Parchmarks forming concentric circles in an aerial photograph have led to the excavation of a possible prehistoric henge in North Ayrshire. (Image: Jeni Park/National Library of Scotland; Text: Gregory Morton)

A potential henge site has been discovered in North Ayrshire, thanks to aerial photography. Jeni Park of Kilwinning Heritage was browsing the National Library of Scotland’s online resources when she spotted two large concentric circles at Blair Ardoch Farm.

Consultation with Dr Ralph Shuttleworth, another member of Kilwinning Heritage, identified the 60m-wide circles as probable parchmarks. These are created by subtle differences in the amount of moisture being retained in the soil, and can hint at earlier activity and hidden archaeological features.

(Image: Jeni Park/National Library of Scotland)

In order to test their theory that this was a previously unrecorded site, Kilwinning Heritage carried out a small-scale excavation, revealing that the circles were formed from two shallow ditches measuring 2m wide and spaced 8m apart. They also discovered a substantial stone-lined hole for a timber post or stone upright within the inner ditch. This latter feature may have had some kind of ceremonial purpose, Ralph suggests.

‘A feature with this form and size is technically called a henge, and Neolithic or Bronze Age in date, so somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 years old,’ he said. ‘Henges can contain ritual structures such as stone or timber circles, in our case probably timber, and could have been used for worship or to honour the ancestors in some way.’

Geophysical survey may reveal more details of the site (as well as a cluster of smaller circles in the adjacent field, which may be roundhouses), but if this does prove to be a henge, it would be a remarkable find in an area that is otherwise known for its dearth of prehistoric archaeology, Jeni added.

For more information, see www.kilwinningheritage.org.uk.

This article was published in CA 332

Text by Gregory Morton

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