By Nick Drainey
What could be the oldest Bronze Age “Beaker” pottery ever found in Britain has been unearthed at an ancient glen in Argyll.
But the museum at Kilmartin Glen is having to expand to make room to show off the 4,500-year-old relics because it is already full of exhibits from prehistory.
Three pots and a food vessel were unearthed at a quarry near to the museum and another pot was found last year, but their existence has been unknown to the public until now.
Kay Owen, Redevelopment Project Officer at Kilmartin Museum, said: “As far as we are aware, there is no Beaker Pottery quite like it that has been found in Britain and which dates back that far.
“There is the age of it, but also the amount of it, it is quite remarkable … we don’t have room to display it.”
Some archaeologists think that the Beaker style of pottery was brought to Britain by migrants from continental Europe at the same time metal was introduced.
The pieces, decorated with patterns and with bands around them, were found at Upper Largie Quarry before work to remove stone started and Ms Owen said there could be more pottery to be found. She added: “The site of the quarry has been investigated but there are possibly other sites in that area.”
The pots are still being tested by archaeologists but one is thought to have cremated remains within it. “Someone would have been cremated and their remains placed in the beaker and the beaker then placed in a burial cist. We would expect it to be an important person given the extent that they have gone to and the fact that the beakers we have found are decorated.”
The glen is at the centre of the most important area for ancient monuments on mainland Scotland, with 800 ancient and prehistoric sites within 10 miles. And the significance of the pottery adds to the already impressive history in the area, including Dunadd Fort, a hill fort occupied since the Iron Age and believed to be where the Kings of Dalriada were crowned between 500 and 900AD.
Ms Owen said: “Kilmartin Glen as a whole is a really interesting and important archaeological site as far as Scotland and Britain is concerned. The sheer number of monuments here implies it was an important ceremonial place and that they came here to worship in some way. They came here to bury people as well and leave goods with them (beaker pottery).
“This is the most prominent site on mainland Scotland for pre-history and prehistoric monuments.”
Now, nearly 20 years after Kilmartin Museum opened the amount of space available to display the ancient artefacts has run out and more is desperately needed.
“We don’t have enough room. There are more and more artefacts that the museum has which we can’t display so really we need to expand the museum. These items have changed are understanding of how people have used the glen – about when we thought people were here and the activities they were carrying out.”
Not only is the museum display area full, but the store area as well, meaning the results of new excavations have nowhere to be kept in a protective environment.
As result the museum is planning a £6.7 million redevelopment which will see it expand its area for the public as well behind the scenes where a new laboratory will allow analysis and testing to take place as well as research by students and academics.
The museum hopes half the cost will come from a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund with the rest being made up with money from sponsors, supporters and members of the public.
Sharon Webb, the Director of the Museum who recently received an MBE for services to archaeology and heritage, said: “This redevelopment will secure the future of the museum, which is an important resource, not just for Argyll but the whole of Scotland. It will also help continue the archaeological work which takes place in this unique area, and safeguard this important artefact collection.”