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Crannogs

crannog - Loch Tay

Scottish Crannog Centre

The remains of crannogs are found in many Scottish lochs, particularly in the Highlands. They were artificial islands linked to the shore by a stone causeway or timber gangway.

In Loch Tay, for example, many crannogs now lie submerged, which has helped archaeologists: as the water-logged conditions have preserved many perishable items such as wooden bowls and cups that would have been destroyed on land.

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 passing raiders. The settlement would have consisted of a farm house, with cattle and crops being tended in nearby fields, and sheep on hill pastures. Local woodlands would have serviced the home with fruit, hazelnuts, wild cabbage and medicines, as well as with wild boar and other woodland animals suitable for hunting.

At Loch Tay the crannog-dwellers were skilled weavers, and could make woollen and leather items which could be transported by boat and traded for luxuries like jewellery.

The reconstruction of a crannog on Loch Tay (see picture above) near Kenmore is based on nearby underwater, archaeological excavations of the Oakbank crannog, which dates from 500 BC. Its circular, timber platform, with its large, timber roundhouse, is built on oak piles driven deep into the loch bed. The walls are made of hazel rods, woven together, and the thatched roof is steeply pitched enough to allow rain to drain off. Inside, the floor is covered with bracken and ferns, with a flat, stone fireplace in the centre which would have been kept burning continuously and would have been the focus of family life.

Brochs

Mousa Broch

To the north and west of Scotland, stone was a more available building material than timber for construction purposes. Here we find the brochs: one of the finest achievements of Iron Age Scotland, and predominant on Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. They are the pinnacle of drystone wall building. Huge towers, so ingeniously engineered to avoid collapse that some of them are still standing 2,000 years later!

The earliest Brochs are traced back to 500-200 BC. They are formed by two concentric, dry-stone walls, producing a hollow-walled tower. Between the walls were galleries and stairways which led to the upper levels. Within the tower there would have been several wooden floors, providing the main living space, with the ground floor possibly used as a secure store for cattle or sheep when the broch was under siege. The whole structure may have been topped with a conical, thatched roof.

Brochs were meant to impress and were probably houses for tribal chiefs or important farmers. At places like Gurness in Orkney, villages grew up around the broch and fragments of pottery found there show the owners sometimes enjoyed a lifestyle of imported wines and olives from the Mediterranean - before the Romans invaded. About AD 100 the fashion for broch building declined, however, the communities and settlements around them continued to flourish.

Hillforts

Trapain Law

The most impressive Iron Age settlements are hillforts, like Traprain Law in East Lothian. They are powerful fortresses surrounded by earthen ditches with wooden palisades or stone walls, and are set on hill tops or on coastal promontories.

After the introduction of the horse and iron weaponry, tribes could hold down larger territories and strike at enemies more swiftly. Hillforts were designed to defend against these raiding parties, but they also served as
impressive statements of a chieftain's power. From their hillforts these chieftains could survey the surrounding farmlands under their sway, lands that no doubt provided them with food. The people who farmed the land were also warriors when required and looked to both fort and chieftain for protection. They became centres for trade and metal working, bringing wealth, power and status to those who controlled that trade.

The appearance of all of these settlements on the landscape seems to suggest the development of a more structured and hierarchical society, where the power of chieftains increased along with the need for protection.

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Brochs History Trail Crannog History Trails Media Museum

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