Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Archaeologists at Swordle

The Ardnamurchan Transitions Project archaeologists have spent the last two weeks working around the Swordle area.  Usually, it's three weeks, so they've had a busy time, but they have a lot to show for their efforts.

They've concentrated on two sites.  The above picture shows the excavation at Swordle Corrach.  In previous years they concentrated on the long-grass area to the right of the bothy, where they excavated several of mainly early 18th century houses.  This year they've been working along the low ridge beyond.

The dig has centred on a field cairn, a pile of stones thrown into one place as a field is cleared.  These cairns often conceal earlier man-made features, and this was the case here.  At left centre is a stone wall holding back an area, to the left, filled with smaller stones.  In front of archaeologist Ollie Harris (in yellow tabard, talking to Phil Richardson of Archaeology Scotland) is a small room in which it is possible someone lived, its extension to the right being formed of peat walls which may have been a byre for animals.  Living in this damp, cramped space must have been pretty grim, but it probably dates to the 18th century if not earlier - that are hoping to date it if they find artefacts when they excavate the floor tomorrow.

The main dig has been in the centre of the Swordle Huel clachan, concentrating on two sites: to the left is a well-built house, and to the right is a much more difficult to interpret building.

The fine stone walls of the house can be seen in this picture, with archaeologist Helena Gray from CFA Archaeology sitting beside them.  The wall running away from us is the gable end of the house - and it's unusual because there is a door in it.  The house goes away to the right, and to the left of the picture is a well-built stone wall whose purpose isn't clear.

At the opposite end is a well-constructed fireplace which, unlike those excavated last year at Swordle Corrach, has no sign of a metal grate.  To the right, outside the house, is a slightly curving stone wall which may be much older.  It could be the end of a previous house, perhaps the one that the landlord insisted was demolished at the beginning of the 19th century and replaced by an 'improved' building - shortly before he cleared the whole clachan.

The second excavation at Swordle Huel is the most intriguing of all.  It appears to be a long building - the wall at the far end is still covered with turf.  There's a very distinct stone wall to upper left with, perhaps, a curved stone wall at the near end.  But, to the right, a wall diverges at an angle from where one would expect the other wall to run.  The size of the building is also exciting: it's about 50% larger than a typical clachan building.  Hannah Cobb, who kindly gave her time to explaining the site, said that they wanted to concentrate on this next time they are up, which will be for a week in the coming winter.  They are expecting to spend three more seasons at Swordle - and, even then, they'll hardly have scratched the surface of this fascinating area.

The Ardnamurchan Transitions website is here.
Many thanks to the team for the Open Day last Sunday, and the talk on Monday.

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