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Archaeoastronomy & Ethnoastronomy News


Number 20 June Solstice 1996

Official Recognition for an Ancient Solar Calendar Site in Scotland
by Euan MacKie

The main site at Brainport Bay on Loch Fyne, (Argyllshire, Scotland, a quarter of a mile from the village of Minard) has been described in detail in this journal (MacKie, 1985, Archaeoastronomy VIII, 53-69). It is a complex linear arrangement of platforms, "observation boulders," small standing stones and a partly artificial rock notch. Some 80 m long overall, it aligns to the rising point of the Sun at the summer solstice, over twin mountain peaks 28 miles away (MacKie, 1985, Plate 1 and Figure. 5). However it appears to be primarily a ceremonial alignment with space for quite a large audience on the "Back Platform". The closest analogy would be with the approximate midsummer line at Stonehenge.

If this is to be a plausible explanation, then useful "working alignments" should exist nearby. One was duly found on "Oak Bank", higher ground about 200 yards to the northwest. Here there was a fallen standing stone and two cup- marks in a nearby rock outcrop that pointed at an initially invisible notch in the nearby western horizon. This proved to be an accurate marker for the equinoctial sunset (Figures 6-8 and Ruggles, ed. 1988 Figure 8.1). A year later another more distant cup mark was found which, when observed from the fallen megalith, indicated another notch marking the midwinter sunset within a day or two (Ruggles, ed. 1988, Figures 8.2 and 8.3). These subsidiary alignments go far to support the given identification of the Main Alignment.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) was carrying out fieldwork in mid Argyll at the time the site was being investigated and eventually decided that Brainport Bay should be included, with a plan, under "Miscellaneous Structures" (RCAHMS 1988, no. 364, p. 209 and Figure). "The site has been interpreted as a center for solar observation in prehistoric times, but the identification must be treated with some reserve, since the archaeological evidence is at best equivocal;". This may be the first cautious acknowledgment in an official British Government report that such sites (apart from Stonehenge) may have existed.

Brainport Bay remains in private hands and, even after the favorable publicity, for many years its future seemed uncertain; at one point the land was almost sold for a holiday village. The RCAHMS is charged only with recording and with recommending what should be protected. Historic Scotland is the Government body which protects important sites. Usually it schedules them, after which the owner requires consent from the Government to alter them in any way, and may be eligible for financial support to manage them beneficially; a small number of exceptionally important ones have been taken under Guardianship (at a cost) and are permanently protected.

A few years after the author's excavations in 1980, Historic Scotland considered Brainport Bay for scheduling, asked for independent advice, and duly placed it on the list. A small notice was placed on the Main Alignment warning visitors not to disturb anything. However the responsibility for keeping the site clear of the ever encroaching vegetation, and for putting up explanatory notices, was for some years assumed by the original discover, Peter Gladwin, alone.

Our third national body, the Council for Scottish Archaeology, is funded by subscriptions from archaeological societies, individuals and by a Government grant. Its main tasks are to arouse interest in Scottish archaeology, to draw attention to threatened sites, and encourage local societies in their activities. A few years ago it started the "Adopt a Monument" scheme whereby local societies would agree to look after an important site in their area, and could thus obtain funds to help them. To its great credit the Mid Argyll Natural History and Antiquarian Society recently decided to "adopt" Brainport Bay.

For the last two or three summers regular site cleaning parties have been in action. This year two extremely high quality, weatherproof notice boards have appeared which explain the general nature of the Main Alignment clearly and show how it worked, with a diagram. Their presence has transformed this nationally important site and will surely increase its popularity. The interest thus generated will make it easier to preserve Brainport Bay for posterity.


1988 Argyll volume 6: Mid Argyll and Cowal. Prehistoric and Early Historic Monuments. Edinburgh.

Ruggles, C.L.N. ed.
1988 Records in Stone: papers in memory of Alexander Thom. Cambridge.

Ruggles, C.L.N. & Whittle, A.W.R., eds.
1981 Astronomy and Society in Britain during the period 4000 - 1500 B.C.. (British Archaeological Reports 88) Oxford.

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