Case Study 6: Artefact Biographies: Three Beakers from Upper Largie in Kilmartin Museum

Artefact Biographies: Three Beakers from Upper Largie in Kilmartin Museum

Sharon Webb

In 2012, Kilmartin Museum acquired through Treasure Trove [https://treasuretrovescotland.co.uk/], an excavation assemblage from Upper Largie Quarry (CANMORE ID 39486). Located on a gravel terrace at the North end of Kilmartin Glen, the quarry is less than a mile from Kilmartin Museum.

Excavations at Upper Largie Quarry (CANMORE ID 39486) have been conduced intermittently between 1982 and 2005. The later excavations were undertaken by AOC Archaeology, who also wrote up the work of earlier excavators (Cook, Ellis, and Sheridan 2010). These excavations have revealed abundant and extraordinary evidence of prehistoric ritual and burial activity dating from the Mesolithic to Middle Bronze Age periods, further reinforcing the belief that Kilmartin Glen is an extraordinarily rich archaeological landscape. Some unique and internationally important artefacts are now in the Museum's collection as a result of the work at Upper Largie and unsurprisingly, these link very strongly to the themes of the RARFA.

During the 2005 excavations, three Beaker vessels (KHM 2016.1087, KHM 20016.1088 and KHM 2016.1089) were found in a sub rectangular pit with two flint blades (KHM 2016.1085 and KHM 2016.1086). The pit, identified as a grave, has been carbon dated to 2560 BC - 2290 BC, the Chalcolithic period in Scotland, meaning these Beakers are among the earliest ever found in Britain.

The Beaker vessels were analysed by Dr Alison Sheridan at the National Museums of Scotland.

The first Beaker (Kilmartin Museum accession number KHM 2016.1087) (Cook, Ellis, and Sheridan 2010, 179) was found in more than 100 pieces - representing around two thirds of the pot. It has been identified as an Epi- (or variant) Maritime Bell Beaker of international Bell Beaker style (Cook, Ellis and Sheridan 2010; 177-178).

Figure 13: Upper Largie Beaker pot KHM 2016.1088 © Kilmartin Museum

The second beaker (Kilmartin Museum accession number KHM 2016.1088, Figure 13) has been reassembled from just over half its remaining fragments. This is a specific example of a Beaker pot known as a Cord Zoned maritime Beaker which are especially rare in Britain (Cook, Ellis and Sheridan 2010, 180).

The third beaker (Kilmartin Museum accession number KHM 2016.1089), Figure 14) is a reconstructed, almost complete All Over Cord decorated (AOC) Beaker of international Bell Beaker style.

All three Beakers have been made and decorated with great skill and patience.

This grave assemblage has parallels with other Bell Beaker graves in Britain and on the Continent, specifically it may match counterparts in the Netherlands both in terms of its contents, and the design of the grave itself (Cook, Ellis and Sheridan 2010, 182). Sadly, no human remains survived, however similar graves from elsewhere that have been found to contain remains are associated with males where this can be established (ibid).

Figure 14: Upper Largie Beaker pot KHM 2016.1089 © Kilmartin Museum

Research Potential: What stories do these pots tell?

As has been highlighted in Alison Sheridan's paper on the Chalcolithic period in Argyll (see section 6.3 [Link to Section 6.3]), this grave assemblage raises some interesting research questions. Clearly there was contact between Continental Europe and Kilmartin (and possibly other parts of Argyll), however, it is not clear if the person buried with these pots travelled from Continental Europe to Scotland, as a metal prospector (see Section 6.4) [Link to Section 6.4] or if the individual could have travelled from Kilmartin, bringing back the skill to make and decorate these beautiful objects?

Controversial questions perhaps, but one thing is certain; that these objects serve to further highlight the regional, national and international importance of Kilmartin Glen in Prehistory and Early History.

At the time of writing in February 2017, work has resumed at Upper Largie Quarry in advance of an extension to gravel extraction. It is highly likely that the resulting archaeological work will further enhance our understanding of Kilmartin Glen. New evidence may help us answer some of the burning questions about the identity and origins of its prehistoric inhabitants.

Conclusion

It should be noted that some of the material from earlier excavations including prehistoric human remains, has yet to be traced. It seems unlikely that this will ever be found, a great pity since it could have further enhanced our understanding of this important region. That material has gone missing from this important site also serves as reminder about the importance of safe repositories for archaeological material from the moment they are removed from the ground.

These artefacts have been extensively studied as part of the post excavation process before they entered the Museum. Further work could reveal more. Both the post excavation research and the excavations themselves were funded by the developer, M and K MacLeod, and serve to illustrate the potential of the artefacts in our collections can make to research and answering research questions.

Bibliography

Cook, M., Ellis C and Sheridan, A 2010 'Excavations at Upper Largie Quarry, Argyll and Bute, Scotland: New Light on the Prehistoric Ritual Landscape of Kilmartin Glen', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 76, 165-2012