THE remains of a primitive iron smelting furnace have been unearthed during conservation work in a Scottish forest.
Early analysis of the find has identified raised platforms for burning charcoal, what is believed to be a collapsed ancient clay oven and chunks of smelted metal.
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It has not yet been possible to accurately date the site but experts say it could be more than 2,500 years old.
They say there are clues to suggest it could have been in use as early as the beginning of the Iron Age, around 750 BC.
Alternatively, it could have been established as a small-scale local operation at any time up until the founding of the iron smelting industry in the west of Scotland, which took place between the 17th and 19th centuries.
The discoveries were made during work to prepare an upland glen for tree planting as part of a scheme to restore the Great Trossachs Forest.
The finds were uncovered on Glen Finglas estate, which is run by the Woodland Trust conservation charity.
The area is known to harbour remnants of settlements dating back to medieval times, but further investigations are needed for accurate dating of the new finds can take place.
“Glen Finglas estate has a long history of human habitation,” said estate manager Phil Gordon.
“It’s home to one of the largest areas of upland wood pasture in Scotland, which was harvested by people in surrounding townships, and it was a medieval hunting forest for hundreds of years.
“While we only know a small amount about the find so far, it is further evidence that this landscape has been shaped by many generations of people, and there are a number of signs that we have been advised makes it potentially very significant.
“The presence of a charcoal platform in Glen Meann does show that this area had a lot more woodland cover in the past, and that is something we are working to bring back.”
Paul Robbins, of West of Scotland Archaeological Service, said: “It is impossible to know exactly how significant the sites are as this will be dependent upon their date.
“Other examples I can think of for charcoal burning are in association with historical records to the start of the iron smelting industry in the west of Scotland. However, the principle of producing charcoal and iron in these ways probably dates back a lot further, possibly even to the start of the Iron Age.”
The woodland regeneration scheme is a 200-year joint project run by Forestry Commission Scotland, the Woodland Trust and RSPB Scotland.
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