Archive | June, 2017

Crannog 2.0

30 Jun

On this blog, I often argue that a little more prehistory in our cities, towns and parks would be a good thing. Stone circles, standing stones, roundhouses, earthworks and cairns can be helpful in provoking conversations, but can also improve the quality of local environments, attract visitors and tourists, inform, educate, and help enhance a sense of place with added time depth – but perhaps most significantly they are almost always playful and fun.

This is perhaps no-where better embodied that Scotland’s newest crannog*, constructed in the first half of 2017 in Drumpellier Park, North Lanarkshire, with the primary function of this structure being a good old fashioned children’s play park.

*It probably won’t be the newest for long, at the rate they are being built.

newspic_5819

Initial stylized vision of the crannog (c) Architecture+Design Scotland

I have followed the construction of this crannog over the past few months, watching with interest as little details have emerged, such as the spread-eagled eagle atop the roof, and little boars on springs for little children to sway back and forth upon (I have no idea what the technical playground terminology for such things is).

The crannog itself is part of the ongoing development of a series of seven lochs that run from the east end of Glasgow out into Lanarkshire, with Lochend being the most easterly of these. The aspiration to create a ‘central belt nature park encompassing lochs, parks and woodland around Glasgow and North Lanarkshire’ was boosted last year with a huge HLF Grant for the Seven Lochs Wetland Park, and the crannog is just one of the new developments that this cash is funding.

Seven_lochs_logo_JPG

The aspiration? Inspired by the Iron Age crannog now hidden beneath the water of Lochend Loch in Drumpellier Country Park, our fantastic, new, crannog themed play structure is ready to be explored by the mini Celts of Drumpellier! [Seven Lochs]

This is powerful precisely because it draws directly on the deep time of this place – as we shall see, there really is an old crannog situated under the waters of the loch right next to where the new one has been constructed. In other words, this is a celebration of the prehistory of Coatbridge and the Iron Age of North Lanarkshire, and the questions that it will provoke amongst the children that see it and play on it will expand their understanding of how special the place they live and play is. This is the essence of urban prehistory.

Drumpellier_Country_Park_Map

(c) North Lanarkshire Council

 

Intermission (The archaeology bit)

Drumpellier Park includes Lochend Loch, and it is within this loch that a crannog was found in the 1930s. The loch was donated to the public by the local MP a few decades earlier, but proved poor for boating due to being shallow and weedy. A weed-removal loch-deepening exercise in 1931 revealed a crannog at the eastern end of the loch. The crannog was first spotted in the form of a mound emerging from the water by a Mr A Kennedy of Coatbridge, and the discovery confirmed by Ludovic McLellan Mann (not him again!) who also took charge of the excavations as was his wont.

Thankfully there was apparently also a magic money tree to pay for what must have been an expensive excavation.

Quote from excavation reportThe excavations, in February 1932, quickly identified wooden piles which supported the crannog, and also some ‘primitive pottery’.

Pottery

To be honest, it sounds like it was a grim excavation.

Quote about peat soup

Gradually, through muddy perseverance, the team began to find more substantial structural features including wooden beams the size of railway sleepers, as well as flooring and thatch. This all suggested a really substantial wooden building of more than one phase stood here, on a wooden platform surrounded by water.

 

Wooden beam

Floor

A wide range of objects were recovered, ranging from the rather unfairly characterised ‘crude pottery’ (as with most Iron Age pottery, it was functional and chunky, but not primitive) and some rather more wonderful lignite and jet jewellery. Quern stones were also recovered, as were thousands of burnt hazel nutshells and ‘fire-injured stones’.

Lignite

Remains of two humans were found in association with the structure, although these were incomplete bodies. In his report on the ‘osseous remains’ John Robb noted that these bones had chemically converted to Vivianite due to being underwater for so long. He also noted a nice detail related to one of these individuals, an early archaeological indication of the capacity of prehistoric people to help one another:

Human bone

This was altogether a remarkable discovery, and it was fortunate that the excavation team were afforded time, money and local labour to carry out the work, in challenging circumstances, and it was fortunate too that Mann was on hand to offer his advice. Through time, the crannog became submerged and is now no longer visible from the shore.

Amazingly, at almost exactly the same time, an even older prehistoric discovery was made public related to Woodend Loch, which lies just across the road from Lochend and Drumpellier.

Location map

The red circle marks where the crannog was found, the little cross where the lithic scatter was located.

The month before excavations commenced at the crannog, William McLean of Airdrie presented some prehistoric stone tools he had found on the bank of Woodend Loch a few decades earlier (perhaps provoked to do so by the crannog discovery). This location was subsequently monitored by J M Davidson who realised that this was a potentially significant Mesolithic site.

Davidson collected over 800 lithics, in some cases wading into the loch to pick stone tools up from under the water. The ebb and flow of the water levels, weather conditions and time of year all played their role in the efficacy of his muddy-foreshore-walking prospection. These were of sufficient interest to be shown to and approved by the great Mesolithic scholar AD Lacaille: all were agreed that this was a Mesolithic campsite, and limited poking about followed, albeit subject to the same grim conditions as met the crannog diggers in the adjacent loch, and not really amounting to a formal excavation.

Cores

Flint cores recovered at Woodend Loch (from Davidson et al 1949)

My colleague Nyree Finley has written about the significance of this site, being the first Mesolithic encampment found in West Central Scotland, although no further work was undertaken on this site and the context from which these lithics were deposited can only be speculated upon. For Mesolithic scholars like another colleague, Dene Wright, this is a site of almost mythic status, an assemblage requiring modern (re)assessment.

Woodend lithics

Woodend lithics (c) Glasgow Museums, from Finlay 2014

 

Taken together with the amazing collection of Bronze Age Food Vessels found near Drumpellier in 1852, there is a remarkable prehistoric flourishing on the fringes of Coatbridge which to date has been afforded almost no consideration by modern archaeologists.

 

Park (pre)history pre-crannog

The prehistoric remains found on the fringes of both these lochs has played a small role in the presentation of the park to the public. However, the emphasis has increasingly been on ecological matters with birds and reeds and that kind of stuff all over the place. Walking and leisure is also a big driver of activity here, and in the summer, there is a carousel ride consisting of giant tropical fruits, and a regular ice cream van.

In the small visitor centre earlier this year, I picked up a black and white photocopied leaflet entitled Drumpellier Country Park History.

History leaflet

Diagram of Drumpellier History

To be honest, the text in the leaflet is out-dated. It notes, ‘Primitive stone tools were discovered around Woodside loch. These discoveries date the first sign of man to nearly 6,000 years ago’. There is then a bit of nonsense about a Celtic invasion of Gaels from Europe (??). ‘It was a family of these Iron Age people that built the fortified loch dwelling, called a crannog, in Lochend Loch around 100 BC’. These people were allocated to the Damonii tribe. Three episodes of settlement and burning were noted, with the final family meeting a violent end (hence the two bodies) around AD 500, apparently at the hands of a ‘marauding tribe’ of Scots from Ireland. This is all a bit 1950s but I guess at least it helps inform visitors that something seriously old and vaguely important happened here.

However, this leaflet really needs to be revamped, and hopefully the construction of the crannog will generate updated information and more contemporary forms of interpretation for the public (and I believe the Seven Lochs team are working on this).

Sign outside visitor centre

There are also some indications in the visitor centre that this park has prehistoric depth, with a noticeboard about the park next to the main door briefly name-checking the Mesolithic and Iron Age. More dramatically, inside the cafe, there is a fine mural of the crannog and coracle, just behind a Peppa Pig ride.

Mural

On a visit in April 2017, I also noticed a new noticeboard that announced the imminent prehistoric upgrade that was about to hit the Park – the new crannog.

New sign

And – as if the power of coincidence had not already been demonstrated to you by my tireless blogging – the visitor centre itself was opened by a Provost Cairns.

provost cairns

 

Crannog 2.0

The first sods were cut symbolically early in 2017.

Crannog_Sod_Cutting_Drumpelier_Park

The whole scheme was ambitious from the start, with the final design for the crannog playpark produced by Jupiter Play, the source of the two uppermost images below.

Crannog-Playground-e1481206651506

Drumpellier crannog drawing NLC

Seven Lochs tweeted image

(c) Seven Lochs Wetland Park

I visited the crannog a few times during its construction, and saw it emerge, built on a peninsula on the eastern end of the loch, just to the north of the location where the real thing is located. It was fascinating to watch a prehistoric-style building being constructed almost in front of my eyes, and it was almost comforting to see the job over-run its time schedule and the site constantly to have all sorts of crap lying about and no-one ever seemed to be working.

April 2017

Crannog under construction April 1

Crannog under construction April 2

Crannog under construction April 4

Crannog under construction April 3

May 2017

May visit 1

May visit 2

June 2017

June visit photo 1

June visit photo 2

Opening Day

The crannog was opened with great ceremony on the morning of Sunday 18th June. A real event was made of this, probably as would have been the case back in the Iron Age day. Tents were set up with traditional prehistoric crafts demonstrated (aptly by the excellent Scottish Crannog Centre team) and park rangers doing their thing. Visitors were bussed in from Coatbridge. A red ribbon was draped over one of the entry points onto the crannog playpark, all the better to be cut with big ceremonial scissors at the propitious time. As with the Iron Age also, the elite and their children were afforded privileges, in this case being allowed onto the crannog first to run around like mental and have a great time.

opening day montage

N Lanarkshire council photos of crannog

(c) North Lanarkshire Council

Best of all was that for the first time the crannog was not a quiet and lifeless building site, but a living breathing place of sound, energy and people.

opening day 3

What next? That’s up to the stakeholders of course. Some interpretation will be added I’m sure, so curious users can find out where the old crannog is / was and get a sense of how long ago the sounds of children on the water were first heard in this place. The Council will bask in the happiness of their support for this innovative venture and I hope keep maintaining the site to ensure it is sustainable, safe and clean for as long as humanly possible. Moves will be made to explore the heritage of the Seven Lochs in other ways, perhaps with the re-examination of the Woodend Loch hunter-gatherer site being a good place to start (and I’ll encourage this to happen).

What will children do? They will swing, slide, rock, roll, laugh, cry, live – and learn? Maybe they will, maybe not. That isn’t the point. Prehistory can be used to improve lives without being front and centre, it is enough for it just to be there, it is more than enough for seeds to be planted, watered by the loch that laps over the muddy remains of an old prehistoric house.

The Iron Age can wait, for now.

Sources and acknowledgements: Various websites and images consulted in writing this blog post have been referenced in the post itself, and credit given beneath images for those that are not mine. I have included no links to the website for Jupiter Play as I keep getting a virus warning when I go to it [as of 30th June 2017]. I would also like to thank Dene Wright for sharing his thoughts on the Woodend Loch site.

The excavation reports consulted, quoted from and the source of most of the black and white image are:

James Monteith and John R Robb 1937 The crannog at Lochend, Coatbridge, Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society 9.1, 26-43.

JM Davidson, James Phemister and AD Lacaille 1949 A Stone Age site at Woodend Loch, near Coatbridge, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 83, 77-98.

Both papers are free to download online.

Finally, the Finlay 2014 source is Nyree’s contribution to the series of ‘Essays on the Local History and Archaeology of West Central Scotland’, commissioned for the Regional Framework for Local History and Archaeology, her chapter being on the Mesolithic, and it offers some essential context for Woodend.

 

 

 

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Iron Age v Iron Works

13 Jun

Crannogs are not usually known for making dramatic entrances.

But in the nineteenth century the crannog that once stood in Kilbirnie Loch, North Ayrshire, erupted from the water due to decades of industrial dumping, in a stark illustration of what can happen when prehistory runs into the juggernaut of industrialisation.

The remarkable event that lead to the discovery and investigation of the Kilbirnie Crannog in summer of 1868 was most colourfully captured by Robert Love Esquire a few years after the event.

Love account of the site's eruptionA small stony island had been noted in this location before the slag-eruption. It was known locally as the cairn.

OS 25 inch to mile map

But nothing had prepared local people for what popped out of the water, demanding attention and re-evaluation, nothing less than a prehistoric ejaculation.

Subsequent investigation of this mound spewed forth in the southwestern corner of the loch showed it to be a crannog, an artificial island probably dating back to the Iron Age. The island measured 22 x 24 metres across and was up to 1.25m in height above the water level. It was located 60m or so from the shore of the Loch and was connected to the land by a perilously narrow causeway that dribbled from the loch shore. This may have been a more substantial bridge to the crannog in the Iron Age.

Excavations were undertaken in 1868 soon after discovery. This revealed that the island consisted of several layers (starting with the lowest, earliest phase):

  1. Chunky logs held together with wooden pins and iron nails
  2. Brushwood including branches of hazel, and ferns
  3. Gravel and sand deposit of up to 50cm thickness
  4. A stone ‘pavement’ with evidence for a hearth (a scorched sandstone flagstone)

On top was also the indication of rectangular buildings in the form of postholes and scattered animal bones. Little else was recorded of this excavation, but we can presume that this was one of many such artificial islands with a house on top found in this part of Scotland, and it would have been supported on wooden piles driven into the bottom of the loch.

Soon after, this crannog became completely engulfed by the slag and furnace waste being dumped from the nearby and ever-expanding Glengarnock Ironworks, as shown quite clearly when we compare Ordnance Survey mapping from 1858 and 1911.

OS 1st edn map

OS 2nd edition map

Industrial revolution 2 Prehistory 0

canmore_image_SC00569897 Ironworks

Glengarnock Iron Works in the twentieth century. (c) HES canmore_image_SC00569897

Occasionally, other prehistoric secrets popped out of this muddy loch foreshore, including an amazing and decently preserved wooden log boat as documented by the ubiquitous Ludovic McLellan Mann. He recounted that on Tuesday 22nd April, 1930, a Mr Thomas Miller investigated a wooden stick protruding from the muddy foreshore of the loch and found it to be a canoe made of oak. The photo below shows the industrial waste-land that this boat was found within, the massive slag heaps in the background dominating the local landscape.

Log boat from 1930

And so it came to pass that the crannog had, by the turn of the twentieth century, been engulfed and eradicated by the industrial sludge, a victim of industrial terra-forming where even the loch could not hold back the heavy metal, its southern shore gradually creeping north.

Fast forward to 2017. The ironworks, once the major employer for the towns of Glengarnock and Kilbirnie, was finally closed in 1978 and this void was filled (at least spatially) with Glengarnock Business Park. The Iron Works had gone the way of the Iron Age (overtaken by steel and then the Romans, er maybe not the last bit), to be replaced with business units, car parks, shiny new fences and corporate branding. The location of the crannog was covered with a car park, a road verge and a steel fabrication factory. So it goes.

Canmore location map

Modern map of the Glengarnock Business Park. Crannog location marked with blue circle.          (c) HES, CANMORE, OS and anyone else I have forgotten

I visited Kilbirnie for the first time ever on 5th April 2017. I had been invited by Gavin MacGregor of Northlight Heritage to come along and help lead an urban prehistory walking tour to find the crannog location. This walk was one of a series that Northlight had been leading in partnership with the recently established Garnock Connections Landscape Partnership Scheme.

Garnock connections advert for walks

We gathered in the early afternoon, after I had consumed a massive cake, in a diner in the renovated Radio City cinema, and after introductions, our small group set off on the quest for the crannog. We left the centre of town and passed an old railway platform on the now defunct Caledonian Railway, then followed a pleasant core path away from town towards the ruins of the Glengarnock Ironworks.

It really was a massive cake incidentally. One of those caramel tarts that used to be commonplace in school dining halls when I was a child, shiny with little brown vermicelli things on top, and rich with an interior cream deposit. Note to self: I am not good at describing bakery.

walk low res

We passed the ruins of a slaughterhouse and a cairn of bricks, and then a bin with a skull painted onto it. It felt, as we neared out destination, that we were slipping back in time, deep into prehistory.

walk images

skull on bin low res

Finally, we began to see the footings of buildings in the scrubby vegetation on either side of the path, ruins of the trappings and infrastructure of industry. One of our group worked in the steel works and pointed out where various offices had been located. He told stories of explosions in the night when he was a kid, the outcome of massive amounts of red hot slag being dumped into the much-abused Kilbirnie Loch. He was an old man, but not old enough to remember the crannog.

Our destination was reached, a most unpromising and placeless location, partly a car park, partly a bushy protuberance under the guise of landscaping.

crannog location low res

As a group, we stood in the location where 2,000 years ago we would have been under water, and a timber house would have stood resplendent on the loch. The encroachment of industry onto this body of water had turned this location from one of elite settlement, to corporate blandness, a Ballardian transformation and perhaps the inevitability of capitalism.

Crannog location chat

How many prehistoric sites now lie beneath, or have been found during the construction, of business parks, warehouses and industrial units?

More to the point, what can we do about it? Sure, such discoveries allow us to gain valuable information about the past (unless the site, like this crannog, had already been swallowed up) but can they be made into something more useful than just data sources? Conversation on the walk constantly turned to how we could make more of the heritage (industrial, railway, prehistoric) of Kilbirnie, to engage and educate locals about the deep time in the place they live, and to attract tourists and visitors to a town often bypassed en route to Arran. One of the locals even told me they had a longterm plan to build a crannog reconstruction in the loch, a crazy idea that floored me and inspired me at the same time. I had not thought this big, but why not?

radio city

Warehouse

The heritage of the town is gradually being foregrounded again, whether in the re purposed Radio City building, or in the recently decorated windows of an abandoned and ruinous warehouse building adjacent to the local Tesco in the town centre. These windows, covered in historical images created by local school kids, include medieval objects that have been found in Kilbirnie Loch over the years, giving up some more of its watery secrets under the relentless pressure of heavy industry.

warehouse 2

One day I hope that Kilbirnie residents and visitors will be able to walk the old and ancient paths of this town, following the railway lines that were once the arteries that connected this place to the industrial heart of Scotland. These paths may lead to a spectacular watery eminence, Scotland’s newest crannog, or at least a QR code telling you what was once here.

The best resource this town has though, is not the prehistory, or the industrial heritage, or even the amazing massive caramel tarts. The places and the things can only take us so far, and what energised me most about my visit was not the crannog beneath the steel fabrication car park but the people and their memories of the iron and steel and explosions and junior football teams and mills and slaughterhouses and railway platforms that were once stood upon. The people and their vision for the future, borrowing inspiration from but not stuck in the past.

Sources and acknowledgements: primarily, I would like to thank the local people, and team from Garvock Connections, who accompanied Gavin MacGregor and I on our urban prehistory walk to the crannog. Their enthusiasm and ambition was infectious, and I hope to work with them in the future to re-invigorate Kilbirnie’s Iron Age!

The sources for the discovery and excavation of the crannog are almost certainly repeating the same account, with the original account being that of archaeologist Cochrane-Patrick. All three of these sources can be found in full online with some careful googling:

  • Cochrane-Patrick, R W.1873 Notices of some antiquities recently discovered in North Ayrshire’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 9, 385-6.
  • Love, R.1876 Notices of the several openings of a cairn on Cuffhill; of various antiquities in the barony of Beith; and of a crannog in the Loch of Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 11, 284-8.
  • Mann, L M.1933 Some recent discoveries, Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society New Series 8, 139-42.

The maps were all sourced from Scotland’s National Map Library