Archaeology students from the University of the Highlands and Islands colleges across Scotland gathered this Easter for a residential field trip to the island of Bute.
The island itself has a fine collection of archaeological sites ranging from the Mesolithic to post-medieval and has been the subject of study by both Martin Carruthers and Dr Scott Timpany – the two members of staff who led the excursion.
Jasmijn Sybenga, PhD student at the UHI Archaeology Institute, takes up the story…
The trip started from Orkney College UHI on a rather cold, but clear early Friday morning. We rarely get frost in Orkney, but if we did then it would have been one of those mornings. It was early and it was cold, but everyone was excited and looking forward to the trip.
After a long journey we finally arrived in Bute.
On Saturday we visited sites in the northern part of the Island starting with a long walk through ancient forest Rhubodach where still past management practices were visible in the composition of trees today. After passing the forest, we emerged into open fields where Michael’s Grave Neolithic Cairn was situated. This cairn is severely reduced by robbing and ploughing but is still well displayed in the landscape.
Excavations in 1903 revealed the chamber, which was divided into two equal compartments by a septal stone. The floor of each compartment was covered by a layer of black earth with charcoal also present.
Items from the chamber are now in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) and included an undecorated pottery sherd and a piece of pitchstone. Other sherds, a flint flake, fragments of burnt human bones, a tooth of a pig and ox bones were also found at the same time and place, but are now lost.
At this point we had a discussion about the past landscape and the palaeonvironmental study that has been carried out at Red Loch area close to this site. We continued our walk up a hill where large stones containing cup marks were scattered around the Glenvoidean Chambered Cairn. This cairn is well situated in the landscape and must have been visible from afar.
We followed the path back through the forest where we went up a hill once more to visit the Cairnbaan chambered long cairn. In the afternoon we met Paul Duffy who is the director of Brandanii Archaeology and Heritage in Bute. Together we walked part of the old tramline that was opened in 1882 to transfer tourists from Rothesay to Port Bannatyne.
This tramline passed the site of Cnoc an Rath. It remains unknown what this ring and ditch earthwork was used for but recent suggestions include that it was part of a Viking site.
On our return to Rothesay (where we were staying in a hostel) we visited Rothesay Castle.
The castle itself was first mentioned in 1230, when it withstood a siege by Norsemen. The building is one of the best-preserved castles in Scotland. Archaeological excavations were undertaken during 2002. A watching brief was carried out during the excavation of a new trench in connection with construction work on the new shop site down to the moat.
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