ARCHAEOLOGISTS in Arran have begun uncovering what is believed to be the only complete Neolithic cursus in Britain. 

In August, an excavation was launched at Drumadoon in the south-west of the island to unearth the monument to ancient ceremony which dates back to between 4000 and 3000 BC.

A cursus is a Neolithic structure made up of vast rectangular enclosures which are believed to have been built as spaces for procession, ceremony and gathering.

The unusually well-preserved Arran cursus – approximately 1.1km in length – sits close to the stone circles at Machrie Moor, which is also thought to have been a significant ceremonial site for ancient peoples.

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Kenny Brophy, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Glasgow University and cursus specialist, said: “It’s strategically located to take people from the coast up to the interior of the island and to showcase Machrie Moor.”

The remains of the cursus were first discovered by a Lidar survey – a laser-light method used to examine the surface of the Earth – conducted by Historic Environment Scotland five years ago.

It is thought the people who built the cursus may have used it to guide visitors but they were mainly created for the spectacle.

Brophy (below) has also said they involved a “crazy amount of labour”, with a story to be told of Neolithic people using sticks and bone tools to create the site.

The National:

Just 1% of the cursus bank has so far been excavated using modern implements.

It is believed the cursus was either constructed over decades by a small local group or by visiting teams of workers as part of a pilgrimage, with Brophy suggesting their must have been a “phenomenal social glue” binding people together to carry out work likely based on a religious or political leader’s vision.

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It is so well-preserved because of its upland location away from intensive farming areas and the presence of a peat bog.

Nicki Whitehouse, professor of archaeological science at Glasgow University and another member of the core investigative team, says the initial discoveries half a decade ago revealed a highly unusual combination of ceremonial alongside farming landscape.

“It’s also part of a continuum that likely linked to the ritual site at Machrie Moor, so the whole Drumadoon landscape probably forms part of something much more extensive,” he said.

Gavin MacGregor, the director of Archaeology Scotland, said the local community have enjoyed being involved with the dig at points too.

“Having that number of people looking and thinking about the monument for the first time in potentially several thousand years created a real energy,” he said.

“There’s a phrase about ‘the theatre of excavation’ and bringing people together to congregate on the hillside, working through questions together, in a strange way has an affinity to those people making the sense of the world when the cursus was first constructed.”