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21 November 2003
Stonehenge and Kilmartin linked by axe carvings

Axe-carvings at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, have been found that are similar to ones on a cist in the Kilmartin valley, Argyll. Although the carvings of a dagger and 14 axes at Stonehenge were found in 1953 by Richard Atkinson, they were never fully surveyed. Now they have been recorded by the Glasgow-based 3D laser-scanning company Archaeoptics.
     Although the stone on which the carvings appear at Stonehenge - Sarsen 53 -  was erected around 2300 BCE, the carvings are thought to date from around 1800 BCE. Other sites associated with burials have also been found to feature axe-carvings, including the Nether Largie North cist at Kilmartin. One of the side slabs of the cist was cut from already cup-marked living rock around 2200-2000 BCE, and seven axe carvings were made.
     Dr Alison Sheridan, assistant keeper of archaeology at the National Museums of Scotland, believes the symbols at both sites may have been carved to mark the death of prominent members of society:
     "This burial (in the Kilmartin valley) was very special as it was bigger and fancier than most Bronze Age burials. The monument's grandness, and the axehead carvings seen on only two other cists, both around Kilmartin, underline the importance of the person buried there."
     Dr Sheridan also speculated that the carvings were "symbols of power and prestige" connected to the control of the flow of Irish metal and metalwork into Scotland through Kilmartin, and the flow of tin to Europe from around Stonehenge.
     Archaeoptics now hope their work on the carvings could lead to similar opportunities in Scotland. Dr Caroline Sleith, director of Archaeoptics, said: "There are a lot of sites in Scotland that are just as mysterious as Stonehenge. There are dozens of stone circles across Scotland, such as Callanish on Lewis. They are overlooked. We would love to do a similar laser scanning project there. We have the expertise and if the funding was forthcoming, we would be delighted to do it."
(Editor's note: Last year two burials were unearthed near Stonehenge. One was the "Amesbury Archer" and the other possibly his son or companion. Teeth enamel analysis revealed a Western Alps origin for the Archer, but his companion was born in southern England, spending his late teens in the English Midlands and/or north east Scotland. This has led to speculation that there may have been a wide-ranging network of cultural exchange in place at this time.)

Source: The Herald (17 November 2003)

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