ORKNEY is rightly lauded on UNESCO’s World Heritage list for its wealth of Neolithic sites, but this week Arran has pushed to the fore with a massive discovery of its own.

It comes as no surprise to those already familiar with the island’s prehistoric glories, but cements Arran’s place on the map of Neolithic sites globally.

A rich web of researchers have discovered what is believed to be a Neolithic cursus, a huge monument type built by the first farmers in Neolithic Britain. Arran’s cursus is through to be the only complete one surviving in Britain, measuring a whopping 1.1km long by 50m wide, defined by a large stone, earth and turf bank around the perimeter of the enclosure.

It could date back as far as 3500 BC, pre-dating both Stonehenge and Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar.

READ MORE: Scottish museum prepares to reopen following redevelopment

“It is the most complete example of this site type found in Britain and the opportunity to investigate a cursus bank is very rare. Constructing this monument would have involved staggering amounts of labour, transforming the entire local landscape,” says Gavin Macgregor, of Archaeology Scotland.

“Ancient soils representing the original Neolithic land surface, together with cultivated soils from the Bronze Age provide an unparalleled opportunity to understand how contemporary farming practice and settlement interacted with the cursus and how early farmers transformed this place.”  

The Drumadoon Excavation has been the impressive work of an inter-disciplinary team from the universities of Glasgow, Birkbeck, Bournemouth, Reading, Coventry, Birmingham, and Southampton, together with archaeologists from Archaeology Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland.

The National: Auchagallon Stone CircleAuchagallon Stone Circle (Image: Robin McKelvie)

There has been substantial support too from Glasgow University and co-operation with the landowner David Bennet.

Dr Emma Jenkins, of Bournemouth University, who co-led the landscape geoarchaeology and environmental science work, explains the significance: “Arran is well known for Machrie Moor with its prehistoric stone and timber circles; standing stones and burial cairns, but the discovery these may be part of a much larger complex, which included this enormous cursus, elevates this into a region of global significance on a par with other ceremonial landscapes like Stonehenge.”

Dr Kenny Brophy, senior lecturer in archaeology at Glasgow University, who co-directed the excavations, adds to the excitement about Drumadoon: “I have been fortunate to be involved in the excavations of several cursus monuments over the last 30 years, but this is by far the most significant.

"The survival of the monument means that the potential it has for shedding light on early Neolithic farming and social organisation is incredibly exciting. These sites are almost all ploughed flat so to be able to stand on a near intact cursus bank is very rare.”

Lesley McFadyen, Senior Lecturer in the School of Historical Studies, Birkbeck University of London, was also involved and digs deeper. “Woodland clearances and then a changing landscape led to a building project in turf, rhyolite slabs and earth that stretched across the upland landscape.

"This building project, rather than simply a harmonious coming together of people to make a single monument, consisted of a series of makings and unmaking. In a way the 'monument' changes as much as the landscape itself, and building practice was at times discordant,” she says.

The Drumadoon site does not exist in isolation. Indeed Arran is a prehistoric treasure trove. I’ve been lucky to ramble around its myriad treasures.

The National: Machrie standing stonesMachrie standing stones (Image: Robin McKelvie)

The most impressive lie on mysterious Machrie Moor, its stone circles and vaulting stones starring alongside the nearby Moss Farm Road Stone Circle: a cairn surrounded by a stone circle. Auchagallon, a Bronze Age kerb cairn surrounded by 14 standing stones, sits a Neolithic stone’s throw away in a spectacular spot overlooking Kintyre.

I’ve stood too and wondered if Kilpatrick Dun is a Bronze Age burial site or a hill fort? Torr A’Chaisteal Fort sits atop a grassy knoll and dates to the Iron Age. Torrylin Cairn charms as one of the "Clyde Cairns", Neolithic chambered cairns around the firth.

Carn Ban is an even finer example of these impressive cairns dotted around the firth. Arran digs up an ever-growing list of treasures and I’ve not even mentioned the "secret" ancient stones my kids love between Brodick and Lamlash.

READ MORE: The Flying Scotsman route has lost none of its sparkle

The work at Drumadoon is far from finished, already spinning off into other areas, feeding into the local rewilding strategy being put together by the landowner Bennett and the Northwoods Rewilding Network. And wider work by Arran Geopark. Rewilding efforts will be informed by the lessons – and perhaps mistakes - of the past.

Sheila Gilmore, Chief Executive of Visit Arran, is invested in Drumadoon too: "This is such an exciting discovery, for Arran’s history and for the wider archaeological significance. Visit Arran staff have been at the dig a couple of times, and it was just amazing to see the progress and the passion of all involved”.

The Drumadoon cursus is continuing its ancient work of bringing people together, with Arran’s community involved, exploring learning and creative opportunities growing out of the site discovery, a discovery that has cemented Arran’s place on Scotland’s already impressive prehistoric map.