The Scottish Mail on Sunday
The Iron Age village... that had all mod cons
Revealed, the cosy life of our ancestors
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.