Saturday, 5 April 2014

Archaeology Ardnamurchan Style

A small group from Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology were up in the hills to the southeast of Loch Mudle today to look at a site which appears to have evidence of a sequence of farming use.  The nearer slope in this picture has a number of 'clearance cairns' - 3m diameter piles of rocks which were created when the fields were cleared.

Just over the hill are the farm buildings.  At top left, silhouetted against the waters of Loch Mudle, are what appear to be a farmhouse and a separate byre.  To the right of the fence is what we interpret as a relatively recently built animal pen, perhaps dating to the 19th century.

But the most interesting structure is the circle of stones which straddle the fence just beyond the animal fold.  The circle is about 14 metres in diameter.  It may have been an older animal enclosure, or is could be the base of a very large round house.  Between the two is an old stone wall, or dyke.

To the east of the buildings lie the farm's main fields.  There are clear signs on the greener land of the strips of ridge-and-furrow workings, and the more marshy land at the bottom has ditches which have filled in over the years, so they were worked too.  The lochan, Lochan na Gruagaich, with its fish, would also have been an important part of the farm.

The worked fields continue some distance to the east, so the amount of land down to arable was considerable, suggesting this area once supported a large population.  They may also have continued to the north, but the area is now buried under forestry.

This structure, possibly a shieling hut used by people caring for the animals in a camp some distance from their village, cannot be the same age as the more established farm, so it's probably older.  We spent some time mapping it, dividing the area up into metre squares - marked by white stones - and then transferring the outlines of the exposed rocks onto a grid.  Archaeology Ardnamurchan-style is wet work, but never dull.

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