Ancient Monuments

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Back O' Hill Farm, cup marked stone 235m WNW of

A Scheduled Monument in Houston, Crosslee and Linwood, Renfrewshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 55.8628 / 55°51'46"N

Longitude: -4.5508 / 4°33'2"W

OS Eastings: 240460

OS Northings: 666232

OS Grid: NS404662

Mapcode National: GBR 3D.3QJV

Mapcode Global: WH3NY.2W6W

Entry Name: Back O' Hill Farm, cup marked stone 235m WNW of

Scheduled Date: 11 February 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12808

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cupmarks or cup-and-ring marks and similar rock art

Location: Houston and Killellan

County: Renfrewshire

Electoral Ward: Houston, Crosslee and Linwood

Traditional County: Renfrewshire

Description

The monument comprises a cup marked stone likely to date to the late Neolithic period. It has been relocated to its current site and adapted for use as a gate post. The monument is located on pasture land at around 30m above sea level.

The stone is a sedimentary gritstone, roughly rectangular in shape. It stands 1.18m in height and is up to 0.5m wide by 0.1m deep. It is wider at the top and tapers down for approximately 0.8m. The top edge is irregular: part of the top section is 'missing' and would appear to have been broken in antiquity. The stone is set within a later stone dyke and forms the eastern gatepost of an east to west aligned field entrance. There is now no gate in use. The west face of the stone is decorated with at least seven and potentially as many as 12 cup marks and two dumb-bell carvings. A further deep circular depression is interpreted as a later socket for gate furniture, but may have re-used an existing cup mark. The majority of the cup marks form a vertical line down the centre of the west face.

The area to be scheduled is circular in plan, centred on the monument to include the stone and an area around it within which evidence relating to its erection and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area includes the adjacent elements of the dry stone dyke for the support and preservation of the monument.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is a good example of a Neolithic or Bronze Age ritual feature with an unusual later re-use. The roughly rectangular stone is set on end, with the natural bedding plane of the rock vertical to the ground. It has been set within a dry stone dyke in historic times. It is unclear how far below the ground surface the stone extends and there is the potential for further rock art to exist below ground. The cup marks would have been formed through pecking, using a hammer stone to chip away small fragments of the stone.

The decoration is confined to the west face of the stone and it seems likely that the stone was set flat in its original location. It may also have been decorated as bedrock and subsequently detached from the bedrock for use as a gate post.

The re-use of the stone as a gate post appears to have involved a deliberate choice to re-use this particular decorated stone. The stone may have been purposely placed to display the cup marks, since it would have functioned just as well with the marks hidden on its back face. The stone was set within a purpose-dug hole and probably packed with material to hold it in position. It is also possible that the stone has seen more than one episode of re-use since it was originally carved, for example, it may have been incorporated into a Bronze Age ritual or funerary monument such as a cist or cairn.

The monument has an inherent potential to inform our understanding of the creation of rock art in prehistory. It has the capacity to add to our knowledge of why and how such cup marks were made and what they may have meant. The monument has the potential to inform our knowledge of prehistoric ritual practices and the significance of the re-use of such features in more recent times.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is located in undulating pasture land at around 30m above sea level on a flood plain. It is currently set within a low lying area of ground behind a low hill in an area known as 'Back O' Hill'. Around 520m to the south and 760m to the east is the sinuous course of the River Gryfe. The monument is set on a drove way into the pasture fields to the north-west of the former hamlet of Crosslee. The size of the stone and its local geology would suggest that it has not been brought a great distance and is likely to originate from this locality. Of potential note in the surrounding topography is a small knoll with exposed bedrock on its western face, situated around 90m to the SSE of the stone.

Examples of this type of monument rarely exist in isolation. Each individual group of rock carvings usually forms a small part of a wider coherent system distributed along or near to the tops of valley systems, where they appear to mark out routeways through the landscape. In this instance the nearest recorded rock art is over 3.3km to the south-west where an outcrop of rocks is carved with small cup marks. Across Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, 31 examples of cup marked stones have been recorded. These are almost exclusively confined to rural areas, which may reflect their preservation through later, more sympathetic land use. Many of the examples are located relatively close to the course of the River Gryfe, potentially an earlier routeway, and this possible connection would benefit from further investigation. Another theory is that rock art is often sited at the junction of farmland and upland areas and marks the boundary between domesticated and wild landscapes.

Also of potential significance is the proximity of a substantial cairn, the Houston South Mound, some 440m to the north-west. The Ordnance Survey name book of 1791 records that a stone coffin was found within this cairn. Numerous examples of cup marked stones have been found in cairns and cists, as well as in stone circles and other settings. The exact relationship between these two monuments is not fully understood. Cup marks and other rock art remain intriguing and enigmatic. It is possible that they are a form of ritualised expression and that the relationship between disparate groups of rock art represents a symbolic 'grammar'. Whether this stone was incorporated into a later ritual monument, such as a cairn or stone circle, or not, the number of surviving symbols means that the monument has the potential to add to our understanding of the relationship of such symbols to later ritual or funerary practice.

Associative Characteristics

The monument is not noted on the first or second edition Ordnance Surveys, but on later editions is marked as 'cup-marked stone'. This adds weight to the argument that it had been re-sited at this location in relatively recent times, probably during the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular our understanding of ritual or funerary monuments of the Neolithic or early Bronze Age. Specifically it has the capacity to further our understanding of the construction, function, location and symbolic meaning of such ritual monuments, both within this region and across Scotland, as well as to inform our knowledge of the landscape in which the monument was created. The monument also has the capacity to further our understanding of the re-use of such monuments in antiquity and more recent times. The loss of this monument would significantly impede our ability to understand Neolithic or early Bronze age ritual practice in Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire. It also has the potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of how members of the prehistoric communities in SW Scotland who carved these symbols, and/or those that came into contact with them in later periods, interacted with one another and their environment.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the monument as NS46NW 18. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service records this site as 7663. Copies of these reports are appended.

References

Alexander, D Ed. 1996 Prehistoric Renfrewshire: Essays in Honour or Frank Newall Renfrew Local History Forum: Edinburgh

Stables, D 1974 Houston. Back O' Hill farm. Standing stone with cup marks. Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, p57.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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