The Scottish Mail on Sunday

The Iron Age vil­lage... that had all mod cons

Re­vealed, the cosy life of our an­ces­tors

- By Fiona McWhirter

AR­CHAE­OL­O­GISTS have dis­cov­ered a re­mark­able ‘loch vil­lage’ that shines new light on the sur­pris­ingly lux­u­ri­ous lifestyle of our an­ces­tors.

Dat­ing back 2,500 years, the set­tle­ment con­tains houses with many ‘mod­ern’ fea­tures – in­clud­ing hand-wo­ven car­pets, crock­ery and bread-mak­ing ovens.

The vil­lage is the first Iron Age site found in Scot­land where the houses were built on an is­land in the mid­dle of a loch.

Ex­perts from the AOC Ar­chae­ol­ogy Group work­ing on the dig at Black Loch of Myr­ton in Wig­town­shire have de­scribed their find­ings as ‘spec­tac­u­lar’. Now, for the first time, they have shared the de­tails of

‘Far be­yond ex­pec­ta­tions’

their on­go­ing ex­ca­va­tions and worked with The Scot­tish Mail on Sun­day to pro­duce an artist’s im­pres­sion of the set­tle­ment.

Rod McCul­lagh, deputy head of ar­chae­ol­ogy strat­egy at His­toric Scot­land, which part-funded the ex­ca­va­tions, said: ‘The first dis­cov­er­ies at this fas­ci­nat­ing site in 2013 were oak tim­bers. Then a team from AOC found the in­te­rior of a build­ing we thought was part of a crannog, an Iron Age loch dwelling.

‘But we are now con­fronted by some­thing far be­yond those ex­pec­ta­tions. Black Loch seems to be a vil­lage of round tim­ber build­ings built into a peaty swamp and dat­ing back to the 5th Cen­tury BC.’

AOC spe­cial­ists said the site is com­pa­ra­ble to ‘lake vil­lages’ at Glastonbur­y and Meare in Som­er­set.

Pro­ject leader Graeme Cavers said: ‘There is lots of ev­i­dence for grain pro­cess­ing and cook­ing at the site. It’s likely that ev­ery­one was do­ing some­thing use­ful.

‘But I don’t think you need to think about these peo­ple be­ing slaves to their rou­tine. They would have had some leisure time.

‘You can imag­ine them do­ing what peo­ple do around fires – singing and telling sto­ries. Not ev­ery­thing needs to be about stay­ing alive. It was a so­cial time and prob­a­bly quite a pros­per­ous one. There’s no rea­son to think these peo­ple weren’t liv­ing in rel­a­tive com­fort.’

The team has lo­cated up to eight stony mounds in­di­cat­ing a warm­ing hearth in Iron Age round houses. As the tim­bers used for build­ing were wa­ter­logged they were very well pre­served, al­low­ing re­searchers to date the site to around 460BC.

They also un­cov­ered hazel and wil­low wo­ven mat­ting that acted as a form of floor­ing, as well as quern stones on which grains such as bar­ley were ground to make flour.

Dr Cavers said: ‘The two houses we’ve looked at so far are about 36ft in di­am­e­ter. With a build­ing of that size it would cer­tainly be pos­si­ble for a good num­ber of peo­ple to be liv­ing there.

‘The stan­dard Iron Age model is that of a fam­ily unit with grand­par­ents and pos­si­bly aunts and un­cles, so there could be up to 20 peo­ple.’

Among the sig­nif­i­cant find­ings is a small clay ‘thumb’ pot, the first piece of ce­ramic pot­tery from that era to be found in the area. Ar­chae­ol­o­gist Anne Crone said: ‘We’ve never found any pot­tery from any other Iron Age sites in South-West Scot­land.

‘The as­sump­tion has al­ways been that they used other types of ves­sel like hide or bas­ketry. To find this tiny bit of pot­tery on the site is fan­tas­tic. It may not look like much, but it’s ex­cit­ing.’

One of the key ques­tions for the team now is whether or not the houses were con­tem­po­rary and ex­isted as a vil­lage or if they rep­re­sent a se­ries of oc­cu­pa­tions over a longer pe­riod of time.

Dr Cavers said it was com­mon for an Iron Age set­tle­ment to be aban­doned and re­pop­u­lated later. He hopes den­drochronol­ogy – the study and se­quenc­ing of tree rings – will give ac­cu­rate con­struc­tion dates.

Lo­cal history group the Whithorn Trust was in­vited to pro­vide vol­un­teers to take part in the ex­ca­va­tions. De­vel­op­ment man­ager Ju­lia Muir Watt said: ‘It’s very strange that you’re stand­ing on a floor that hasn’t been seen in 2,500 years and pick­ing up af­ter some­body who has left ashes on the hearth.’

The date of the l och vil­lage rep­re­sents a change in sci­en­tific think­ing, as ex­perts had pre­vi­ously be­lieved the first set­tled com­mu­ni­ties in the area were not set up un­til the ar­rival of Scot­land’s first Chris­tian saint, Ninian, who built a church nearby in 397AD.

 ??  ?? THE WAY WE WERE: An artist’s im­pres­sion of what the Iron Age vil­lage at Black Loch of Myr­ton in Wig­town­shire might have looked like in the 5th Cen­tury BC
THE WAY WE WERE: An artist’s im­pres­sion of what the Iron Age vil­lage at Black Loch of Myr­ton in Wig­town­shire might have looked like in the 5th Cen­tury BC

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