Category Archives: SCOTLAND

Hoard of Jacobite Ammunition Unearthed in Scotland

Hoard of Jacobite Ammunition Unearthed in Scotland

The Oban Times reports that metal detectorists discovered a cache of more than 200 musket balls, coins, and gold and gilt buttons in southern Scotland on property near the shore of Loch nan Uamh that was owned by Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair, Gaelic tutor to Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Hoard of Jacobite Ammunition Unearthed in Scotland
Paul Macdonald, Gary Burton and David McGovern made the discovery near Lochailort in September.

The items are thought to be part of a shipment landed just a fortnight after the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.

Paul Macdonald, David McGovern and Gary Burton were using metal detecting equipment – with the landowner’s permission – when they made the find recently on the shore of Loch nan Uamh, near Lochailort.

The historical items were uncovered near a ruined croft house that once belongs to the prince’s Gaelic tutor, and has now been reported to Treasure Trove in Scotland.

This is an official organisation which ensures objects of cultural significance from Scotland’s past are protected for the benefit of the nation and preserved in museums across the country.

Over 200 musket balls were among the finds.

Originally from Glenuig, Mr Macdonald, of the Conflicts of Interest battlefield archaeology group, said the find had been made in early September on the Rhu peninsula.

‘For around 250 years there, a hoard had lain undisturbed by one particular croft. The complete hoard included 215 musket balls and a number of gold and silver-gilt buttons, coins and some other non-ferrous items on the northern coast of Loch nan Uamh,’ said Mr Macdonald.

‘It was really just a case of joining the dots so to speak, from what history records. It is known that arms had been landed in 1746 in this area.

‘From what the finds tell us to date, the musket balls were cast for use, yet never fired and correspond with the same calibre of musket balls landed nearby with French arms for the Jacobite Rising by the ships Mars and Bellone on the 30th April 1746.

‘The arms were, of course, landed a couple of weeks after the Battle of Culloden and never saw service, but were rapidly distributed and hidden locally.

‘What we also know about the find-spot is that the now-ruined croft was once inhabited by the famous Clanranald bard, Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair, who was an officer in the ’45 Rising and served as Gaelic tutor to Prince Charles Edward Stuart. He lived out his later years here at this croft until his death in 1770.

‘The find has been reported to Treasure Trove where it may through the process from there hopefully find its way to a Scottish museum.’

As to the value of the artefacts, Mr Macdonald said the find is significant but more in terms of historical worth than financial.

‘It is a very nice find and we were delighted with locating another part of the story of the prince and the Jacobite Rising.’

‘Very Angry Badger’ Seizes Part Of 500-Year-Old Scottish Castle

‘Very Angry Badger’ Seizes Part Of 500-Year-Old Scottish Castle

A 16th-century Scottish castle noted for its impressive defences has proved to be no match for a “very angry badger“.

Craignethan Castle in South Lanarkshire, south-east of Glasgow, was breached by the nocturnal mammal, forcing staff to close the stronghold’s cellar tunnel to the public.

“We’re trying to entice it out with cat food [and] send it home,” Historic Scotland tweeted.

It is believed the badger has since retreated from the tunnel.

“Our works team have used a Go Pro this morning to view the tunnel and it seems our visitor has vacated.”

“We’ll keep the tunnel closed in the interim while we do a little housekeeping following its visit.”

According to Historic Environment Scotland, Craignethan Castle is the last great private stronghold built in Scotland.

Craignethan Castle, which was under siege by a “very angry badger.”

Badgers are a protected species in the United Kingdom and cannot be willfully killed, injured or taken.

Their burrows, also known as setts, are also protected.

Badgers are described by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as one of Scotland’s “most charismatic mammals”.

Badger takes cat nap

Craignethan Castle was not the first time a badger has found itself under the wrong roof.

In October, Scotland’s Animal Welfare Charity was called to a home in Linlithgow, west of Edinburgh, after a badger snuck in through a cat flap.

Animal Rescue officer Connie O’Neil said the badger ate all the cat food before going for a sleep on the cat bed.

“I got a surprise when I arrived at the property and saw a badger having a nap,” Ms O’Neil said.

“He didn’t seem too happy when I tried to move him but I was able to slide the cat bed round and it was then that the badger noticed the back door was open so made a run for it.”

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said it was highly unusual for a wild badger to enter a house and urged people not to go near them as they could be aggressive when injured or cornered.

Iron Age Site Found in Scotland

Iron Age Site Found in Scotland

The Scotsman reports that researchers have discovered traces of 23 structures dated to as early as 800 B.C. on heavily ploughed land in eastern Scotland, near the coast of the North Sea, ahead of a construction project.

The study is now continuing to decide whether the site has a flourishing domestic settlement or more industrial operation.

Proof has been identified of at least 23 structures on the land, which is due to be developed by Claymore Homes, with some pottery and flint tools also found.

Iron Age Site Found in Scotland
Archaeologists at work on the site of an Iron Age settlement near Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire.

The settlement may be estimated to be from 800 BC to 400 AD with large amounts of charcoal and other organic material now undergoing testing at the archaeology department at Aberdeen University in the search for an accurate timeline.

Ali Cameron, of Cameron Archaeology, first started working on the site in 2017 with the full extent of the settlement only now coming to light.

She said a find of such a scale was ‘very exciting’ with ‘a lot of hope’ pinned on the analysis of the samples.

She said: “ There are at least 23 structures there which date to the Late Prehistoric period. Some of the ditches were full of charcoal. We have more than 300 samples so we are going to get a really good picture of the dating.”

She added that the organic remains would help build up an understanding of what the site was being used for.

The archaeologist said: “If you get a lot of grain, you might be looking at a domestic site, for example. It might help determine what was happening in a particular building.

“We are pinning a lot on those samples.

“It could be that this was more of an industrial site. There are so many buildings over a huge area. We have got a lot more work to do.”

Ms Cameron said the land had been ‘so heavily ploughed’ that only a handful of artefacts had been found. She said there was little-known activity in the Cruden Bay area around the same time the settlement is thought to date from.

“The site is higher up and you get this fantastic view over the bay. It’s a great location and you can imagine why people wanted to settle there,” Ms Cameron added.

The site is due to be developed by Claymore Homes.

Ms Cameron said the company had been ‘fully supportive’ of all the archaeological works with the firm paying for the excavation, the analysis of finds, processing of samples and the publication of a report in an archaeological journal.

Mike Shepherd, of the Port Errol Heritage Group, told the Press and Journal: “You sometimes get told in Cruden Bay that it never gets boring here and the history of the place shows that this has been true for a very long time.

“The discovery of a prehistoric settlement here is astonishing. Just consider it: an ancient village which has been forgotten for centuries and is now finally, gradually coming to light.

“There will be a great curiosity to find out more about these ancient people who long ago made our place their place.”

The long-Lost Dark Age Kingdom Unearthed in Scotland

The long-Lost Dark Age Kingdom Unearthed in Scotland

Archaeologists started excavations at Trusty’s Hill, they have discovered ancient picturesque patterns etched into a rock surface near the site entrance.

The sculptures were rare in the area, well south of where Pictish carvings had usually been found. (Roman writings of around A.D. 300 described the Picts as the hostile tribes of the region north of the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde; they are thought to have been a loose confederation of Celtic tribes, but their exact origins are uncertain.)

What the archaeologists uncovered at the site turned out to be a complex type of fort, dating to around A.D. 600.

A laser scan of part of the carved Pictish symbols found at Trusty’s Hill. Researchers believe these carvings may have had a role in royal inaugurations at the site.

A wooden and stone rampart had been built around the summit of the hill to fortify the site, in addition to other defensive structures and enclosures on its lower slopes. The style was consistent with other high-status settlements of the early medieval period in Scotland.

This was not a run-of-the-mill agricultural settlement, in other words, but a far more important centre. Dr David Bowles, a Scottish Borders Council archaeologist and co-director of the dig, believes its inhabitants likely managed the farming and natural resources of a much larger estate.

As Bowles told the Independent of the settlement’s influence: “Control was maintained by bonding the people of this land and the districts beyond to the royal household, by gifts, promises of protection and the bounties of raiding and warfare.”

Just how influential was this royal settlement? According to Ronan Toolis of GUARD Archaeology, which led the dig, the archaeological evidence collected at Trusty’s Hill “suggests that Galloway may have been the heart of the lost Dark Age kingdom of Rheged, a kingdom that was in the late sixth century pre-eminent amongst the kingdoms of the north.”

Thistle-headed iron pin from Trusty’s Hill. Analysis showed that this was originally embellished with copper alloy inlay decoration. Thistle head decorated pins have been found in Dark Age sites across south-west Scotland demonstrating that the thistle emblem goes back a long way in Scotland.

Toolis, Bowles and their team believe the entranceway, with the two Pictish symbols flanking it, was the location for royal inauguration ceremonies that took place at the fort complex.

They also found evidence of leatherworking and wool spinning operations at the site, along with the remains of a metal workshop that appears to have produced high-quality work in gold, silver, iron and bronze.

The remains of a copper alloy horse mount found at Trusty’s Hill. Archaeologists believe artefacts like this one point to an upper-class society of royal distinction.

Among the kingdoms of Dark Age Britain, Rheged has remained the most elusive. The kingdom and its powerful warrior king, Urien, inspired some of the earliest medieval poetry composed in Britain, by the poet Taliesin.

In some Arthurian legends, Urien is said to have married Morgan Le Fay, King Arthur’s sister. Their marriage was reportedly not a happy one; in one version of events, Morgan plotted to use the sword Excalibur to kill Urien and Arthur and take the throne herself with her lover, Accolon.

Surviving fragments of early medieval historical records also show Urien’s dominance in southern Scotland and northern England, before a rival group destroyed the settlement in the early seventh century.

But despite its historical importance, the location of the kingdom of Rheged has long been unknown. Previously, historians thought it might have been centered in Cumbria, a county in northwestern England.

Researchers studying Trusty’s Hill in Scotland believe the site may have been the royal seat of power for the lost Dark Age kingdom of Rheged. This illustration recreates what the royal stronghold may have looked like around AD 600.
The Dark Ages kingdom of Rheged, dating back more than 1,400 years, may have had its seat of power on the modern day ‘Trusty’s Hill’ in Galloway

Bowles and Toolis laid out the excavation’s findings in their book “The Lost Dark Age Kingdom of Rheged,” published this month. As Bowles puts it: “This was a place of religious, cultural and political innovation whose contribution to culture in Scotland has perhaps not been given due recognition. Yet the influence of Rheged, with Trusty’s Hill at its secular heart…and Urien its most famous king, has nevertheless rippled through the history and literature of Scotland and beyond.”

Scotland’s 17th-Century Sand-Covered Settlement Explored

Scotland’s 17th-Century Sand-Covered Settlement Explored

According to a report in The Scotsman, Gerry Bigelow of Bates College and his colleagues have found evidence that someone returned to live in the Shetland island settlement of Broo after it was buried under more than six feet of sand in the late seventeenth century.

It became known as the ‘Arabian Desert in the North” with visitors making their way to Broo to witness this new surreal landscape that emerged.

Archaeologists working on-site over a number of years have dug out more than two metres of sand to excavate the main house of the settlement with three other buildings also of interest.

They have now revealed they believe that someone returned to the site in the years after it was abandoned to make a home in a submerged outbuilding, even building a staircase to allow them to get over the new ‘dunes’ that surrounded them.

Evidence of life at Broo has also been found, with shards of clay pipe and pottery discovered along with animal bones, coins – possibly dropped by visitors – and elephant artefacts that were probably owned by the wealthy Sinclair family who headed the township.

Dr Gerry Bigelow, of the Shetland Islands Climate and Settlement Project and a visiting reader at the Archaeology Institute of the University of Highlands and Islands, said: “We have had to get through two metres of sand to get to the original levels of the township. It has taken us years. It is really very dramatic when you see what is there.”

Dr Bigelow said life must have been “pretty grim” for the people – or person- who returned to the settlement after the residents had fled.

He added: “You would have to climb out of your house onto the landscape that keeps rising. They did not abandon the house until the sand reached the eaves of the roof.

“We don’t know who lived there, or why. They were out in a dune field, there was sand all around, but someone kept living there.

“It is difficult to say exactly what was going on but even though the land was ruined, it still had value to someone. It may have been that someone just needed somewhere to live.”

Part of the research is to understand why sand engulfed the community, who lived around 2 kilometres inland from the beach at Quendale.

Climate change is a key area of interest, with the effects of the Little Ice Age of 1645 to 1715, when temperatures in Scotland were 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius cooler than they were today, of particular focus.

“We are also interested if humans were using the landscape in such a way that made them vulnerable to storms.”

One theory is that islanders may have been using sand to grow some crops, with it is known that certain types of oats did well in this type of environment, or that rabbits destroyed the protective dune system.

5,000-year-old Neolithic Passage Tomb Studied in Scotland

5,000-year-old Neolithic Passage Tomb Studied in Scotland

The research was carried out at the communally-built dry-stone tombs in Maeshowe, led by Jay van der Reijden, a master student at the University of Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

The tombs, referred to as ‘houses for the dead’, showed similar layouts to that of domestic houses.

Ms van der Reijden’s found the side chambers showed inverted architectural designs to give the effect that the chamber is within the underworld.

A new study has revealed that parts of Maeshowe, a 5,000-year-old tomb in Orkney, were built upside down to represent the afterlife.

She said: “I’m delighted that my research, studying the order by which stones have been placed during construction, has been able to reveal novel results and that it is, therefore, able to make a real contribution to the field of archaeology.

“Visualise the wall-stones are like wallpapers, and when you repeatedly hang them upside down in distinct locations patterns become discernible. The swaps include the reversal of multiple architectural features normally placed on the right-hand side being on the left only inside the side chambers.

“The interpretation is that the side chambers are built to be within the netherworld, by the main chamber walls acting as membranes, separating this life and the next, and that the internal walling material is conceived to physically represent the underworld.”

Maeshowe, which is visible for miles around, dates from 2,700 BC and is one of the fascinating ancient monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

The tomb is accessed by a long, narrow passageway which leads into a large central chamber, with three side chambers, where the dead were laid to rest. The chambered tomb is aligned perfectly with the setting sun during the time around the winter solstice when it shines deep into the passageway and illuminates the rear wall of the main chamber.

Visitors to Maeshowe will also see Viking-era graffiti in the central chamber, left by a group of Norsemen who broke into the tomb to take shelter one night during Christmas 1153.

The men were led by Earl Harald through the snow from Stromness to the parish of Firth.

The 30 inscriptions found in Maeshowe, make it one of the largest, and most famous, collections of runes known in Europe and can be viewed by torchlight.

The latest research will be published Cambridge University’s Archaeological Review, which is due out by the end of the year.

Nick Card, excavation director of the Ness of Brodgar, said, “Despite being a focus of attention since its first modern-day entry over 150 years ago, the iconic Maeshowe continues to reveal its secrets through careful and considered study.

This study offers new ways of approaching and understanding the construction and use of not only this monument but has wider implications for the study of Neolithic stone-built monuments and the society that constructed them.”

2,700-year-old Iron Age ‘loch village’ discovered in Scotland

2,700-year-old Iron Age ‘loch village’ discovered in Scotland

During a small-scale dig, archaeologists discovered what was initially believed to be a crannog – a loch shelter, a loch-dwelling often found on the banks of a loch or sited on an artificial island.

Archaeologists at the remains of an extensive iron age ‘loch village’ in Wigtownshire. 

Instead, they discovered at least seven houses built in wetlands around the now in-filled Black Loch of Myrton, near Wigtownshire, in south-west Scotland. Called a “loch village,” this type of site is unique in Scotland and there are few other comparable sites elsewhere in the British Isles.

Similar lake villages have been found in Glastonbury and Meare, both in Somerset, but this is the first loch village to be uncovered in the north of the Border.

Archaeologists at the remains of an extensive iron age ‘loch village’ in Wigtownshire. 

Scotland’s Iron Age began some 2,700 years ago.

The Wigtownshire dig was a pilot excavation of what was thought to be a crannog, under threat by drainage operations.

However, during the excavation over the summer, AOC Archaeology Group – which worked on the dig in conjunction with local volunteers – discovered evidence of multiple structures.

During the dig, which was part-financed with £15,000 from Historic Scotland, archaeologists realized that what appeared to be a small group of mounds was a stone hearth at the center of a roundhouse.

The timber structure of the house has been preserved, with beams radiating out from the hearth, forming the foundation, while the outer wall consisted of a double-circuit of stakes.

Rather than being a single crannog, as first thought, it appears to be a settlement of at least seven houses built around the small loch. Crannogs were probably the centres of prosperous Iron Age farms, where people lived in an easily defended location to protect themselves and their livestock from raiders.

Nancy Hollinrake, who runs an archaeology business with her husband in Glastonbury and who is also on the committee of the Glastonbury Antiquarian Society, said she was excited by the find.

She explained that although there were hundreds of crannogs in Scotland, this was different.

“It says a lot about the degree of protection they would have needed – having that many crannogs in one area,” she said.

“The industry would have been iron – and they would have been able to get the temperature of a furnace up to a point where they could smelt iron and make glass,” she added.

“There would have been high levels of craftsmanship and exchange of goods.

“They would also have carried out enamelling, bronzework, as well as spinning, weaving and dyeing large amounts of cloth. They decorated braids and played games with dice.”

Graeme Cavers, of AOC Archaeology, who is the co-director of the site, said that because the land was abandoned after the Iron Age, the buildings were well preserved.

“Waterlogged wood also offers the opportunity to date the structure very accurately using dendrochronology – or tree-ring counting – to give a date accurate to within a few years or even months, rather than the decades or centuries usually provided by radiocarbon dating,” he added.

One of Scotland’s great mysteries: the 5,200 years old carved stone balls

One of Scotland’s great mysteries: the 5,200 years old carved stone balls

Scottish carved stone balls are a mysterious class of artefacts, and scientists have been the subject of much speculation by scientists over the years.

In all, more than 500 stone balls were collected, the largest to fit neatly into the palm of the hand. They were designed so that a number of knobs protrude from the surface and some have beautiful, intricate patterns incised onto them.

So elaborate are the carvings that early archaeologists didn’t believe it was possible for them to have been made using flint tools, so they dated them to a later period. But we know they were indeed carved using flint and date back to around 3,200 BC to 2,500 BC, a time when people in Scotland were leaving their lives as hunter-gatherers and settling into life in farming communities.

What were they for?

Although no hard evidence exists to definitively determine their function, many have speculated as to the stones’ purpose.

Some believe that they were part of a weighing system for primitive scales, but others argue that their weights vary too much for that to be practical. They might have been used to weigh down fishing nets, or as bearings to move bigger rocks, but then why would they be carved so elaborately?

Australian author Lynne Kelly has proposed that the stone balls served as “memory devices” that could have been used as mnemonic aids to the oral history of the times, much like Australian Aboriginal cultures used rock art and their surroundings.

Three Scottish examples, in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Some suggest the carved stone balls were used as weapons.

Others have suggested they were used as weapons — either fixed to a wooden handle or simply thrown. But most of the stones show no signs of the kind of damage you’d expect to see on a weapon.

“It is perhaps best to think of them as ceremonial or stylized weapons,” explains Hugo Anderson-Whymark, curator of National Museums Scotland. “Things that could inflict damage if you wanted to use them, and may in some circumstances have been used that way, but are more likely to be objects which represent the status or power of the individual that held them in that community.”

Prehistoric stone balls in 3D

In an effort to gain more understanding, and make the stones more accessible to the public, Anderson-Whymark has created 3D images of the balls. Using a technique called photogrammetry, Anderson-Whymark took hundreds of 2D images from every angle to create very detailed 3D renderings of 60 carved stone balls.

The images, which have been uploaded online for anyone to see, revealed details of the stone balls that had not previously been visible.
“Actually being able to see them in virtual reality is hugely valuable,” Anderson-Whymark told CNN. “It allows us to see some fine details which we didn’t spot before.

“There’s one of them that has concentric lines on the circles, and no one had ever seen that before and it’s been in our collection for well over 100 years,” he added.

The 3D images also revealed that some of the stones were modified over time, possibly across generations. It’s still unclear what that could mean, but Anderson-Whymark said that at the very least it opens the door to other possibilities about the balls’ purpose and significance to people of that era.

“It’s telling us how they were worked and re-worked over time. It’s allowing us to explore that bigger story of how they were made and how they developed, which is potentially going to tell us more about that bigger theory of how they were used,” Anderson-Whymark said.

Some of the 3D images of the carved stone balls revealed previously unknown details about their design.
Carved stone balls, classed as Neolithic
Many of the balls have not had their discovery site recorded and most are found as a result of agricultural activity.

While a few of the balls have been found in Ireland and northern England (one even travelled to Norway), all the others have been found in Scotland, mostly in Aberdeenshire. Five were found at the remarkably preserved Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, in the Orkney Islands, off the northern coast of Scotland.

National Museums Scotland, in Edinburgh, has the world’s largest collection of these carved stone balls at around 200 (including 60 casts). Perhaps most famous among them is the Towie ball. Found in Aberdeenshire in the 19th century, it features neatly carved circles, spirals and lines on four knobs.

“The Towie carved stone ball is the finest example of a carved stone ball from Scotland and the motifs on it are just absolutely incredible,” Anderson-Whymark said. “The very fine grooves on the surface are about a millimetre across and have all been carved with a flint tool. Incredibly fine, delicate workmanship.”

An enduring enigma

According to the museum, the patterns on the Towie ball are sacred symbols resembling those in a passage grave in Ireland. Anderson-Whymark says the similarities in the design raise interesting questions about the relationships between these locations.

“One thing they show is that there was perhaps a long-distance contact in that period which we don’t always give prehistoric people credit for,” he said.

“Certainly, when we look at Orkney, we see objects which are moving up from around the west coast through the western seaways … The grooved ware (a style of British Neolithic pottery) originates in Orkney and it travels south towards Ireland and into southern Britain as well.
“We’re seeing things, ideas and people moving with them through that time.”

The enigma of the stone balls will endure for now, and while we may never know exactly what they were used for, we can still appreciate them as fine examples of Neolithic art.