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Archaeology Notes

Event ID 861503

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Archaeology Notes


NR46NW 91 4206 6809

NR 4206 6809 (the souterrain) In June 2007, Donald James MacPhee, head gamekeeper on the Dunlossit Estate, reported the discovery of a feature on Islay that turned out to be a souterrain. It had come to light through a shepherd losing a lamb through a hole in the ground. The souterrain was planned and recorded on 11 July and the hole has since been capped.

The hole was about 0.5m across and was on the line of a track made by recent use of a quad-bike and other estate

vehicles. It was immediately obvious that this traffic had caused a lintel stone in the subterranean passage to snap and collapse. It was one of a series of adjacent lintels, supported at each side on upright slabs, forming a passage about 0.85m to 0.95m wide, orientated E-W but curving very gently southwards. The accumulation of earth since its abandonment left only a depth of 0.5m or less beneath its lintels. Many of the slabs and lintels appeared to be Dalradian, metamorphosed limestone from the local bedrock. It did not appear that the souterrain extended very far in a westerly direction from the hole before ending, or being truncated by another roof fall. In an easterly direction it could be seen extending for a distance of over 2m. The edges of the hole also revealed that the lintels were capped by a layer 0.12m to 0.25m thick of reddish brown silt immediately beneath topsoil, perhaps representing an attempt at waterproofing by the souterrain builders. Since the extent of this deposit would give a clue to the length of the souterrain, four small test pits were made through the topsoil to check for its presence, suggesting that the souterrain is only about 6m in length.

The W end of the souterrain is positioned within the entrance of a hut circle, with its E end extending beyond its walls. This house has an overall diameter of about 13.4m, its wall being represented by a low spreading turf-covered bank. It is one of a group of six houses, probably not all of the same date, the others being positioned as follows:

NR 4199 6804 Hut circle, 12.5m in overall diameter.

NR 4214 6820 Sub-rectangular turf and stone structure, 6.9 x 4.4m, with opposed entrances.

NR 4207 6817 Sub-rectangular turf and stone structure, 12.2 x 8.1m.

NR 4209 6818 Hut circle, 11m in overall diameter.

NR 4209 6821 Rectangular structure, 7.7m wide with a length of over 9.4m.

All these houses are positioned towards the end of an escarpment of limestone. On its edge there is an old lead-mine

working, probably a level driven into the side of the slope, surrounded by spoil heaps. At the bottom of the slope, at NR

4211 6826, a stone described as the 'Christening Stone', was pointed out to us. It is a block of pale greenish metabasite with pale phenocrysts, 0.69m by 0.64m with a height of 0.44. In its top surface two cups have been worked, one 0.26m in diameter, the other, part of the rim of which is now missing, 0.36m in diameter. It looked possible that this stone could have been rolled off the top of the escarpment in relatively recent times. It may be identified as a mortar or knocking stone.

In the months before our visit to the site pigs had been kept in the area of these houses. They had trampled the tops of the walls of these structures, exposing five very small sherds of hand-made pottery and a few pieces of slag. A calcined flint scraper was also recovered from the spoil at the mine working. These will be deposited in the Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte.

A full report with plans and photographs will be lodged with WoSAS.

David H Caldwell and Nigel A Ruckley, 2007.

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