The End of the Upper Palaeolithic in the Dordogne and the 'Vitrified Forts' in Scotland

Abstract of talk by Euan MacKie

Hunterian Museum, Glasgow University, Glasgow. e-mail: emackie[at]
Presented at the SIS Conference: Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisations (11th-13th July 1997)

Whilst it is well understood that disasters caused by extra-terrestrial agents really did occur in prehistoric times, some major site will have to yield positive evidence in favour. In other words, the theory will have to make a fundamentally important prediction about a specific site which will have to be tested and found to be correct. If that happens, it will be possible to look at some other archaeological sites which cannot by themselves provide that decisive evidence, and plausibly re-interpret them as evidence for major disasters. Three examples are given. 1.) Upper Palaeolithic caves in the Dordogne: evidence for an enormous volcanic eruption at the very end of the Palaeolithic age, and thus at the end of the last glacial period, is still visible at some of these sites. 2.) 'Vitrified forts' in Scotland: a proper appreciation of these sites has been inhibited by a misunderstanding of their nature. They could be seen as evidence for earthquake-proofing in the late Bronze Age. 3.) Cup-and-ring rock carvings in Scotland: one site in the west has yielded reasonably clear evidence for re-carving in the late Bronze Age which just might be signs of unusual cometary activity at that time.

EUAN MACKIE read Archaeological and Anthropological Tripos at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1956-59. Ph.D at Glasgow Univ. 1963-1972. He was a member of the Cambridge Expedition to British Honduras 1959-60, responsible for the work of the archaeological section. The team uncovered some striking and unexpected evidence about the collapse of the Maya civilisation at this site. In October 1960, he was appointed Assistant Keeper of the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow. From 1985-1993 he served as the Museum's Deputy Director. His research areas include the Iron Age cultures of Atlantic (highland and island) Scotland and the monuments of the late Neolithic period. He has been mainly involved in excavating and studying brochs and allied structures, together with two 'vitrified forts', with the aim of dating them and placing them in a clear archaeological sequence. More recently the emphasis has been on trying to reconstruct the kind of society which produced these monumental drystone structures. Prehistoric standing stones, stone circles and rock carvings and have been an interest since about 1968. They present a different problem from that of the Iron Age; domestic sites and debris are largely absent and the evidence is mainly in the form of enigmatic ceremonial structures. The problem of reconstructing aspects of the ceremonial practices of the time has been pursued, particularly by excavating sites to check the calendrical hypothsis of A. Thom, itself based largely on statistical analysis. This procedure of testing ideas by excavation has proved rewarding though controversial. A book resulted from this work in 1977 [The Megalith Builders. Phaidon. 1977], and attempted a radical re-interpretation of the nature of late Neolithic society in Britain, [Science and Society in Prehistoric Britain. Paul Elek, 1977; see also the most recent publication: "Maeshowe and the winter solstice: ceremonial aspects of the Orkney Grooved ware culture." In: Antiquity, June 1997].