Prehistoric Glenrothes

On Saturday May 14th 2016 Dunfermline YAC visited the prehistoric sites of Glenrothes. These are:

All of these sites have been excavated and seriously messed about with. The stone circle, excavated in the 1970’s was moved to it’s present site away from the widened A92. Though it’s appearance today is quite different to any time in its past, it is well worth a visit. We spent a long time making field notes, drawing and measurements, eating lunch, and climbing. After lunch we also had a go at planning with plane table and alidade, which actually went pretty well. There will be more of that once the summer dig in the Abbey Graveyard gets underway.

Balbirnie Stone Circle

Below are photographs taken before and during the excavation of the site. You can see the stone cairn built within the stone circle and one of the Bronze Age cists, complete with pot (a food vessel).

Balbirnie Cairn & Stone Circle before excavation
Balbirnie Cairn & Stone Circle before excavation
Excavation of Balbirnie Stone Circle
Excavation of Balbirnie Stone Circle. There is nothing left today of the stone cairn that was heaped over the cists below.
Cist within Balbirnie Stone Circle, containing food vessel
Bronze Age Cist within Balbirnie Stone Circle, containing pot (a food vessel)
Plan of Balbirnie Stone Circle
Plan of Balbirnie Stone Circle that I made earlier. I’m afraid I just couldn’t be bothered with the cists!

You can get some idea of how the site is presented today at it’s new location. The cairn is gone, the cists have been left open without their capstones and there is no indication of where the stones now missing from the circle were once placed.

Balbirnie Stone Circle occupied by Dunfermline YAC members
Balbirnie Stone Circle occupied by Dunfermline YAC members
Cobbled platform within Balbirnie Stone Circle
Cobbled platform within Balbirnie Stone Circle
Lee trying out cist in Balbirnie Stone Circle
Lee trying out cist in Balbirnie Stone Circle
Lunchtime at Balbirnie Stone Circle
Lunchtime at Balbirnie Stone Circle
Planning Balbirnie Stone Circle
Planning Balbirnie Stone Circle
Abandoned Plane Table and Alidade at Balbirnie Stone Circle
Abandoned Plane Table and Alidade at Balbirnie Stone Circle

Balfarg Henge

I finally remembered to move us on to the Henge at Balfarg, more-or-less just round the corner from Balbirnie. The henge was discovered from aerial photographs after World War II, though obviously the standing stone had been noticed previously! When the henge was excavated in advance of building work on the houses now on the site it was decided to make a feature of it by restoring it and building the road to follow the circle. Wooden posts were put up to show where other stones had once stood to make a circle, though the excavation had discovered that there had also been a wooden circle at one time.

Here you can see the site before excavation and after restoration, but before the housing estate had been built.

Balfarg Standing Stones and invisible henge
Balfarg Standing Stones and invisible henge
Balfarg Henge Restored
Balfarg Henge Restored

The henge sits rather at odds within it’s current suburban setting, somewhere to exercise a dog rather than deposit human remains!

YAC visit to Balfarg Henge
YAC visit to Balfarg Henge
Capstone of central cist at Balfarg Henge
Capstone of central cist at Balfarg Henge
YAC visit to Balfarg Henge
Wooden posts mark the positions of long-gone standing stones within Balfarg Henge
YAC members atop a standing stone in Balfarg Henge
Possible uses for a standing stone at Balfarg
Camera on a long pole at Balfarg Henge
Camera on a long pole at Balfarg Henge

Balfarg Riding School

The final site we visited, one short, but confused walk from the henge later, is called the Balfarg Riding School site. This is because no one knows what the site actually was and so we can’t give it a proper name. At the time it was excavated it had been on a riding school and the name has just stuck.

It’s pretty weird. There is what looks like part of the ditch of a tiny henge that enclosed some kind of structure all of which we can now see is where wooden posts once stood. It has been interpreted as a possible excarnation platform: a place where human bodies were left to rot and be picked over by scavenging birds, but protected from large animals by a tall fence. Finds of bits of people on the site reinforce this interpretation, but as you can see below, there are other ideas.

Interpretation of Balfarg Riding School site as Excarnation Platform
Interpretation of Balfarg Riding School site as Excarnation Platform (Illustration by David Hogg from ‘Excavations in the ceremonial complex of the fourth to second millennium BC at Balfarg/Balbirnie, Glenrothes, Fife’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 123 (1993), pp. 43-210.)
Interpretation of Balfarg Riding School site as Swimming Pool
Interpretation of Balfarg Riding School site as Swimming Pool (Illustration by David Hogg from Brophy, Kenneth, ‘Ruins in the Landscape: Modern Monuments’, in Gordon Barclay, and Ian A Shepherd, eds., Scotland in Ancient Europe: The Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of Scotland in Their European Context (Edinburgh, 2004), pp. 143-154.

Personally I think the site must have been some kind of sports arena, perhaps for an early form of volleyball. What do you think?

En route to Balfarg Riding School Site
En route to Balfarg Riding School Site
Balfarg Riding School Site
Balfarg Riding School Site
Balfarg Riding School Site
Balfarg Riding School Site