The Arran Archaeology Project
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.
Neolithic Round House
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.
Brodick Primary Site Visit to Brodick Castle
During our visit to Brodick Castle we gathered evidence about the castle’s history from the building, from objects we examined and from information passed on by experts.We took part in a dig, discovered remnants of ancient buildings and learned how the castle has changed over the centuries.
We worked with experts – archaeologists, historians, rangers and artists, learning the skills of archaeology – examining the evidence through observation, recording and documenting our findings.
We took part in an archaeological dig with some surprising results!
Shiskine Primary School Site Visit to Machrie Moor
We had a wet and chilly fieldtrip to visit the standing stones, burial mounds and hut circles of the Machrie Moor area, in the company of an island-based archaeologist and a National Trust For Scotland Countryside Ranger, where, despite the weather, we learned a lot about our Neolithic ancestors. We gathered information, took measurements and examined artefacts to help us build a picture of the landscape from 5000 years ago.
Back in the classroom
The groups then followed these visits up with a series of arts workshops, which provided opportunities to delve deeper into the life and times of people from our past.
Brodick Primary School
Our investigations on our site visit helped us in our school sessions where we explored the life and times of Brodick Castle, imagining what it would have been like to live and work there in days gone by.
In the 1300s the castle used to be a garrison for soldiers. We acted out short scenes showing the soldiers on guard duty, under attack and after a fight with the enemy. We used mime and movement skills to show actions and express feelings. We thought how sometimes being a soldier would be exciting but sometimes it would be boring and you might be cold and hungry.
During the 19th century Brodick Castle began to change into the building we know today. As a country house the castle would have had a staff of servants. We used photos and documents to find out about the life of Victorian servants. In our drama we built up servant characters and acted out “A Day In The Life” to show what being a servant would have been like.
We also looked at the construction of the castle and how it changed over 800 years. In particular we investigated the materials used – where they came from and how they were used.
These photomontage designs are a record of what we discovered and demonstrate the new digital skills we learned in presenting ideas and information.
In our art workshops we looked at the period of the Cromwell occupation. We made an image of the castle during that time using painting and collaging techniques. We looked at the dress and weapons of both the English and Scottish soldiers. We examined the patterns on seventeenth century defence shields called targes and made our own using paper and paint. Lastly we looked at heraldry and the meaning of the symbols used and using some of these symbols created our own coat of arms.
Shiskine Primary School
Our visit to the Machrie Standing Stones and Hut Circles gave us lots of questions about the landscape of the moor and the people who lived there 4 -5000 years ago.
In our school sessions we used what facts we had and our imaginations to help us explore their lives.
We created drama improvisations about everyday tasks like collecting firewood, fishing, gathering berries and hunting. We wondered what the Standing Stones were used for. We thought they might have been used at special times in the year like midsummer, and we made up ceremonies and dances that could have been performed to mark these times.
We explored Neolithic Culture through different digital media in the classroom. By combining photographs from the fieldtrip and other photographs of artefacts that were lent to us by Arran Heritage Museum, we created images in various ways to imagine the past.
In our art workshops we looked at some actual Bronze Age artefacts, like flint arrowheads, and we made some closely observed drawings of these trying to record as many aspects of the artefacts as possible. Secondly we made coil pots based on Bronze Age design and manufacturing processes. Finally we looked at Neolithic and Bronze Age rock carvings, we imagined important events and recorded them drawing with earth pigments on paper, using pigments that were available to Bronze Age man
Arts Outreach Group
We explored both inside and outside Brodick Castle, looking at how the building has changed over time and imagined what it was like to live there in the past.
We created a guided tour of the Castle and its gardens with different members of the group devising, acting, filming and editing. Our short film explores historical features in the Castle building, reveals characters from the past, such as the Duchess, her maid and butler and discovers something of the activities that may once have taken place there.
In our art sessions we used a variety of techniques and materials. We designed and made hats inspired by images of medieval hat styles. We used collage and mixed media to make medieval jewellery and, after looking at the paintings in the castle, we made pastel drawings of the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton.
The Sharing Day
At the end of the arts workshops we held a Sharing Day where the participants, their teachers, friends and families came together to find out what everyone had learned and to see all the work created.
Some comments from project participants:
“History is important because it is good to find out about people who live in the past and compare it with our lives today.”
“I enjoyed making the pottery and jewellery.”
“In the past they had animal skin for furry clothes.”
“I enjoyed ICT because it was fun and I found out how to do a picture.”
“Bronze Age children didn’t go to school.”
“I enjoyed Drama when we made our own story.”
The Arran Archaeology Project is co-ordinated by Sarah Cook, Josephine Broekhuizen and Ed O’Donnelly of the Arran Arts Resource and administered by Ian Watt of the Arran Theatre and Arts Trust.
The Neolithic Roundhouse
Running concurrently with the arts project the NTS Rangers are making preparations for the construction of a replica Neolithic roundhouse within Brodick Castle grounds. Using resources available locally where possible, the building process will be opened up to interested members of the public, giving people of all ages a chance to get involved in an exciting experimental archaeology project and to learn new skills.
Arran Archaeology 2012
We look forward to working with other school and community groups in the second phase of the project when we will be unearthing more of Arran’s diverse and fascinating archaeological secrets!
We gratefully acknowledge the support of our funders.