Back in the summer, in July, work began on Clachtoll Broch. The plan was to stabilise the broch as much as possible and clear the rubble that had been created during what was considered to be a catastrophic event not long after the broch was built and which had resulted in the inward collapse of some of the stone walls. The work was carried out by AOC Archaeology, and they had a mere 3 months to complete their investigations. We visited the broch often during the 3 months, and at the start of the work you can see that the archaeologists are standing on top of the rubble in the centre of the broch:
At times it must have felt like this was more a rock moving exercise rather than an archaeological dig. Much of the day was spent in a human chain simply moving rubble.
Working so close to the sea has its ups and downs, but their enthusiasm for the project never wavered, and all those working on the site were always happy to have us visit to see how the work was progressing, and happy to spend time explaining the developments and items they had found. Soon you could see changes in the look of the broch – the side walls began to appear and the “floor” began to move downards.:
An important part of the project was public engagement, and part of that engagement included “Finds” workshops where anything found in the broch was studied and cataloged. This was the aspect I was most intrigued by. Of course the actual broch construction was interesting, but I was fascinated by the idea that any objects found in the broch had not been seen or touched by anyone for thousands of years. Fortunately the archaeologists always thought that the catastrophe that occurred was most likely a fire, and the feeling was that it was unlikely that they would find human remains in the broch. They also thought that the collapse happened not too long after the broch was built, so they were uncertain as to how much they would find buried. As it transpired, they found quite a lot. And items of such delicacy, it was amazing they’d survived the weight of the rubble bearing down on them all those centuries.
The standard narrative is often that of “the iron age was a time of savages”, but the finds defy this thinking.
A beautiful copper pin, carefully created to hold a shawl in place perhaps? The copper shows that trade was happening with people outwith the immediate area as there is no copper here, perhaps even from as far away as Wales:
A decorative comb made out of antler or whale bone – it has yet to be examined in detail. Someone made the suggestion that instead of a hair comb this may be a comb used for weaving? You can see a hole in it, perhaps used to hang it up in a safe place.:
There was some pottery found, some of which was decorated and some of which was plain, which would indicate influence from both the western isles, where typically pottery of this period was decorated, and from the east coast where typically pottery was very plain. Here is a small container:
This is thought to have perhaps been a lamp of some kind:
I was interested by the number of spindle whorls found inside the broch. It is hard to imagine why so many would have been needed. They were in a range of sizes, and I thought a few were very small to be spindle whorls. One of the items that has been left in situ is this beautifully coloured stone vessel, perhaps used for grinding? What struck me about this vessel is that it is a completely different stone to the walls. Less porous perhaps? My glove is there to give you an idea of scale:
After 3 months of visiting the broch once a week or so and watching the incredible work being done by the archaeologists and volunteers, it was over! The safety fencing was packed away. The sheds were deconstructed and taken off site, and all the workers disappeared. But what they have left the community is an astonishing feature showing detail of the building that has not been seen in centuries. Here’s a short video I took yesterday showing how the broch looks now. Stevan is just over 6ft tall, so you can see the sheer scale of the work involved in removing the amount of rubble they did to expose that wall behind him which is now more than double his height. You can also see a beautiful staircase which was exposed. My apologies for the poor quality – it was just filmed on my little point and shoot camera:
If you’re ever in Assynt I urge you to visit the broch. Besides the interest of the building itself, the situation of the broch is stunning. One does wonder why they built it so close to the sea, but of course the coastline could have been different at the time it was built.