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Dig at Morlaggan, ArrocharDIG MORLAGGAN


The excavation phase of the Dig Morlaggan project finished late November 2009 and although there are still lots to do in terms of getting reports written and finds washed and analysed, here is an update of the progress so far.


A report on the 2-week dig wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the fact that it has been one of the wettest Novembers on record – not ideal – but despite that, we still managed to accomplish an enormous amount, with a lot of help from all the volunteers – we had an incredible 110 people, aged from about 7 to 70, visit the site during the excavation, about 100 of whom actually dug! These included children from the local primary school and from 2 Young Archaeologist Groups, some young people with learning disabilities, as well as lots of interested adults. A very special thanks, too, to the National Park volunteers who cleared all the bracken from the site Muddy feet at the Dig at Morlaggan, Arrocharbefore the dig even started.


The dig was lead by professional archaeologists – Roddy Regan, Clare Ellis and Sharon Webb – from Kilmartin House Museum, who managed to remain cheerful despite the frustrations of trenches full of water, tents blown away in the wind, temperamental electronic equipment, difficulties of drawing plans on boards covered in water etc., etc…..


Dig at Morlaggan, Arrochar  Dog at Morlaggan, Arrochar  Dig at Morlaggan, Arrochar


Plan of buildings found at Morlaggan, Arrochar


Sometimes it’s easy to get so absorbed in your own trench, that you lose track of the bigger picture, so here’s a copy of the plan of the settlement we drew before the excavation started. Most people were digging in Structure 2, and some in Structure 3. To put it in context, the ‘yurt’ was beside Structure 5.


The aims were to find out a bit more about the layout and ages of the main buildings, and to see if we could find any evidence of older buildings on the site. We need to wait for the archaeologists’ report and dating evidence from the huge quantity of finds, but we can make a few very tentative conclusions…




Structure 2

Structure 2: This was originally divided into 2 sections. The smaller ‘half’ where the people lived has evidence of a flagstone floor and possible hearth - these buildings didn’t have chimneys built into the walls, so probably used ‘hanging lums’. The larger ‘half’ that was probably used to keep animals in looks like it was used to dump rubbish in when it went out of use – hence the enormous amount of pottery etc. that came out of there! A small, deeper trench (called a ‘sondage’) revealed the presence of a hard floor surface below the one that we excavated down to, which may be the original floor of the byre. There might be another entrance into the byre at the bottom right (in the plan). The small structure in the corner of the ‘human’ half was probably built after the people no longer lived there, and would have been used to house animals (probably sheep).


Structure 3Structure 3: It looks like this went out of use before Structure 2. It was originally part of a longer building, similar to Structure 2, but all the large stones that made up the end wall have been removed, probably to build other things, leaving just the small ‘hart’ stones behind as a pile of rubble. A new end wall was then built to make Structure 2 into a smaller building. A hole in the ‘new’ wall might have been a drain, suggesting that this building was used to keep animals in. Part of the rubble from this building revealed a broken rotary quern – possibly from as early as the 16th century. Like Structure 3, a corner of this building was walled off at a later date to keep sheep in.


TThe Main Streethe ‘main street’: A beautiful cobbled path was uncovered between Structures 2 and 3, just to prove that the people who lived there didn’t squelch about in the mud like the team did!


The team investigated the slightly odd-looking curve in the wall between Structures 3 and 5, and although it still isn't clear whether it is this shape for a particular reason, one of the primary school children assisting with the dig found the remains of a beautiful iron cooking pot or cauldron.


It’s likely that most of the pottery and other finds date to the 1800's, but there may also be earlier Artefacts found at the Dig at Morlaggan, Arrocharitems – the cooking pot could potentially be from the 1600's. We’ll need to wait for experts to look at it all. This fits with the idea that the buildings went out of use around the late 1800's, early 1900's, so the items found in these top layers were related to the last people living there. The actual buildings are hard to precisely date, as the style didn’t change much over the years, so dating evidence really has to come from the finds. However, the buildings could date from the late 1700's, early 1800's.

We know that there were people around Morlaggan in the 1500's, so where did they live?? The archaeologists have identified a couple of possible sites of earlier buildings, based on the shapes of walls and the flat areas of ground.


The digging has finished, the trenches have been covered over and consolidated, and once the finds are washed and sorted they will be sent away to experts who should be able to give us a better idea of what periods they date to.

Just to whet your appetite, these are some of the things that were found by volunteers:

Clay pipe  Rotary Quern Stone  Pedestal Pot

1                                               2                                                  3

1   Clay pipe with oak-leaf decoration

2   Part of a rotary quern stone, showing socket for handle

3   ‘Pedestal pot’, for holding eye ointment

Once more information is available, there will be a public exhibition in the new Community Village Hall in Arrochar giving more background to the site, as well as updates on what it all means, and a display of some of the finds. The archaeologists will also give a talk about the site and the dig, with the opportunity for people to ask any questions they may have.

The archaeologists and the volunteers are encouraging us to apply for more funding so that the dig can continue for a second season – in drier weather. We have been advised that there are still many more secrets to unearth…. so watch this space!

There are also ‘souvenir’ keyrings/pendants and postcards to give to volunteers, as well as questionnaires to fill in to give us a bit of feedback about how volunteers felt about the dig.

Dig Morlaggan, Arrochar Flyer

Dig Morlaggan, Arrochar Flyer