Scottish art in the Prehistoric era
The earliest examples of art from what is now Scotland are highly decorated carved stone balls from the Neolithic period, which share patterns with Irish and Scottish stone carvings. Other items from this period include elaborate carved maceheads and figurines from Links of Noltland, including the Westray Wife, which are the earliest known depictions of a human face from Scotland.
From the Bronze Age there are examples of carvings, including the first representations of objects, and cup and ring marks. Representations of an axe and a boat at the Ri Cruin Cairn in Kilmartin, and a boat pecked into Wemyss Cave, are probably the oldest two-dimensional representations of real objects that survive in Scotland. Elaborate carved stone battle-axes may be symbolic representations of power. Surviving metalwork includes gold lunula or neckplates, jet beaded necklaces and elaborate weaponry such as leaf swords and ceremonial shields of sheet bronze.
From the Iron Age there are more extensive examples of patterned objects and gold work. Evidence of the wider La Tène culture includes the Torrs Pony-cap and Horns. The Stirling torcs, demonstrate common styles found in Scotland and Ireland and continental workmanship. One of the most impressive items from this period is the boar's head fragment of the Deskford carnyx. From the first century CE, Roman influence on material culture can be seen in stone carvings.
Scotland was occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from around 8500 BCE, who were highly mobile boat-using people making tools from bone, stone and antlers. Neolithic farming brought permanent settlements, like the stone house at Knap of Howar on Papa Westray, dating from around 3500 BCE. The settlers introduced chambered cairn tombs from around 3500 BCE, as at Maeshowe, and from about 3000 BCE the many standing stones and circles such as those at Stenness on the mainland of Orkney, which date from about 3100 BCE. These were part of a pattern that developed in many regions across Europe at about the same time.
Probably the oldest examples of portable visual art to survive from Scotland are carved stone balls, or petrospheres, that date from the late Neolithic era. They are a uniquely Scottish phenomenon, with over 425 known examples. Most are from modern Aberdeenshire, but a handful of examples are known from Iona, Skye, Harris, Uist, Lewis, Arran, Hawick, Wigtownshire and fifteen from Orkney, five of which were found at the Neolithic village of Skara Brae. Many functions have been suggested for these objects, most indicating that they were prestigious and powerful possessions. Their production may have continued into the Iron Age. The complex carved circles and spirals on these balls can be seen mirrored in the carving on what was probably a lintel from a chambered cairn at Pierowall on Westray, Orkney, which seem to be part of the same culture that produced carvings at Newgrange in Ireland.
Other items to survive from the period include elaborate carved stone maceheads, often found in burial sites, like that found at Airdens in Sutherland, which has a pattern of interlocking diamond-shaped facets, similar to those found across Neolithic Britain and Europe. In 2009 the Westray Wife was discovered at the site of a Neolithic village at Links of Noltland near Grobust Bay on the north coast of Westray, a lozenge-shaped figurine that is believed to be the earliest representation of a human face ever found in Scotland. The face has two dots for eyes, heavy brows and an oblong nose and a pattern of hatches on the body could represent clothing. Two figurines were subsequently found at the site in 2010 and 2012.
The Bronze Age began in Scotland about 2000 BCE. From this period there are extensive examples of rock art. These include cup and ring marks, a central depression carved into stone, surrounded by rings, sometimes not completed. These are common elsewhere in Atlantic Europe and have been found on natural rocks and isolated stones across Scotland. The most elaborate sets of markings are in western Scotland, particularly in the Kilmartin district. The representations of an axe and a boat at the Ri Cruin Cairn in Kilmartin, and a boat pecked into Wemyss Cave, are probably the oldest two-dimensional representations of real objects that survive in Scotland. Similar carved spirals have also been found on the cover stones of burial cists in Lanarkshire and Kincardine. There are also elaborate carved stone battle-axes found in East Lothian, Aberdenshire and Lanarkshire. These show little sign of use or wear, so may be symbolic representations of power.
Surviving metalwork includes personal items like the gold lunula or neckplates found at Auchentaggart in Dumfriesshire and Southside, Lanarkshire, which date from about 2000 BCE and follow a pattern found particularly in Ireland, but also across Britain and in Portugal. Jet beaded necklaces strung in a crescent shape have been found at sites including Poltalloch and Melfort in Argyll and Aberlemno in Angus. Elaborate weaponry includes bronze leaf swords and ceremonial shields of sheet bronze made in Scotland between 900 and 600 BCE. The Migdale Hoard is an early Bronze Age find at Skibo Castle that includes two bronze axes; several pairs of armlets and anklets, a necklace of forty bronze beads, ear pendants and bosses of bronze and jet buttons. The "Ballachulish Goddess" is a life-sized female figure from 700–500 BCE in oak with quartz pebbles for eyes, found at Ballachulish, Argyll.
By the early Iron Age, from the seventh century BCE, Scotland had been penetrated by the wider La Tène culture. The Torrs Pony-cap and Horns are perhaps the most impressive of the relatively few finds of La Tène decoration from Scotland, and indicate links with Ireland and southern Britain. The Stirling torcs, found in 2009, are a group of four gold torcs in different styles, dating from 300 BCE and 100 BCE. Two demonstrate common styles found in Scotland and Ireland, but the other two indicate workmanship from what is now southern France, and the Greek and Roman worlds. The bronze Stichill collar is a large engraved necklace, fastened at the back a pin. The Mortonhall scabbard, probably from the first century CE, is elaborately decorated with trumpet curves and "S"-scrolls. Further north there are finds of massive bronze armlets, often with enameled decoration, like the ones found at Culbin Sands, Moray. One of the most impressive items from this period is the boars head fragment of the Deskford carnyx, a war-trumpet from Deskford in Banffshire, probably dating from the first century CE. Similar instruments are mentioned in Roman sources and depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron found in Denmark.
The Romans began military expeditions into what is now Scotland from about 71 CE, building a series of forts, but by 87 CE the occupation was limited to the Southern Uplands and by the end of the first century the northern limit of Roman expansion was a line drawn between the Tyne and Solway Firth. The Romans eventually withdrew to a line in what is now northern England, building the fortification known as Hadrian's Wall from coast to coast. Around 141 CE they undertook a reoccupation of southern Scotland, moving up to construct a new limes between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde, where they built the fortification known as the Antonine Wall. The wall was overrun and abandoned soon after 160 CE and the Romans withdrew back to the line of Hadrian's Wall, until Roman authority collapsed in the early fifth century. This presence left behind a number of objects that indicate a Roman artistic influence. These include the Cramond Lioness, a sculpture, probably imported, of a lioness devouring a bound prisoner, found near the Roman base of Cramond Roman Fort near Edinburgh. A relief of the goddess Brigantia found near Birrens in Dumfriesshire, combines elements of native and classical art. The Newstead Helmet is one of the most impressive of many finds of Roman arms and armour. The Staffordshire Moorlands Pan is a second-century Romano-British trulla apparently decorated as a souvenir for a soldier who had served on Hadrian's Wall, and probably made locally. A number of items were also found in the Sculptor's Cave, Coversea in Morayshire, including Roman pottery, rings, bracelets, needles and coins, some of which had been re-used for ornaments.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Prehistoric art in Scotland.|
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