TOWN & GOWN Margaret Hyland researching the early landscape of St Andrews’ re-discovered
Bronze Age Stone
My undergraduate dissertation research on the early medieval church in St Andrews and the East Neuk involved extensive use of Canmore, a database which catalogues archaeological reports on the historic environment of Scotland. When searching for references to prehistoric and Pictish stones, I noticed a few references to a fallen standing stone in Dean’s Court, a University postgraduate residence situated just across the road from the Cathedral. It was described in 1952 as a fallen orthostat with cup-marks. The presence of cup-marks indicates that the stone had been shaped for human use in the Bronze Age. No one had commented on this stone since 1964, and noone I knew who lived in Dean’s Court had ever mentioned it to me. Very curious, I enlisted the help of Dean’s Court resident, François Sarah Chatton, and a handful of my fellow Mediaeval History undergraduates to find the mysterious stone. At first we found no sign of it anywhere in the grounds, but then François asked whether we meant the “old mounting block”. The stone to which he referred was lying beneath a tree in the front yard car park, banged up by encounters with various vehicles over the years. Two much smaller stones sat beside it, but once we had a proper look at the large stone, it became apparent it was no mere mounting block. The stone bears dozens of cup-marks, hollowed out circles that appear on Bronze Age stones and rocks elsewhere in Scotland and Europe. The implications of this realisation immediately captivated me. Cup-marked stones, like other megalithic monuments, Margaret Hyland, with the stone in its original location were likely put to religious use in prehistoric One of the people I contacted about the Britain. The Dean’s Court stone was found Court did not come into University ownership stone’s existence was Barbara Crawford, across the street from St Andrews Cathedral until the 1930s; so the stone (labelled as a Honorary Reader in History here at in the grounds of what was originally the seat on a 19th century Ordnance Survey map, St Andrews, and Chair of The Strathkinness archdeacon’s residence. Burials, sculpture, as identified by Fife Council archaeologist Trust. Barbara took an immediate interest and historical records indicate that the earliest Douglas Speirs) disappeared under the radar in the stone. She began gathering stories of church on the Cathedral site was founded in for many years. Oral tradition among University local folklore associated with the site, one of the mid-8th century by the Pictish king Onuist Estates staff indicates that some knowledge which was about a ghostly black dog lolloping son of Uurguist, who sought to establish of it as a prehistoric stone survived before its around the stone, visible in the Pends leading ecclesiastical support after usurping the “rediscovery”, as it was reported to me that to the Cathedral precinct. It is said that the Pictish throne. We know that early medieval staff had been told by their predecessors that dog walks a few inches above the ground, Christians often built their first churches the stone was a standing stone associated because the ground level was different when on the sites of pagan ritual with Dean’s Court. A few local it died. Black Dog phantoms are a well-known spaces. For example, the early archaeologists were also aware folkloric phenomenon, sometimes presaging Christian cemetery at Hallow of the stone’s greater antiquity, death, but sometimes protecting travellers. This Hill is built near a large Bronze It was described but it remained unknown to the Black Dog has received moderate attention in Age cemetery, which now lies public. in 1952 as a collections of St Andrews’ ghost stories, but beneath the Balnacarron Care In light of this, I contacted we think it is a very interesting adjunct to the Home. This re-use of sacred fallen orthostat several people within the prehistoric cup-marked stone, and would like to sites in the early Christian period University to raise awareness with cup-marks gather more information about it. was common everywhere in of the precious archaeological We are therefore putting out an appeal Europe demonstrating continuity heritage present in Dean’s Court to local people around St Andrews to find with ancestral claims to ritual yard. Because Dean’s Court out whether any other stories are known space while simultaneously proclaiming is a student residence, most staff have never about the ghostly Black Dog, or the stone. allegiance to the new religion by “converting” been there, and the stone was unknown to the While we would be very interested to know the site. If the Dean’s Court stone was found staff of my own department, Mediaeval History. whether any local families also knew of the in or near its original location, it serves as Word of its existence reached the Principal’s stone’s prehistoric origins, we welcome evidence that there may have been a pagan Office. In August 2017, Professor Mapstone any folklore or associations you might have religious site in the Cathedral precinct, which oversaw the removal of the stone from the about the stone to build a fuller picture of was “baptised” as a Christian site in the early centre of the Dean’s Court car park, where its provenance and its role in St Andrews eighth century. it was vulnerable to further damage. Local life across many different periods. My friend’s knowledge of the stone as a archaeologists Stephen Liscoe and Douglas Please do get in touch with Meg Hyland: “mounting block” reflects an assumption about Speirs supervised the relocation of the stone, firstname.lastname@example.org or Barbara the stone common to most people who have examining and photographing it from all angles, Crawford: email@example.com known about it. Curiously, it is not mentioned confirming that they believe the cup-marks to if you have any information you would like to by any of the antiquarians of 19th century be human-made. The stone now lies in a more share. St Andrews. This may be because Dean’s sheltered location on the side of the car park.
Article St Andrews in Focus Issue 88 May / Jun 2018