AN INVESTIGATION has been launched after graffiti was found carved into legally protected ancient standing stones on Arran.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said it is "concerned" after staff found the markings on a visit to monitor the condition of the Machrie Moor standing stones on Arran.

The heritage body said it was working with Police Scotland to deal with the incident.

"On a recent visit, we were concerned to discover that one stone has been damaged by incised (carved) graffiti, HES said.

“As well as being a Property in the Care of Ministers, the standing stones are also designated as a scheduled monument.

The standing stones are designated as a scheduled monument. This means they are legally protected and damage to them is a criminal offence.

"This is not the first time this has occurred at Machrie Moor and we will once again be working with Police Scotland to investigate.

"Heritage crime can cause damage that can never be repaired and forces us to spend less resources on important conservation work."

It said that the standing stones were part of a "rich archaeological landscape" of Neolithic & Bronze Age monuments that are well-preserved.

They were associated with religious activities dating back around 4,500 years. Cremation and inhumation burials were placed in the circles, long after they were first built.

Visible monuments include stone circles, standing stones, chambered cairns, hut-circles and field systems.

Excavations have shown that earlier timber monuments underlie those visible on the surface. And they believe it is very likely that there are many other remains beneath and between the visible sites.

Much of the protected area was partially excavated in the late 19th century.

Evidence of burials and cremations were discovered accompanied by a variety of grave goods such as food vessels, flint tools and pieces of worked pitchstone.

Excavations in 1985-6 demonstrated that elaborate timber circles put up around around 2300 BC. preceded two of the stone circles by around 500 years.

In its assessment of significance, HES said: WThe stone circles of Machrie Moor are a well-known archaeological feature, and are prominent in many national guidebooks and websites.

"Although the circles are visually impressive, they are part of a wider archaeological landscape that contains a wide variety of ritual sites and settlement remains.

"The stone circles, and their timber predecessors, show that the inhabitants of Arran had contacts with the wider world as they engaged fully in the ritual practices found throughout late Neolithic Britain.