IT is a landscape which has held special significance to the people of Scotland since prehistoric times.

Stone age farmers built circles of standing stones there, and etched mysterious swirling cup-and-ring markings into the very bedrock.

Later, the folk of the Bronze Age came to entomb their dead, while the first kings of Scotland erected a mighty fortress and ruled over a vast trading network which stretched across the British Isles.

READ MORE: Mystery of the 4,000 year old Loch Ness grave

Studded with relics from the dim and distant past, Kilmartin Glen in Argyll has attracted archaeologists for decades as they seek to explore its rich heritage and unravel its unique history, shrouded in the mists of time.

And now a new era in the study of its ancient environs is about to dawn with the awarding of £3.2 million to transform the area's museum into a centre for archaeological excellence and a hotspot of cultural tourism.

The Herald:

Artist's impression of the new museum

The grant, from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), will allow the Kilmartin Museum - currently operating from a repurposed farmhouse and barn - to be joined into a single, unified building.

The new facility would include expanded galleries, a library and a laboratory while giving space for hundreds of artefacts currently held in the museum's archives to be put on display.

Ruth Bollwell, Kilmartin Museum's Redevelopment Project Officer said: "The vision for the museum is that it will become a centre for archaeology in Scotland, one that is recognised internationally.

"Education will be at the forefront of the new facility and it will cater for students and tourists alike.

"The original project required funding of £6.4 million and the grant means we are now very close to that target."

The Herald:

The Coll hoard

Artefacts which will be dusted off and displayed for the public include the Coll Hoard - 13 fragments of bronze age swords found on the nearby Island of Coll which may have been buried as an offering to the Gods or to cement a local peace treaty.

Ancient human remains will also once again see the light of day along with mysterious carved stone balls that perhaps belonged to Dark Age chieftans, and whose purpose has baffled historians for decades.

READ MORE: Fresh light shone on mysterious carved stone balls

The museum holds items uncovered from the nearby fortress of Dunadd, the ancient seat of the Scotti tribe and the heart of their kingdom of Dal Riata and examples of their pottery dating back to 600 AD.

Distinctive markings on the vessles are similar to styles found in Ireland and the North of England, indicating the Glen's place at the centre of Scotland's early trade lanes.

The Herald:

The Kintraw Stone lies nearby - pic Aaron Watson

In all, more than 800 monuments and sites, 150 of them prehistoric, have been found within a six mile radius of Kilmartin Glen.

Many of the artefacts at the museum, which lies between Oban and Lochgilphead, were found by tourists and amateur archaeologists probing the ancient ruins while others come from established excavations of the ancient sites.

The museum opened in 1997 with a limited budget and a largely unpaid workforce. An 18th-century manse and ancillary farm buildings were adapted to create a permanent exhibition with a café and shop.

The Herald:

The Temple Wood Standing Stones

Funding of £100,000 is still needed to complete the project's target, but Museum Director Dr Sharon Webb believes this will soon be found.

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She said: “We’re absolutely delighted after years of dedicated work on the part of the Museum staff and volunteer Trustees, that thanks to National Lottery players, we’ve received this support.

"The support we have received is amazing. The project as a whole will enable us to properly care for the artefacts in our collections, and tell their stories interwoven with the sites and monuments in which they were found, as well as provide massive improvements to the visitor experience and the Museum’s education service.

"The local economy will also benefit. The award also represents well deserved and long overdue UK level recognition of Kilmartin Museum, our collections and of Mid Argyll’s unique cultural and natural heritage.”

The Herald:

Dunadd hill fort

Lucy Casot, Head of HLF in Scotland, said, “Kilmartin Glen is an internationally important landscape with over 5000 years of human history evident in the stones that stand there.

"We are delighted that, thanks to players of The National Lottery, we can support the development of the museum into a leading visitor attraction, interpreting and caring for this incredible Scottish heritage.”