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Arran of the Bens, The Glens and the Brave
Chapter XI. Arran's Wealth of Prehistoric Remains


Arran is also peculiarly rich in prehistoric remains, in ancient forts, stone circles, chambered cairns, and the standing stones which give so rare and weird a character to the Highland landscape. Many more, it is to be regretted, have been destroyed. Where were many standing stones, now there is often left but one, and the chambered graves have been all more or less dismantled by rude hands.

Machrie Moor, over against Shisken, which is believed to have been once a densely populated district, is the chief site of these profoundly interesting monuments.

Most, if not all, of the stone circles, such as those we see in Arran, at Machrie, and other places, and many of the single standing stones, are memorials of chieftains who have fallen in the fight. This discovery was first made by Mr. C. E. Dalrymple, from actual excavations below the monuments in Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and the facts were published by Stuart. Dr. James Bryce, of Glasgow, followed these investigations up by excavations on Machrie Moor, and found corroboration of Mr. Dalrymple's statements. As long ago as 1527 Boece says: "The graves and sepulchres of our noblemen had commonlie so many obelisks and speirs pitched about them, as the deceased had killed enemies before time in the field."

Similar stones were, as I have already stated, set up to mark the marches of the estates of the various chiefs. The right of MacMillan to the estate of Knap in Argyllshire is cut in Gaelic upon the surface of a rock. In the case of the Cat Stone near Edinburgh, about which Sir James Young Simpson wrote, the name, from the Gaelic Cat or Cath, is a sufficient explanation of its origin. A similar "Cat," or Battle-Stone, marks the spot where Somerled is said to have fallen near Houston in Renfrewshire, and the Tanist and King's Stones commemorate great events or customs. But nowhere else in the kingdom can there be found, in the small space of twenty-four miles by seven, such a wealth of prehistoric remains as in Arran. Blackwaterfoot once boasted the largest known prehistoric burial mound, and the Arran skulls discovered by the late Dr. James Bryce were the first indisputable examples of the Stone Age type which had been found. Again, the ancient graves, formed of square stone slabs set on end and divided into small chambers and roofed in by heavy stone slabs, such as were found and may be seen at Whiting Bay, at Dippen, Blairmore, at Kilmorie Water-foot, in two places; at Slidderie, Monamor, Sannox, Shisken, Tormore, Moinechoill, Dunan Beg, and Dunan More, Torlin, and Clachaig, are of great interest. Dr. Thomas H. Bryce says, in one of his lectures on "Prehistoric Man and his Monuments in the Island of Arran"; "Only at two localities in Argyllshire have structures like these been described in Scotland, and their place is determined by the study of the Arran structures." Graves.of this type ("mega-lithic") are called "chambered cairns," and they were intended for many interments. Some of the remains found in them show signs of cremation, others of ordinary burial in a sitting posture.

Besides these cairns there has been found in Arran another type called the "short cist." This is a single compartment, carefully formed of stone slabs, and often surrounded by one of the stone circles so picturesque and so impressive, while sometimes a great cairn or mound is erected over it. The short cist was intended for the burial of only a single body in the sitting posture. About fourteen of these cists have been discovered in Arran at South Feorline, Blackwaterfoot, Kilpatrick (two), Clachaig, Cnocan a' Choilich, Glenkill, Benlester Burn, Lamlash, Merkland Point, North Sannox, Whitefarland, Auchancar, Machrie Waterfoot, Dippen, Auchancairn. Details of the excellent work done in excavating these monuments is given in The Book of Arran. There will be found also a list of other ancient remains whose character is not now clear, owing largely to vandalism practised upon them at various times. For it is to be greatly regretted that the sacred character of these monuments has been sadly overlooked or disregarded. It is to be hoped, however, that the protest made by Mr. Balfour in the book referred to will have effect.

Had it not been for the discovery of these monuments, and the human remains and ancient pottery they contained, we would now know little about our early ancestors. They, taken together with the discovery of similar pottery and similar remains by English archaeologists like Beddoe and Greenwell, and the admirable work of Schmidt, Topinard, Broca, and others on the Continent, with spade and pen, linked up the archaeological chain. For in the chambered cairns of Arran and long barrows of England, and the dolmens of France and Spain, they found a type of skull and of pottery which were practically identical with the remains in our chambered cairns. In the single or short cist, and the round barrows of England, they found a quite different type of skull and of pottery, and also relics showing that the men of these burials belonged to the Bronze Age at a date previous to the Christian era, while the chambered cairn and long barrow men proved to be of a still earlier period. They also saw that these earlier wanderers came from the south, and spread from the Mediterranean lands over a considerable part of Europe, including England, the west of Scotland, and the Hebrides; that they were dark in type, and short in stature.

THE ETHNOLOGY OF ARRAN

Could any romance be greater than this unravelling of the tangled skein of history ? But it is not quite all. Ethnology is hardly yet a science, though it is now conducted on scientific lines and is making rapid progress. Since ethnologists turned to the study of craniology, or the shapes of skulls, they found rock to build upon instead of the sand on which they had relied when they set down races and docketed them according to the language they spoke. If I may quote my own words of ten years since: "The origin and distribution of the races of Europe was thought to have been settled by the Aryan wave theory, which made out that the Keltic people, including the Irish, Welsh, Scots, Bretons, Picts, and British came over to Europe from Asia in waves or droves, the last comers pushing the first comers into the mountainous districts.

"This theory had been almost universally accepted till it fell under the lancet of the anthropologist, when it was found to present glaring defects, and difficulties which appeared to many scholars to be insurmountable, and so they have, through the labours of Schmidt, Greenwell, Broca, Beddoe, Taylor, Huxley, Ripley, and others, abandoned the philological method for the anthropological one.

"Anthropology proves that language is not by any means a sure test of race. On the other hand, it is found that in the matter of shape of skull, height, and colour, nature is persistent, and that mixed races show a tendency to atavism—to throw back to remote ancestors—just as they also blend and make new types. It shows that in the pure race there is one type and not two, that in ancient interments the skulls are generally either all broad or all long. And that, moreover, where a small number of men settled amongst a larger community, the tendency was for the amalgamated race to revert to the original type of the larger community in shape of skull, size of body, and complexion.

"For example, the Anglo-Saxon played a great part in the history of England; yet it has been pointed out years ago that men of the true German type, with very light hair and very pale blue eyes, are almost unknown in England to-day." And Dr.Thomas H. Bryce has recently pointed out that the wave of broad-headed people hardly touched the west, and has left very little trace of its presence. "So that when we find many shapes of skull and many complexions, etc., amongst a people, we know that there is great mixture of race." [The Origin of the Lowlanders, 1900. ]

The people of Arran are in the main strikingly similar in shape of skull to the types found in the ancient chambered cairns of the island. Looking upon it from above, the skull is a very long oval, narrowing at both ends, at the forehead and cerebullum, and widening out considerably above the ears, the back part or cerebullum being very prominent. Dr. Bryce, in The Book of Arran, gives photographs of skulls of this type. So far as I remember, they differ from those found by Sir Daniel Wilson in Lothian and in Fife, not in their length, but in tapering much more towards the back and front, save in one instance. The East Lothian and Fife-shire specimens are almost square at the four corners, but the Arran type is emphatically not so; it is distinctly oval, and of well-defined and symmetrical proportions. The Arran man, as Paterson pointed out in 1831, is generally dark, and despite the claims of those who would discover evidences of Norse blood in Arran, it is very difficult to find there men of Norse type. We find, of course, a not inconsiderable number of men of the tall, white-skinned, red-cheeked, red-haired Scottish type, which is common all over Scotland, but especially, it seems to me, in the Perthshire district. We find the tall, yellow-fair, long-headed Kymric, or miscalled "Keltic" type, but the real blonde of Norway, Sweden, and Germany is most rare, if not quite unknown. The Arran people are clearly representative of the long-headed, dark man of the chambered cairns, now called "Mediterranean."

Sir Daniel Wilson said a good many years ago: "As to the early Scandinavian type, I was led to conceive, contrary to the conclusion of continental investigators—in relation to Northern Europe—that the earliest Scottish, and indeed British, race differed entirely from that of Scandinavia, as defined by Professor Wilson and others, being characterised by markedly elongated and narrow cranium, tapering equally towards the forehead and occiput. . . ."

The difference between the very fine skulls found in the MacArthur Cave at Oban and the Arran skulls referred to is slight, the Arran examples being, if anything, a little less heavy, that is, finer, and more varied in outline. Both examples are distinctly longer than the Norse skull of to-day, which is round, mesaticephalic, or even brachycephalic, seldom dolichocephalic. It also never shows the tremendous development of the occiput so notable in Scotland. The Norse are today a very mixed people, and, so far as my observation goes, Lapp characteristics appear in some members of most Norwegian families. We find also very pure types in the same families of the traditional and handsome Norseman, fair, and aquiline of nose. Even this type is, I believe, nothing like so long-skulled as the Arran heads of long ago, or as the ordinary Scotsman, who is regarded as possessing the longest head in Europe. So I have been told by those who have exceptional opportunities of making comparisons with foreign races.

It has been suggested that the red hair arises from the contact of a dark and a fair race; but there seems to be something more in it than that, something older, and suggestive of a separate race which started from the beginning on different lines. The description of the "ruddy hair and large limbs  of the Caledonian, written by Tacitus about the year 97 a.d., would do admirably for the big men we see to-day so often in the market-place at Perth, or less frequently in the Arran lanes, and, though contact might bring us some specimens of a type, Tacitus' reference was clearly to a whole race who were more or less of that description.


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