A Cannonball, a Sheepskin and a Loch Village

From a cannonball found lodged in the wall of a castle, to a Bronze Age body wrapped in a sheepskin – it’s been a thrilling week in the field of archaeology. Here’s the lowdown on the latest uncovered artifacts found in Scotland:

The Mingary Castle cannonball

The Mingary Castle cannonball

What – Cannonball
Era – Most likely 1644
Found – Wedged in the wall of Mingary Castle, Lochaber, West Highlands.

Fired almost 350 years ago, this cannonball was found during restoration work currently taking place at Mingary Castle. The cannonball was found sitting in an 18 inch hole in one of the castle’s sea facing walls, embedded a foot into the wall. A ship was lost in the attack on the castle during tensions between clans and Covenanters.


The remains of the ship were discovered in 1999 and relate to the siege of Mingary Castle by by Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll, the castle’s former owner, recorded in a diary written by John Weir in 1644. Weir was a Puritan imprisoned in Mingary Castle by Major-General Alasdair MacDonald.

Originally built for the Clan MacDonald of Ardnamurchan (also known as MacIain of Ardnamurchan), the castle has had many different occupants over the years including Clan MacDonald of Lochalsh, Clan Campbell, Clan MacLean and King James IV of Scotland who used it as a stronghold for fighting off Clan Donald in the late 15th century.


Archaeologists at the burial excavation site in Sutherland

Archaeologists at the burial excavation site in Sutherland

What – Burial cist with sheepskin and human remains
Era – Bronze Age
Found – A back garden near the village of Spinningdale, Sutherland, North Highlands.

Discovered by accident when a septic tank was being installed in a back garden, the sheepskin and human remains are said to be at least 4000 years old. The sheepskin was found wrapped around the left arm bone of the skeleton of the middle aged female whose crouched body was contained within the burial cist.
It is believed to be the first known example of sheepskin from the Bronze Age found in Britain.

A spokesman for the archaeology company said: “A radiocarbon date of 2051-1911 BC and 2151-2018 BC was obtained from bone and charcoal fragments, placing the cist in the early Bronze Age period. The radiocarbon dating of the cist corresponds with the date of the food vessel urn buried with the body. The vessel contained carbonised material of non-botanical origin, unidentified cremated bone and a fragment of a small ring. These were probably placed there to assist the individual’s journey into the next world and indicate belief in the afterlife, which appears to have been a concept only adopted in Scotland.”

“The preservation of organic material, such as sheepskin or wool, also supports the view of a elaborate burial rites being carried out in the vicinity of the Dornoch Firth during the early Bronze Age.”


The loch village revealed

The loch village revealed

What – Loch Village
Era – Iron Age
Found – Wigtownshire, Dumfries and Galloway

Experts are calling this remarkable find ‘Scotland’s Glastonbury’, in reference to Somerset’s famous lake village after discovering the first loch village in Scotland. What originally began as a small scale excavation of a crannog (a singular loch dwelling) turned into a fully fledged dig when archaeologists found evidence of multiple structures on the site. The site is one of 55 archaeology projects to receive more than £1m in funding from Historic Scotland for 2013/14.

What initially appeared to be one of a small group of mounds before excavation was revealed to be a massive stone hearth complex at the centre of a roundhouse. The timber structure of the house has been preserved, with beams radiating out from the hearth forming the foundation, while the outer wall consists of a double-circuit of stakes. The most surprising discovery was that the house was not built on top of an artificial foundation, but directly over the fen peat which had gradually filled in the loch.

Graeme Cavers, of AOC Archaeology, who is the co-director of the site, said that because the land was abandoned after the Iron Age, the buildings were well preserved.

“Waterlogged wood also offers the opportunity to date the structure very accurately using dendrochronology – or tree-ring counting – to give a date accurate to within a few years or even months, rather than the decades or centuries usually provided by radiocarbon dating,” he added.


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