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Islay, Kilellan

Settlement(S) (Period Unassigned), Beaker, Food Vessel

Site Name Islay, Kilellan

Classification Settlement(S) (Period Unassigned), Beaker, Food Vessel

Alternative Name(s) Kilellan Farm

Canmore ID 37496

Site Number NR27SE 3

NGR NR 2863 7213

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilchoman
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR27SE 3 2863 7213

(NR 2863 7213) Evidence of occupation from the Mesolithic to the Iron Ages comes from a bunker site, 80m from the shore at Kilellan Farm, on which periodic excavations have taken place between 1954 and 1976.

The Mesolithic occupation (areas E 1 and 2 on plan) appears to focus on a shallow basin which lies NE of and below, a bluff. On the seaward, N and E, the area is bounded by a low curved bank of sand, hard and compact whose plan and profile suggest it may have been adapted by the Mesolithic settlers to screen their site. Post holes, at least some of which belong to this period occur in its top and margins. The flint-work includes microliths and scrapers as well as knapping debris, and similar material has come from the top of the bluff on the SW.

The evidence of a Neolithic presence is comparatively slight consisting of only one or two flints and sherds from the peaty mud surface of a low bank which runs N-S below the bunker on the E (area C1 on plan), but pottery from the Early Bronze Age settlement includes round-based bowls which may be Neolithic. The Early Bronze Age settlement utilised only the N part of the previously occupied 'basin' behind the curve of the natural bank. The first structure on the site was a well cut, slab covered drain which was over-laid by enigmatic stone structures

with which no obvious floor or occupation deposit was directly associated, though a heap of winkle-shells, which spread up and over the bank on the N was contemporary. These structures were covered by a productive Early Bronze Age midden which presumably emanted from a so-far stll unidentified nearby settlement Pottery includes sherds of beakers, food vessels, enlarged food vessels, encrusted urns and pygmy cups; and flints include arrowheads, barbed and tanged and leaf-shaped, knives scrapers and 'winkle-pickers'. A double palisade trench was dug into the accumulation; its curve suggesting a small enclosure, and a possible house floor was exposed on what is now the midden surface. On the flat bluff a few yards above the Bronze Age midden a major early historic settlement was located. Successive circular stone buildings had been dismantled to make way for a well-preserved souterrain, which was itself overlaid by successive occupations.

Thirty yards to the N was an extensive metal working site, a complex system of furnaces, claylined boxes and pits, for which associated finds suggest a prehistoric date. Two long mounds, nearly 2m high and 20m long, running N-S lie on the edge of the machair immediately above the shore (see plan). That to the NE of the bunker appears to have a ditch round it. The other (D1 on plan) is mentioned in local tradition as a ship burial, but excavation by Burgess in 1973 proved it to be a natural mound of sand with no sign of structure.

C Burgess 1976.

The excavations have been back-filled, and there is no trace of settlement apart from a few scattered stone and shells on the floor of a bunker. The finds from the site are with the excavators, but they are to be donated to Islay Museum.

Excavations undertaken between 1954 and 1976 in an area of coastal dunes and sand-bunkers about 125m N of Kilellan farmhouse provide evidence of intermittent settlement ranging from Mesolithic times to the Early Medieval

period.' The site lies 80m W of the shore of Loch Gruinart, on the edge of the so-called 25 ft. raised beach, with extensive machair on the landward side and an abundant freshwater-supply available from nearby springs and streams. The following description is based on a published summary account of the earlier excavations, supplemented by

additional information provided by the most recent excavators. (Burgess 1976)

Mesolithic activity on the site is represented by characteristic flint-work having a distinctive milky-white

patination and found within an acidic silver-sand horizon overlying the natural deposits. In addition to the debris of

flint-working, a range of implements was recovered, including microliths and scrapers.

The sand horizon was directly overlaid by an old turf line, in which the presence of diagnostic Early Bronze Age

artefacts (including a barbed-and-tanged arrowhead) implied that the top of the Mesolithic deposit had been

truncated and that any Neolithic levels had been removed. Above this turf line a complex midden-deposit accumulated.

Stratified within it there were a number of structures, the earliest of which were two concentric arcs of palisade trench.

Subsequently much of the inner arc of the palisade was dug away, and along its course a slab-covered feature was

constructed, together with a series of complex but enigmatic stone structures, including circular and oval settings up to

1.5m across. In the upper part of the midden there was a circular platform, which had been cut into the slope to a

depth of c.O-3m; part of a clay floor survived, and around the rear of the platform there was an arc of post- and stake-holes. The horizontal and vertical distribution of sherds from individual pots suggests that the whole deposit accumulated over a relatively short period of time.

These structures and midden-deposits yielded a large and varied range of Early Bronze Age vessels. A dominant

element consisted of what have come to be termed 'Kilellan Jars': these are shouldered vessels with simple rounded rims, some of them round-based; the decorated examples carry ornament executed by impressed techniques, false relief,

incision and scoring. Another major element comprised Food Vessels and Enlarged Food Vessels, mostly of vase

form, the predominant decoration being incised herringbone but including some false relief. Larger relief-decorated

vessels would elsewhere be classed as Encrusted Urns. Beaker pottery was also present along with a Pygmy Cup

bearing white-filled incised decoration. A large flint assemblage included an unusually high proportion of tools

and utilised material, comprising both leaf-shaped and barbed-and-tanged arrowheads, together with numerous

scrapers, blades and points. The range of stone tools included a perforated hammer, pounders, querns and split-pebble

(Skaill) knives, and there were bone gouges and points. A mixed economy was indicated by abundant bone debris and

carbonised barley. Cattle were overwhelmingly dominant, together with some sheep and pig, but wild animals were

surprisingly scarce. Shell remains were mainly of limpets, winkles and cockles, and were very heavily exploited.

Examination of an area on the upper edge of the raised beach to the S of the midden revealed layers of peaty mud, in

which organic remains included plants and insects surviving in an excellent state of preservation. Early Bronze Age sherds were incorporated in these deposits, which appear to indicate the site of a small freshwater pond formed on the raised beach behind a linear sand-dune.

About 40m to the W of the area of Early Bronze Age settlement, excavation revealed a complicated sequence of

features, which appeared to belong to a much later period. Pits, hearths and post-holes indicated several successive

reconstructions of what was probably a circular building with a slightly dished floor, whose dimensions could not be

established with certainty. On the N side of this there was a souterrain-like structure, consisting of a curved trench

between 1m and 1.5m wide, and 0.9m deep, which was excavated for a length of about 6.4m from its inner end. The trench was lined with upright slabs, and at one point additional orthostats had been inserted; no trace of a roof

survived. A stone-lined pit just to the s, measuring 1.5m by 1.0m, was constructed in a similar technique, but a later

extension, which increased its length to 2m, was built in drystone walling, with a roof of stone slabs still in position.

Two slightly sunken hearths, lined with stone slabs, and a large pit, 0.7m by 1.0m, lay close by. Minute quantities of

metallurgical debris were recovered from the site, and analysis indicated that a high lead-bronze was being worked

in the area. Among the finds were saddle-querns reused in the construction of stone-lined features, and pottery, including the lower part of one vessel which had been sunk into a pit; there was, however, no closely datable material. After the abandonment of these structures a layer of soil formed across the site, which was subsequently cultivated. Deep parallel spade-furrows were dug across the area; plough or ard marks aligned with those furrows were also found, but it was not possible to establish their chronological relationship to the spade cultivation. Plough cultivation at a higher level in the buried soil was also identified, but there was no evidence to date this activity.

About 50m to the SW of the area of Early Bronze Age settlement, excavation revealed the traces of an Early

Historic settlement. Two superimposed circular stone buildings survived as arcs of inner facing, but had been

largely removed to make way for a substantial souterrain 2m wide and about 1m deep; it was lined with drystone walling, had a sandy floor and was roofed with stone slabs. It was traced, but not excavated, for a distance of 6m towards the loch, where one end was uncovered, but its extent and course inland remain unknown. After construction this had been sealed by layers of midden deposits rich in bone, shells and artefacts, including ironwork and pins of bone and horn; pottery, however, was scarce and undecorated. The most important find was a bronze pin with an amethyst set in its head. The shaft of a loose ring pin, found in layers above the Early Bronze Age settlement, may also have belonged to this Early Historic activity.

RCAHMS 1984, visited June 1979.


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