agricultural fields. (Matthias / Adobe Stock)

More than a millennia before a single stone was cut for the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, geometrically sound stone monuments were being raised amidst the abundant agricultural landscapes of the Isle of Arran.

Here, on this remote Scottish island hundreds of generations of regional chiefs and emerging religious leaders were buried within a matrix of ancient sites.

The chambered cairns of Drumadoon Point are not far from the King's Caves of the Isle of Arran, which are pictured here from the outside. (swen_stroop / Adobe Stock)

The Isle of Arran’s Machrie Moor and the Drumadoon Cairns

An article on Arrange O Park says complex ancient timber circles, Bronze Age stone circles, and standing stones have been discovered at Machrie Moor, on the west coast of the Isle of Arran. But more relevant to us here is the neighboring site of Drumadoon and its 28 chambered cairns. These stone burial chambers functioned as a backdrop for death rituals and rites.

The archaeologists examining the Drumadoon site say that in some cases rituals occurred at certain cairns “over hundreds of years.”

An aerial laser scan has revealed an 800-meter-long (2625-foot-long) slope on Drumadoon Point. Two earth banks, measuring 7-8 meters (23-26 feet) wide and around half a meter (1.6 feet) high, form long parallel rows, which is a feature also found at Stonehenge and many other Neolithic sites in Britain.

For as long as archaeologists have been digging, the original function of so-called cursus monuments has been debated. But it seems certain these monuments marked off sacred areas, and that they served as stages for ancient ancestor worship.

However, cursus monuments are also astronomically significant in their orientation and alignment. Therefore, they might also, in some cases, have served as time-keeping devices.

A Neolithic standing stone on Machrie Moor which can be viewed from the top of Drumadoon Point. (Campo / Adobe Stock)

Drumadoon's Cursus Monument: “Death” Rites and Processions

A report in Daily Record says the cursus monument at Drumadoon was among other things used for “processions linked to the honouring of the dead.” The extensive Drumadoon cursus overlooks the Machrie Moor stone circle located about one kilometer (0.62 miles) east and inland. This suggests the two sites might have worked in tandem during community-wide ceremonies and rituals.

Professor Kenny Brophy, a professor of archaeology at the University of Glasgow, told The Scotsman, “Cursus monuments seemed to bring people together in a big labour project.”

Before it became a sacred site, and a beacon of death rites across prehistoric Britain, the Drumadoon site required clearing, levelling and digging. And all this was accomplished with tools made of stone, wood, and bone. Once completed, a sacred space was created for death related rituals and ceremonies.

Dr Brophy suggests the cursus might have used like the “death roads” of medieval Britain, which linked churches with graveyards. In reference to this, Professor Brophy said, “Dead bodies may have been moved from one end to the other [of the Drumadoon cursus].”

Top image: Machrie Moor on the Isle of Arran at sunset with two magnificent standing stones in the foreground. Source: swen_stroop / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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