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History of Loch Kinnord
Chapter IV. Pre-Historic Period, to 1000 A.D.


Perhaps it may be asked, if there was such a very great town here, ought we not to find more extensive ruins of it than the district now exhibits? But we have to remember that the structures raised by a rude and savage people are peculiarly liable to become obliterated. Their common dwellings were mere huts, generally of turf or timber, and even their stone buildings were uncemented by lime or mortar, and readily fell into shapeless ruins, while the materials of which they were composed, being selected stones were much valued by the modern mason and dyker, and consequently carried away in great quantities for the construction of neighbouring houses and dry stone walls. Add to this that the very sites of many of these old habitations must have disappeared in the course of the reclaiming of waste lands which modern farmers have carried on so vigorously of late years; and little surprise need be felt that not more of these ruins still survive to mark the site of this pre-historic city. More, however, are still extant than the casual visitor may fancy. Let him plant himself on the summit of the Mickle Ord, and restore in imagination the hill forts whose foundations and ruins are still traceable within view of his position, each with its attendant outworks and hamlet, and a feeling of astonishment at their number and magnitude, rather than one of disappointment that so few remain, is likely to nil his mind. If these old ruins were restored to their pristine forms, beginning at the upper end of the valley on the slopes of Morven, his eye might discern in the distance three clusters of buildings, with a round tower in each, and a great central tower, the ruins of which are now known as the Blue Cairn, overtopping the others, and forming a conspicuous object on the mountain side. As he carries his eye round the head of the valley, clusters of buildings and smaller towers meet his view in close succession, till it is arrested by an immense pile on the summit of the most commanding eminence in this direction. This is the Knocksoul or View Fort of the ancient city. A smaller tower on a humbler knoll to the east is succeeded on the next eminence by the great fort on this side, whose ruins were long known as Cairnmore, or great cairn, though nothing but the name and the faint outline of the surrounding trench now remain. [From these ruins a farm steading, a hamlet, and several miles of stone dykes were built before the foundations, still of great extent, were cleared away, and the site converted into arable land.] Other two knolls, rising at short intervals towards the southeast are also crowned with forts and encircled with numerous dwellings. Then follows a hollow containing a lake, but hid from view by an elevated ridge called Licklies hill, which has three forts on prominent points, and bristles with other buildings which continue in an easterly direction till another massive pile meets the view, the remains of which were also called the Cairnmore. All round these remains almost every rood of uncultivated ground contains the outlines of ancient circular foundations! Carrying the eye still eastward, over the more elevated ridge of the Whitehill, other two towers appear, crowning its chief summits, while almost in line with the more easterly, but farther to the south, and nearer the beholder, the Knockhill and its two neighbouring heights have each its strength, while here, even more densely and extensively than at Cairnmore, are the foundations of other structures traceable. The highest summit in this direction is Knockargetty, or The Treasure Hill. Here the Public Treasury was kept, and the situation was defended by three concentric lines of circumvallation, flanked right and left by two strong forts on either hand, the ruins of which still remain in the cairns at Leys and the blue cairns of Ruth van, while the rear was guarded by a line of forts, not, however, within view, crowning the Drummy ridge towards the north-east Carrying the eye still farther southward, it is next arrested by the huge pile that crowns the summit of the Mulloch Hill, and the view being now nearer, a whole colony, or suburban town, is discernible around the Lake of Knockice (the Hill of the Loch) and the heights, seven in number, that bound it in a semicircle are seen to be surmounted by strong forts, communicating with each other and with the numerous hamlets on the slopes below them by means of walled roadways, and these again similarly connected with the central district between Lochs Davan and Kinnord. The knoll to the south of Knockice, overlooking the valley of the Dee, is surmounted by a strong fort and encumbered with lesser structures. This is the Tomachailliech, or hill to which the women were sent in times of danger. Casting the eye now along the slopes to the south of the Dee, the first object that attracts attention is a very strong fort on the summit of the ridge that separates the Dee and Tanar valleys. This strength was called Bal ruadh Ri, now corrupted into Balrory—that is, the King*8 Red Fort. Farther to the west is another suburban colony, with its fortress and other defences. This is now called Tillycairn; and, judging from the numerous cairns still visible there, and the relics of antiquity that have from time to time been found in these ruins, it must have been an extensive and important settlement. Doubtless the Dee flowed between it and the central strength at Kinnord, but there was a good ford in the river, with a fort guarding the entrance on either side; that on the north being especially strong, whence a fortified road led towards the Garradh dun Aun of the lock The fort at the ford was called Dun riath, that is The Fort of the Ford% which name has now been transformed into Dinnet When so many canoes, great and small, were plying on the lakes, it is but reasonable to think that there was also abundant means for crossing the river at seasons when the ford could not be taken. For this purpose, as well as for the sake of the fishings, there can be no doubt that the large boat pool of Dinnet had a fleet of craft suitable for the trade there carried on. Let our supposed beholder now turn his attention in the direction of the slopes of Culblean to the north-west, and he may discern in the midst of the dense forest that covered its base and sides, two, if not more, populous settlements, each with its protecting forts. One of these extends from the Burn of the Vat northwards to the shores of Loch Davan, the other is still farther north on the slopes of the Lump of Culblean.

The valley is thus seen to be encircled with forts and outposts, great and small, each having its hamlet of more or less importance. The bottom of the hollow so encircled was occupied by mosses, marshes, lochs, and dense thickets of alder, birch, and willow—the principal hunting ground of the inhabitants, where the wild boar and his family found their winter retreat; and the deer and the wild cattle devoured the rank vegetation.

But the strongest position of all is in and around the two lakes. The beholder we have supposed as surveying this scene might fancy himself seated on the dry-stone battlements of the fort that crowned the Mickle Ord; at his feet and around the slopes on all sides are the circular huts and enclosures of the natives, while the lake, of which his position commands a bird's eye view, is swarming with vessels of many kinds and sizes, from the great Man of War canoe 33 feet long, hollowed out of a single oak, with its full complement of marines, to the little skiff with its single rower. On its surface appear two islands, the larger natural but strongly palisaded round and round, and forming an impregnable strength in any mode of warfare then known; the other wholly artificial, and raised by an immense expenditure of labour, doubtless to give increased accommodation and security as the city grew in importance and population. Besides these two islands, which might be called ^h& inner citadels of the town, a great peninsula, called Garadh dunh' Aun, or Strong Fort of the Water—a name now corrupted into Gardieben—was also converted into an island strength by means of a large canal cut across the narrow isthmus. The access was protected on the inside by a rampart, and on the land side by heavy stone works, the foundations of which were discovered a few years ago. On the summit of the Little Ord, on the opposite side of the lake, there is another building—whether a fort or not is not certain, probably a place of worship—and on the shores of Loch Davan, hid from view by the Little Ord, there are two clusters of hamlets with the lake as their fishing ground. At the eastern end of the Ord there is a large extent of ground densely covered with huts and buildings, arranged in winding streets or disposed in crescents. This populous part is seen to be connected with the outlying settlement at Knockice by the sunk roadway already referred to, which continues its course to the shores of Loch Kinnord opposite the artificial island. The western end of the Little Ord presents a busy scene; for it was there that the Al, or Altar place, was situated, while around it clustered the habitations of the priests, Druids probably, and the schools and abodes of their students and attendants. [This place was originally called Al-Kinnord, which meant the Promontory or Bock of Sacrifice, and answers well to such a descriptive appellation. The name has now been converted into Auld Kinnord, and often through an affectation of English even into Old Kinnord, for neither of which is there the smallest reason apparent either in the history or topography of the locality.]

The above description of the great Pictish town of Davan is doubtless imaginary; but in filling up the picture not a single detail has been gratuitously assumed; the buildings have only been raised upon ruins or remains that are still visible; of hundreds of others that beyond doubt have been wholly obliterated by the improvements of the modern agriculturist, no account has been taken. But if we restore only those buildings of which the traces and foundations still remain, it is impossible not to see that in some pre-historic age there must have been here a strongly fortified centre of a large and busy population—in short, a great ancient city.

How long it remained so it would be rash to conjecture ; but there are not wanting evidences that it was visited by the hostile Roman legions, probably those under the command of the Emperor Severus, (208 a.d.) These Komans certainly about this period passed near to the city of Davan, which, according to a custom of theirs, they latinized into Davana, or Devana; and not being able to pronounce the Celtic name of the people, Deailich, they gave it the nearest sound they could, and called them Taixales. Whether the Romans completely defeated the Deailich or Taixales and utterly destroyed their city of Devana, we have no means of ascertaining for certain, but that the town received a crushing blow from them there is every reason to believe. That they even made themselves masters of it is almost beyond a doubt, because both weapons of war and articles of household use of Roman manufacture have been recovered from the bottom of the lake; and there is still current a tradition that a great battle was fought between the Britons and the Romans near Knockice. On the whole, the probability is that after being captured by these victorious foreigners the town never regained its former importance, but gradually sank into decay.

As to the site of the ancient city of Devana, the learned and accurate antiquary and historian, William F. Skene, LL.D., in his "History of Ancient Alban"—Vol. i p. 74—writes:—"Farther north along the coast, and reaching from the mountain chain of the Mounth to the Moray Firth, were the 'Taexali,' who gave their name to the headland now called Kinnaird's Head. Their town, Devana, is placed by Ptolemy in the Strath of the Dee, near the Pass of Ballater, and close to Loch Daven, where the remains of a native town are still to be seen, and in which the name of Devana seems yet to be preserved." In a foot note on the same page he adds:—"All editions (i.e., of Ptolemy) agree in placing Devana in the interior of the country at a distance of at least thirty, miles from the coast. Its identity with the seaport of Aberdeen rests upon the authority of Richard of Cirencester alone."

Elsewhere (vol. i p. 64, Note) the same author writes that "he has collated for his work the Latin editions (of Ptolemy) of 1482, 1486,1520,1522,1525,1535, with the Greek editions of 1605,1619, and with Wilbery's edition." The conclusion therefore, that the ancient Devana of the Romans was situated within the district of Loch Kinnord, is one which, on quite a different line of evidence from that followed in the present work, has the support of the highest living authority on such matters.

A long, long night of darkness and silence now overshadowed Kinnord, broken only by a little star-light that shone through the gloom when the Christian religion was introduced among this ancient people. What share they had in the conflicts with the conquering Scots, who came from Ireland into Scotland, much as the Normans long after came from France into England, with the view of establishing themselves as the aristocracy of the country, we have no certain intelligence; we only know that if they came into collision the Picts must have ultimately gone down before their more civilized invaders.

Sometime between the years 550 and 600 a.d. the Christian religion was first preached to the rude natives. Around their miserable hamlets lay scattered the moss-covered ruins of their ancient city; but the life of the place—the busy population—was gone; and all connected with them, now an old world story, was fast becoming a myth and a legend. The new religion, by obliterating all traces of the ancient idolatry, did much to accelerate the decay of any lingering tradition of heathenish greatness that might still be clinging to their memories. One mode which the disciples of Columba adopted to effect this purpose was to seize possession of the sacred places as sites for the Christian Churches they planted. They did this at Kinnord, setting up, on the site of the ancient Aly a great stone on which the priests carved a curiously wrought cross, as the emblem of the new Faith, to mark the»place where the Christian converts should henceforth meet to worship ; for as yet they mostly met in the open air. This stone may still be seen within the policies of Aboyne Castle, whither it was removed about 60 years ago for greater security, and more careful preservation.

By-and-by the people built a church on the sacred promontory of Kinnord, which they now called the Glaggan or Clachan; or as we should say the Kirktown; and thus it was hoped the recollection of the heathenish Al would be effaced. But there are few things more difficult to blot out of the memory of a people than names of places, when they have once been firmly established by long usage. Both names still survive, the more modern, or Christian, with little change, though its significance has been quite forgotten; the older or heathenish, sadly corrupted into Aidd, or, as already stated, even Old Kinnord, which curiously enough it is, though in a sense not intended by the corruption.

With the exception of this little star-light glimpse—by means of which we get a momentary glance, dim enough, of an important ecclesiastical change—the long night of silence and darkness remains unbroken for 500 years more. During these long ages the old ruins got hoary, moss-covered, and grey. The people could not understand what they were the relics of, but concluded they must contain treasure; and so they were rifled again and again, and thus turned into shapeless cairns, in which condition they have ever since remained, unless when the mason and stone dyker have pillaged them for the erection of modern works.

We have now reached what may be called the close of the pre-historic record; and when the light again appears all the old grandeur of Davan and Kinnord was completely forgotten. Need we be surprised then that, after 800 years of desolation and oblivion of the past, so few relics should remain of this ancient city \ It required the practised eye of an antiquarian traveller to discover in the green mounds on the banks of the Tigris the ruins of the ancient palaces of Nineveh. Of the most populous region of the kingdom of Israel, a recent traveller remarks:—"Nature has resumed her quiet reign over the hill of Jezreel. All is silent and desolate now; Baal and his worshippers have passed away, and so have the calves of Bethel and of Dan, and the very memory of these events and their actions has departed from the land. There are only two boats now on the sea of Galilee; there is no town now on its shores, and no ruins save the scattered brick pavements of ancient Tiberias. Yet this lake was in our Saviour's days one of the busiest scenes in Palestine, with a dozen or more flourishing towns on its shores, gay palaces giving to it the air of wealth and splendour, and a thriving traffic enlivening its waters." [Dr. M'Leod.] When we reflect that these towns and palaces were structures raised with the highest arts of architecture, while the round towers of ancient Devana were the rudest efforts of that art, the wonder is not that so few, but that so many, relics of its former greatness should still survive.


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