7.4 A Brief Excavation History

In Argyll, including Arran and the Ardnamurchan peninsula, there are over 800 sites currently listed by RCAHMS that are potentially Iron Age. The site types include forts, duns, brochs, crannogs, enclosures and hut-circles, and while not all of these will prove to be of Iron Age date it does give some idea of the potential for the future study of Iron Age settlement. Of the sites listed under forts, brochs and duns only 45 have had some form of recorded archaeological intervention and a list of these is given in Appendix 1.

While excavations by earlier antiquarians in Argyll produced some important assemblages, the survey and excavation work initiated by David Christison in the late 19th and early 20th century are still arguably one the principal sources that inform the debate on the nature of duns and forts in the area (Christison 1891; Christison, Anderson and Ross 1905). Christison's work and that of earlier antiquarians were however conducted within the parameters of their day, whereby stratigraphic sequences within the monuments were perhaps overlooked or poorly understood. Since then several excavators have added to this picture of Argyll's Iron Age notably, Ludovic Mann, Gordon Childe, John and Dorothy Marshall, Horace Fairhurst, Edgar Peltenberg and Euan Mackie amongst others (Mann; 1906, 1915, 1925, Childe and Thorneycroft 1938; Marshall, J N; 1915, 1934; Marshall, D N: 1964, 1982, Fairhurst 1939; 1956, 1960, 1964; Peltenburg 1982; MacKie 1974). Some exploratory work was undertaken by RCAHMS when compiling the Argyll inventories in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and since then, apart from Henderson and Gilmour's work at Loch Glashan, research excavation on Argyll's Iron Age has been notably lacking and the area was designated a 'black hole' of the period in a research agenda for the British Iron Age (Haselgrove et al. 2001). More recently Investigations on the duns at Barnluasgan and Balure (see Case Study 8: Balure Dun), conducted by Kilmartin Museum were specifically undertaken to try and illuminate the period, while work by Cambridge University on Lismore has also cast important new light on Iron Age settlement in Argyll (Regan and Webb; 2006, 2007; Regan; 2008a, 2009b; Stoddart; 2007, 2008).

These more recent research projects have operated alongside developer-funded archaeology much of this reported in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland and within the subsequent 'grey literature'. These infrastructure and development projects, even on a small scale, have produced some important results concerning the nature of Iron Age settlement in Argyll, such as the projects at Midross, Glenshellach, Dunstaffnage, and Kilninian (Becket 2005; Maguire, Becket and Rennie 2005; Ellis; 2010, 2013). Given the relatively recent date of these excavations, much of the resultant material is still as yet unpublished or unsynthesised although some inferences can be tentatively drawn for the period.

Survey work has also continued to add to the picture of potential Iron Age settlement in Argyll, with the recording of previously unknown hut circles, platforms and even dun structures. Systematic coastal zone assessment surveys have been undertaken by the SCAPE Trust on Coll, Tiree, Colonsay, Oronsay and Islay. Recent walkover surveys conducted by Kilmartin Museum at Carnassarie, Kilbride and Balnahard, Colonsay for example have recorded four unrecorded dun sites and ten potential hut circles (Regan; 2007, 2008b, 2009b, 2012a).

7.4.1 Enclosed sites

7.4.2 Forts

7.4.3 Duns

7.4.4 Brochs

7.4.5 Enclosures

7.4.6 Enclosed Settlement Sites

7.4.7 Unenclosed Settlement Sites

7.4.8 Crannogs and island dwellings

7.4.9 Caves, Rock Shelters an Burial


Read the related case study Case Study 8: Balure Dun Excavation