The aim of this project was to raise awareness of Arran’s cultural history focusing on six archaeological sites located at different parts of the island and covering historical periods from Neolithic to the late 19th century. Arran has evidence of permanent human settlement dating back 5000 years.
We wanted to increase the knowledge of these sites amongst the Arran community, in particular the young people in the local primary schools. We aimed to engage their interest through a series of site visits where they could learn through firsthand experience and expert guidance, these visits to be followed by a series of school-based art workshops allowing them to explore the history and culture of the site through art, drama and digital media activities. As a part of the process our aim was for the participants to create materials interpreting the archaeological sites for their peers. Our final aim was to build a replica Bronze Age roundhouse using traditional skills and materials where possible.
Six local primary schools and an Adult Outreach group took part. They conducted research and produced informative and creative work relating to an archaeological site, a functioning building (such as Brodick Castle) and a specific historical period in the island’s history. The fieldwork and investigations created new materials on sites which were shared with other participating schools and example are available to the general public through this webpage and at the Arran Heritage Museum. The process of producing these materials helped the children gain a deeper understanding of Arran’s cultural history. They also serve to enlighten and inform more generally as they will have widespread appeal to other young people, locals and visitors to Arran.
The practical activities carried out on site such as gathering natural materials to make rope, observing the landscape, measuring, sketching, cooking on an open fire all helped to build a picture of how people lived in the past. The hands-on nature of these experiences helped the participants understand how people lived in times when environmental conditions varied with the present day. They discovered aspects that were familiar such as making bread and other ways of living very different from lives in Scotland today – people living as hunter-gatherers or crofters. They learned about rituals and day to day survival.
The historical timeline was often challenging to the younger members of combined classes where evidence was limited to a small number of artefacts. The natural environment however, helped provided tangible evidence in understanding the lives of people from both the distant past and more recent times such as the community farming settlement of Glen Sannox. With guidance from the rangers and other experts the children developed their observation skills to see the landscape through the eyes of the settlement dwellers. They learned to identify plants which were important for food, medicine, fibres and dye; to locate sources of water and firewood and to appreciate the value of woodlands in providing shelter, timber, fuel and habitats for animals. They gained an understanding of the seasonal availability of edible plants, fruits, fish, shellfish, eggs and meat. Vital methods for storing food were also considered such as, salting, drying, kippering and brewing as well as grain and vegetable storage.
The project was managed by the Trust in partnership with the National Trust Countryside Rangers at Brodick Castle. Together we planned each stage of the project and held regular team meetings to ensure that everyone was kept informed and could contribute to the decision making process. The rangers oversaw the construction of the replica roundhouse, engaging suitable traditionally skilled workers and recruiting volunteers. Once the artists were appointed they joined in the planning and preparing prior to the site visits and school sessions. We also sought out expert guidance from the Arran Heritage Museum, the NTS archaeologist and another Arran archaeologist and Brodick Castle’s education officer.
The latest information & pictures on the neolithic round house can be seen at http://www.facebook.com/ArranRangerService
Replica roundhouse is taking shape at Brodick Country Park
Volunteers from Arran and the mainland came together for a week in August to help with the erection of a replica Bronze Age roundhouse at Brodick Country Park. Within just six days, the incredible dedication and hard graft of the volunteers and contractor Chas Heath of Arbor-Antics achieved an incredible amount of work. At the beginning of the week, there were just two rings of posts propped up in their holes, where you can now admire the wooden skeleton of a roundhouse.
The roundhouse build on Wilma’s Walk is part of the Arran Archaeology Project, a two-year joint venture between Arran Arts Resource and the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) Ranger Service. The project gives local school children the opportunity to explore some of the island’s numerous archaeological sites. To create a lasting legacy of the project, the rangers decided to construct a replica Bronze Age dwelling. This has provided an opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to become involved in hands-on experimental archaeology.
The replica dwelling is designed to be as authentic as possible whilst complying with modern building regulations. It is based on an Early Bronze Age hut circle excavated at Torr Righ on the west coast of Arran. Construction details not evident from the Torr Righ site were finalised with the craftsmen contracted to oversee the build, in consultation with the NTS’s Head of Archaeological Services and a structural engineer.
The structure consists of two rings of timber posts, each of which is joined together by lintels. Wooden rafters were pegged and tied onto the lintels to form a conical roof. Lastly, rings of hazel rods were lashed onto the rafters as purlins, which will form the base for the thatch. Most timbers were gathered locally by the ranger team and volunteers during the winter months. All the rafters are made from alder poles harvested when the site was cleared. Much of the wood for posts and lintels came from windblown trees donated by the local Forestry Commission. The bulk of the building materials were prepared for construction by local Country Park volunteers and an NTS Thistle Camp working holiday group earlier this year. This was a great help when it came to finally putting the roundhouse up in August – we just had to put it all together, almost like a flat pack roundhouse kit!
The next step in the construction process is the thatching of the roof with reeds. A master thatcher has been employed to teach this traditional but dying skill to a group of NTS Thistle Campers, on Arran for a working holiday in mid-September. Once the thatch is installed, most of the wooden structure will be hidden, so it is worth having a look at it before it disappears underneath the reeds. Finally, the wattle panels forming the walls will be clad in daub, which in turn will be surrounded by an earth and stone mound as suggested by archaeological evidence.
The completed roundhouse will be used for educational purposes by the Country Park rangers. To provide a unique insight into life in the Early Bronze Age, it will be furnished with replica Bronze Age items.
Brodick Country Park ranger Corinna Goeckeritz would like to thank all the volunteers that have helped to erect this amazing structure. Also due a big “thank you” is Ian Watt, treasurer of the Arran Theatre & Arts Trust, for dealing with the funding applications and grant administration for the project. Corinna said: “Building the roundhouse has been an eye-opener as to what an enormous effort it must have been back in the Bronze Age. We have been using modern tools, including diggers and chainsaws, and still it has been quite an undertaking! It must have been a real community effort, and would have taken a lot of time and planning to gather all the necessary materials.”
The Arran Archaeology Project is funded by the Arran Theatre and Arts Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Argyll & the Islands LEADER programme and the National Trust for Scotland.