excavation, conservation, presentation
Since 2017, AOC has been working closely with Historic Assynt, a community heritage group based in the Highlands of Scotland, to excavate, conserve and present one of the most spectacular Iron Age settlements on the Scottish mainland.
Clachtoll broch is located on a precipitous rock outcrop facing the Minch between the Outer Hebrides and the mainland, where it is exposed to the full force of Atlantic storms. This constant erosion of the stonework probably caused the broch tower to collapse in antiquity, but was also continuing to destabilise the surviving monument in the present day. It was feared that, unless the broch was fully recorded, and the surviving walls stabilised, the site would suffer a major structural failure and be lost to the sea.
This was not a simple undertaking, however. In order to install a concrete plinth, dowelled into the bedrock beneath the broch wall, much of the south wall including the stair gallery had to be dismantled. The broch was recorded stone by stone using laser scanning and photogrammetry, allowing the project stonemasons to reinstate the wall after stabilisation in as close to the original configuration as possible.
During the consolidation works on the broch wall, a full excavation of the interior of the broch was also carried out. This revealed a remarkably well-preserved sequence of floors and superimposed hearths, associated with a wide range of artefacts including querns, spindle whorls, carved steatite lamps, iron tools and weapons, copper alloy pins and a large number of pottery sherds. In one of the guard cells, semi-waterlogged conditions meant that wooden fragments survived, as well as the remains of woven plant material, forming cord or string. Bone was also well preserved, and implements were also made from antler and whale bone. You can read more about the atefacts here.
The end of occupation at Clachtoll seems to have been marked by a major fire, meaning much of the interior was burned in situ. The building was probably abandoned in a hurry, meaning that the contents excavated are probably closely representative of the objects in use when the fire occurred. Radiocarbon dating suggests this was in the first century BC, or early first century AD.
The Clachtoll project is a collaborative initiative forming part of the Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape Partnership, and involves a large number of public outreach activities, including training in archaeological excavation and finds processing, guided tours and walks, lectures, reconstruction activities and a schools participation programme.
By 2020, the fully consolidated broch will be fully presented to the public with associated interpretation on and off site. A viewing platform is currently being designed by CameronWebster Architects, and will allow visitors to view the broch safely from wall-head height.
Work at Clachtoll Broch is supported by Historic Environment Scotland. It was carried out as part of Coigach Assynt Living Landscape, which is suported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Further project sponsors include the Pilgrim Trust and SSE.
Find out more on the Clachtoll Project Website.