Issue: Early land-use and landscape development in Arisaig

Publication Type
Abstract Re-alignment of a 6km section of the A830 road in Arisaig provided an opportunity to investigate the archaeology of this poorly understood area of the West Highlands. A combination of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental techniques were used to investigate the road corridor. Archaeological survey, followed up by selected excavations, identified a previously unrecorded Bronze Age kerb cairn and two areas of shieling huts. Investigation of the shielings obtained evidence for repeated reuse of sites and reconstruction of structures through the medieval and post-medieval periods. In both cases, Bronze Age deposits were also recorded at the base of the medieval sequence. Analysis of a long peat core from a basin close to one of the shielings revealed a history of continuous but gradual decline in woodland, starting in about 3200 BC and continuing to the present day. Collation of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data from the present project and previous investigations in the area have allowed the creation of a tentative model of landscape evolution for Arisaig.
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Author Stephen P Carter
Magnar Dalland
Deborah Long
Editor Debra Barrie
Publisher Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Other Person/Org Caroline R Wickham-Jones (Author contributing)
Year of Publication 2005
Volume 15
ISBN 0-903903-84-9
Source DigitalBorn
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Abstract
Stephen P Carter
Magnar Dalland
Deborah Long
0
Re-alignment of a 6km section of the A830 road in Arisaig provided an opportunity to investigate the archaeology of this poorly understood area of the West Highlands. A combination of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental techniques were used to investigate the road corridor. Archaeological survey, followed up by selected excavations, identified a previously unrecorded Bronze Age kerb cairn and two areas of shieling huts. Investigation of the shielings obtained evidence for repeated reuse of sites and reconstruction of structures through the medieval and post-medieval periods. In both cases, Bronze Age deposits were also recorded at the base of the medieval sequence. Analysis of a long peat core from a basin close to one of the shielings revealed a history of continuous but gradual decline in woodland, starting in about 3200 BC and continuing to the present day. Collation of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data from the present project and previous investigations in the area have allowed the creation of a tentative model of landscape evolution for Arisaig.
1
Re-alignment of a 6km section of the A830 road in Arisaig provided an opportunity to investigate the archaeology of this poorly understood area of the West Highlands. A combination of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental techniques were used to investigate the road corridor. Archaeological survey, followed up by selected excavations, identified a previously unrecorded Bronze Age kerb cairn and two areas of shieling huts. Investigation of the shielings obtained evidence for repeated reuse of sites and reconstruction of structures through the medieval and post-medieval periods. In both cases, Bronze Age deposits were also recorded at the base of the medieval sequence. Analysis of a long peat core from a basin close to one of the shielings revealed a history of continuous but gradual decline in woodland, starting in about 3200 BC and continuing to the present day. Collation of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data from the present project and previous investigations in the area have allowed the creation of a tentative model of landscape evolution for Arisaig.
2
A brief description of the study area is provided along with the circumstances of the work. The name Arisaig is used to refer to coastal land between Loch nan Uamh (Borrodale) in the south and the River Morar in the north.
3 - 4
With the notable exception of a crannog along with flint and quartz tools, our knowledge of the archaeology is unsubstantial. Known sites are concentrated in the vicinity of the present village, there is only one site pre-dating the Bronze Age and the medieval period is represented solely by the late medieval church at Kilmory.
5
The modest nature of the archaeological record for Arisaig inevitably raises the question of whether this reflects a genuine scarcity of simply a problem of visibility. The clustering of recorded archaeological sites correlates with what is currently the better archaeological land so it seems reasonable to propose that there is a real focus of past settlement around the current village of Arisaig. Moving out from this core area into what is currently bog or very rocky grazing land it is reasonable to propose that the absence of archaeological sites is real.
6 - 7
The position of the new road line provided an opportunity to test the idea of a core settlement area in Arisaig surrounded by less-favoured land. The road line starts within the proposed core at its south end and then runs northwards out into an apparently 'bank' area where the archaeological potential might be predicted to be low.
8 - 24
Seven of the sites identified during the survey were selected for further evaluation as they were either of potentially early date (pre-19th century) or might conceal earlier features. Three of these sites were then subject to more substantial excavation on the basis of the evaluation results. The sites are described one by one and include shieling huts and circular stone features (sites 3-6), shieling huts and cultivation rigs (site 8), a rectangular turf structure (site 10), a township (site 15), a rectangular building (site 26) and a kerb cairn (site 41). Radiocarbon dates and lithics are also reported on.
25 - 26
The archaeological programme was supported by palaeoenvironmental studies. A deep peat basin was identified during the initial archaeological survey of the roadline at Allt Dail an Dubh-asaidh. A peat core was extracted from this site and analysed to provide a high-resolution record (both spatial and temporal) of the vegetation of that area. These results provide detailed data on only one part of the Arisaig landscape. Fortunately, there are pollen diagrams from four other locations in or very close to Arisaig that can be used to assess variations in landscape history across this area.
27 - 30
In the introduction it was suggested that the existing archaeological record for Arisaig supports the identification of a core area of permanent settlement from as early as the Bronze Age, surrounded by peripheral areas of less-intensively exploited land. The data collected in the course of the A830 investigations support this model, with relevant evidence coming both from site-specific archaeological studies and the landscape-scale palaeo-environmental study. The evolution of the Arisaig landscape is described chronologically from the early prehistoric period through to the recent past.
32 - 44
Analysis of the pollen core at a resolution of approximately 50 years has illustrated a full Holocene sequence from open water prior to 8900 BP. From 4500 BP, the sequence is interpreted as reflecting extensive grazing impacts, which particularly from about 2500 years BP, maintained a regionally open vegetation, with ruderal herbs and a continuing but gradual decline in woodland. This is proposed as an extensive, yet continuous, model of human use of the west coast of Scotland from late Neolithic times to the present day.
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