Tuesday, 9 August 2016

In Search of the Vikings

Jess McCullough was one of the leaders at this year's Ardnamurchan Transitions Project dig at Swordle, but he kindly gave the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association some hours of his valuable time before he left. Jess is an expert on Norse settlement, and we wanted to try him on one or two of the local sites which we've been investigating.

Jess has been at the University of Wisconsin, and completed his PhD at Leicester. He has travelled recently to western Greenland to look at Norse sites there and is taking up a post at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, where he will be teaching Mediaeval European history.

Our first port of call was Port Maggie, just to the east of Portuairk, to a site on Jim Caldwell's croft. Just before the burn runs into the sea there's a small area of machair where, to the right in this picture, running along the bottom of the shrubs, lie the remains of....

....a rather unusual wall. Other archaeologists have suggested that the shape of this wall indicates that it may have been built so that a Viking longship could be overturned on top of it to form a temporary house. Two problems were discussed, one being that there is no 'mirror-image' wall to support the other side of the boat, and the other being the kink in the wall where Jess is standing - though this has been explained by suggesting there were two boats, upturned end-to-end.

Jess then took a look at the building at Camas nan Geall which AHHA members cleared earlier this year. It has unusual rounded ends, is set into the slope and, from map evidence, is at least 250 years old. He showed polite interest but....

....as so often happens, it was the most inconspicuous of the sites we have cleared that sparked his enthusiasm. All that remains of this building is a rectangular foundation of large rocks with, to the right of where Jess is standing, two large upright rocks which evidently formed the entrance to the building. Viking houses were constructed like this, with upright timbers rising from the rock foundation to form a frame which was infilled with turfs and then roofed.

So the Viking boat burial found by the ATP at Swordle remains the only Viking site so far identified but we feel we're edging ever closer to finding something else from the hundreds of years of Norse invasion and then integration on this coast.

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