New light cast on Scotland's Bronze Age mountain dwellers on Arran

The life of Scotland’s Bronze Age mountain dwellers has been brought to life after archaeologists excavated the remains of high-altitude roundhouse on the Isle of Arran.

Radiocarbon dating of a piece of burnt wood found at the site in Glen Rosa has concluded that the house was occupied around 1,400BC. Picture: Frame Creates
Radiocarbon dating of a piece of burnt wood found at the site in Glen Rosa has concluded that the house was occupied around 1,400BC. Picture: Frame Creates

Radiocarbon dating of a piece of burnt wood found at the site in Glen Rosa has concluded that the house was occupied around 1,400BC in what has been described as an “exciting” discovery by National Trust for Scotland, which led the dig at the site.

The roundhouse, which was built in Coire a’ Bhradain, which sits some 384 metres above sea level and is the highest known Iron Age site on the island.

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It is now believed the roundhouse, which measured around six-metres wide, was used as temporary shelter during deer hunting trips through ‘the Bowman’s Pass’ at the top of the coire.

Radiocarbon dating of a piece of burnt wood found at the site in Glen Rosa has concluded that the house was occupied around 1,400BC. Picture: Frame Creates
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Alternatively, it could have been used as seasonal shieling site to keep grazing animals out on the hill.

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Derek Alexander, National Trust for Scotland’s Head of Archaeological Services, said: “This was a challenging site to investigate, as it required a physically fit team for the long walk up to the site, carrying all our digging equipment.

“The post-excavation analysis helps us to build picture of life on Arran over three thousand years ago and our findings can be used to shape the visitor experience at the replica round house at Brodick Country Park on Arran.

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“Given the great weather and spectacular views we experienced it’s easy to understand why Bronze Age people would also have been attracted to this spot.

“Round houses are characteristic of the later prehistoric period in Scotland. The date of the site indicates it is of a similar date to some of the larger round houses, excavated at Tormore on the western side of Arran.”

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The dig revealed a central hearth area of stone and clay with remnants of hazel charcoal.

The charcoal was submitted to the laboratory at the Scottish University Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) for a radiocarbon date, which revealed that the round house was occupied around 1400 -1300 BC.

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NTS commissions radiocarbon dating on a number of select items each year to aid in the charity’s work to protect Scotland’s heritage.

With no chronologically diagnostic artefacts on the site, the dating process was the only way to place the round house in to the timeline of Arran’s past.The site of the roundhouse was originally discovered in 2001 by members of the Arran Mountain Rescue Team.

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It was exposed by the huge wild fire which burnt off the tall heather to reveal a raised circle with two prominent ‘doorway’ stones.

Excavation revealed that the stone walls were around 1.4metres wide.

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Kate Sampson, Head Ranger for Brodick Castle Country Park and Goatfell, said: “We’ve been discussing an archaeological investigation of the site for a long time and it’s so exciting that we’ve finally managed to get a radiocarbon date for it.”

Stone and earth roundhouses, or hut circles, generally survive in less developed upland areas with a number of such sites in the care of NTS.

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