The monument is a henge: a ritual or ceremonial monument dating to the later Neolithic or early Bronze Age (the later third or early second millennium BC). It is visible as a low outer bank and shallow internal ditch enclosing a roughly circular level area, with two opposing entrances to the NNE and SSW. Overall, the henge measures about 37m in diameter. The monument is located at the southern end of Kilmartin Glen on the valley floor overlooking the Kilmartin Burn. The monument was first scheduled in 1933, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.
The bank is fairly denuded and now stands no more than 0.4m high with a maximum width of about 0.6m. The ditch is about 0.4m deep and 4m wide overall. The remains of two cists, both revealed by excavation in 1864, are visible within the interior of the monument. The cist towards the centre of the henge comprises two side slabs and the S terminal slab; it is orientated N-S and measures 1.8m by 0.8m. No artefacts were recovered in the 1864 excavation, but a layer of small rounded pebbles was observed lining the base of the cist. A large capstone, measuring 2.4m by 1.4m and with an overall thickness of 0.25m, partly covers the cist. A second cist, orientated NNE-SSW and comprising two side slabs and the NNE terminal slab, is located in the NE quadrant of the henge interior. It measures 0.9m by 0.4m and contained the remains of three inhumations and a fragmentary beaker. Stone clearance of the ditch in 1995 revealed two flat stones which may be the missing terminal slabs for the cists. These have been left in situ.
The area to be scheduled is circular on plan, measuring 57m in diameter, centred on the monument. It includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The above-ground elements of the interpretation stand are excluded from the scheduling to allow for maintenance.
Statement of National Importance
The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:
Ballymeanoch henge is an excellent example of a Class II henge, a ceremonial monument of late Neolithic or early Bronze Age date. Although the site has seen some previous disturbance, the 1864 excavations seem to have focused predominantly on the cists, and landscape improvements in 1995 led only to limited removal of modern stone from within the ditch. As such, there is high potential for important archaeological deposits to survive, not only within the interior of the enclosure (for example, stone or timber settings; pits; and burnt deposits), but also in the ditch and the remnants of the bank (for example, artefacts; animal and human remains; ecological remains). These archaeological assemblages could enhance our understanding of the lives, contacts, beliefs and practices of the people who built and used this monument. Botanical or animal remains could also provide valuable environmental information, which would enhance our understanding of the environment and economy at the time of the monument's construction and use, and reveal how the landscape changed over time.
The recovery of a fragment of beaker pottery from the second cist suggests that the monument dates to or was re-used in the early Bronze Age (the early second millennium BC). Excavations at henges elsewhere have indicated that they were normally multi-phase monuments: this site therefore has the potential to provide information on a long timescale. Furthermore, there is a strong likelihood that the monument may seal important deposits related to use of the land before the construction of the monument: recent excavations at similar monuments have shown that they often overlie earlier burials or settlements.
Henges are found scattered throughout the British Isles. In Scotland, around 100 henges are known in total, but they have a limited distribution in the W. Ballymeanoch is the only henge to have been identified in Argyll with certainty so far. Across Scotland, henges display much regional diversity in their form, construction and probably their use. However, most Scottish henges are small, like Ballymeanoch, with the enclosure often forming part of a long sequence of use and reuse of the same site. The location of this henge is typical: on low-lying flat ground, close to watercourses and agricultural land, and apparently sited with reference to other prehistoric ceremonial and burial monuments. Kilmartin Glen has an extremely dense concentration of burial cairns, stone settings and rock art, much of which would have been intervisible with this henge. Of particular interest are the standing stones approximately 100m N of the henge, which would have been visible through the henge's N entrance, so that the standing stones and the henge appear to have been placed with reference each other. In addition, geophysical prospection in 1995 identified anomalies which may represent the remains of additional features in the immediate vicinity of the henge, suggesting that the archaeological remains may be more complex than is evident from their traces visible on the ground surface.
Evidence suggests that henges are ritual monuments, often with a funerary dimension, but there is a wide range of theories as to their significance and actual purpose. The fact that the ditch was normally placed inside the henge bank clearly demonstrates that they were not defensive features. One possible interpretation is that henges were designed to prevent people from outside viewing whatever was taking place inside the enclosure. An alternative explanation is that the henge was 'defending' the outside world against the unknown power of an earlier monument enclosed within it.
The monument is of national importance as an excellent example of a Class II henge and because it is located in Kilmartin Glen, which contains one of the densest concentrations of prehistoric ceremonial and ritual monuments in Scotland. It can enhance our understanding of the nature of the inter-relationships between these monuments and of the way in which contemporary society may have used different parts of the landscape. The monument is particularly valuable because it is relatively undisturbed and, as yet, the only henge identified with certainty in Argyll. It has the potential considerably to enhance our understanding of many aspects of society and ceremonial and ritual life in later Neolithic and early Bronze Age Scotland, including the cultural links between Argyll and other areas of Britain during this period of prehistory. Its loss would significantly detract from our ability to understand not only prehistoric societies in the W of mainland Scotland, but also across Britain as a whole.
RCAHMS records the site as NR89NW 18. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR reference is 4048.
Abernethy, D 1995a, 'Ballymeanoch (Kilmichael Glassary parish), standing stones and henge', Discovery Excav Scot, p 63-64.
Burl, H A W 1969, 'Henges: internal features and regional groups', Archaeol J, vol 126, p 20.
Campbell and Sandeman, M and M 1964, 'Mid Argyll: an archaeological survey', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol 95, p 11, no 64; p 113, no 12.
Greenwell, W 1868, 'An account of excavations in cairns near Crinan', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol 6, p 348-9.
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1988a, Argyll: an inventory of the monuments vol 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, prehistoric and early historic monuments, Edinburgh, p 21, 52.
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Printed: 22/04/2019 03:50