Members of Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology spent yesterday afternoon at a lonely inlet near Portuairk investigating a site which two officers from Archaeology Scotland had previously identified as a possible Viking long-house. At this early stage, we are determined not to become too excited about what's been found but, instead, begin a careful investigation.
When Vikings landed with the intention of spending some time in an area they built a low stone wall in the shape of their ship and upturned it on top to act as a roof. What caused the interest in this old wall, no more than few metres from the high-tide line, was its curved shape which, on measurement, came out at around 18m. The snekkja, the smallest and most common longship used by the Vikings in warfare, was typically 17m long, had at least 20 rowing benches, a width of 2.5 metres, a draught of 0.5 metres and would have carried a crew of around 41 men - 40 oarsmen and a cox.
The site having previously been cleared of undergrowth, our first job was to remove material which covered the sea-end of the structure.
A rope, marked at metre lengths, was laid along the spine of the structure, and this was used to divide the site into metre squares which could then be used to transfer the rocks onto squared paper. This produced a plan of the site....
....which, among other things, confirmed that the western wall didn't curve uniformally as it would have done had it followed the line of a Viking ship. Despite this, we still think this is a possible long-house as it's situated exactly in the sort of place one would expect to find one, and the site, tucked up against a steep slope, is ideally protected from the weather.
Some slightly less conventional methods were used to investigate the site further but, as the wind was blowing briskly, dowsing didn't produce any remarkable discoveries.
With a good job done, the group retired to the Caldwells' house for tea and bourbon biscuits - much appreciated!