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Inchmarnock, Midpark

Architectural Fragment (Medieval), Burial Ground (Medieval), Chapel (Medieval), Cist(S) (Medieval)

Site Name Inchmarnock, Midpark

Classification Architectural Fragment (Medieval), Burial Ground (Medieval), Chapel (Medieval), Cist(S) (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) St Marnock's Chapel

Canmore ID 40268

Site Number NS05NW 2

NGR NS 02372 59635

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 North Bute
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Buteshire

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

This small island off the west coast of Bute is named after St Ernán, using the affectionate form Marnock. There was an early medieval monastery at modern Midpark, which over the years from the late nineteenth century to the excavations of 2001 to 2004 has yielded a large collection of carved stones. Most are cross-slabs or parts of cross-slabs, one of which (no 13) bears a Norse runic inscription, but there is also a fragment of a very finely carved cross-shaft (no 10). In addition to these, the site has produced a rich collection of slate slabs and fragments incised with parts of Latin and Gaelic inscriptions, drawings of people and boats, and gaming boards (Lowe 2008, 114-75).

Carved stones nos 1-13 are described fully by I Fisher in print (Fisher 2001 and 2008) and nos 1-12 are online in Canmore 301931- 301931 and no 13 in Canmore 301943. The later excavations produced another nine carved stones and fragments, Inchmarnock 14, 16-21, 23 and 34 (Fisher 2008), which are in Canmore 353391 (no 14), 353563 (no 16) and 353574-353580 (nos 17-21, 23 and 34).

Desk-based information compiled by A Ritchie 2018.


Desk Based Assessment (29 June 1976)

(NS 0236 5962) St Marnock's Chapel (NR) (Site of)

OS 6" map, (1957)

Though Fordun alleges that there was a monastery on Inchmarnock, there is no evidence for this. The island had a parish church, mentioned in 1390-1 (Easson 1957).

St Marnock's Chapel (Watson 1926) was robbed of stone in 1718 for farm building, and nothing could be seen at the site until clearance work carried out in 1973-4 showed that it was a small Romanesque building with red sandstone pillars between the paved nave and the E end, which now stands five courses high. A long cist lies against the S wall of the E end. The associated cemetery is now a stackyard, and built into its wall is a cross-shaft, 26 1/2ins x 11ins x 3ins, as shown on Illustration Card, together with another cross-incised stone, found in a wall at Mid Park in 1972. Another graveyard, known as the "Women's Burial-place" was traceable in a field adjoining the church in the mid-19th century. A cross-incised slab, was found in 1891. Hewison (1893-5) notes that on the opposite side of the road, close to where this stone was found, a row of cists, each some 3ft x 2ft, is visible, the tops of the small thin stones forming their sides showing a few inches above ground.

A fragment of a cross-slab, inscribed with Scandinavian runes, now in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) (Accession Number IB 93), was turned up in 1889 on the W side of the road, 50 yds N of the grave yard, and just beside the cists. Another sandstone cross-shaft, 17 1/2ins x 12ins x 2 1/2ins, with a badly weathered design of either ornamental geometric figures or animals, was found in the same place. Further fragments of carved stones were found during the excavations of 1973-4.

Information from OS (IF) 29 June 1976

D E Easson 1957; W J Watson 1926; D N Marshall and R Middleton 1972; D N Marshall 1973; 1974; J K Hewison 1893; NMAS 1892.

Field Visit (16 November 1976)

St Marnock's Chapel (name confirmed) lies on a level area to the N of Midpark Farm. It is orientated E-W and comprises a chancel 3.8m by 4.2m and nave 6.2m by 5.5m; its coursed walling is 0.6m high and 0.8m thick; most of the W end has been robbed and the entrance destroyed. The ornate red sandstone footings of a chancel arch survive in situ; the long cist (or stone coffin) lies in the chancel with two well preserved coffin slabs nearby.

Numerous cross fragments have been found during the continuing excavation. Five small fragments are in the possession of the finder (information from Miss J Middleton, Midpark Farm, Inchmarnock), three larger pieces lean against the wall of a barn (at NS 0248 5962) and two are incorporated in a field wall (at NS 02345967). The cross design on each fragment is completely different ranging from an ornate incised wheelhead to a simple relief Latin cross head. The three cross-shafts are now either in Rothesay or Edinburgh museums. There has been no excavation in the graveyard and the "Women's Burial-place" and cists (Hewison 1893) are not known locally.

Surveyed at 1:10,000.

Visited by OS (T R G) 16 November 1976.

Reference (1987)

The sculptured stones remaining at this chapel have now been placed in Bute Museum.

D N Marshall 1987.

Measured Survey (1992 - 1995)

Project (1999 - 2004)

NS 020 600 (island centre) The Archaeology of Inchmarnock Research Project, initated by the island's new owner, Lord Smith, was undertaken over the period 1999 to 2004 with the aim of providing as complete a record as possible of the island's archaeology; of identifying and understanding better what was there, precisely where it was, and how it might be preserved for future generations.

The overarching objectives of the project were to consider how Inchmarnock's inhabitants made use of their island landscape in the medieval and later period and how the island itself related to the wider world.

The preliminary results of each season's fieldwork, together with assessments of the artefacts and environmental remains recovered, were reported on an annual basis. In tandem with this was an extensive radiocarbon-dating programme, providing the chronological framework for the investigation.

Sponsor: Sir Robert Smith

Headland Archaeology, C Lowe 2008

Archaeological Evaluation (May 2000 - September 2000)

NS 020 600 (island centre) An archaeological survey and evaluation was carried out on the island of Inchmarnock. Both prehistoric and medieval aspects of the island's past were explored. Building surveys were completed for the three farm steadings of Northpark, Midpark and Southpark.

Full reports have been lodged with the NMRS.

Sponsor: Sir Robert Smith

Headland Archaeology, S Halliday, 2000

Archaeological Evaluation (May 2000)

NS 020 600 (island centre) Evaluation of the large cairn (Site 1) at the north end of the island revealed a stone kerb, reinforcing its interpretation as a funerary monument. It may, however, have been augmented with field clearance stones at a later date. The cup-and-ring marked stone (Site 3), near Northpark, was found to be a discrete slab, rather than part of a rock outcrop. Meanwhile, a series of upright stones (Site 7), in the woodland south of Southpark, may represent the lines of old field dykes, long since robbed of their stone.

A detailed survey of St Marnock’s chapel and its immediate environs was undertaken. Excavations in the field to the west of the chapel failed to find any evidence of the cemetery mentioned in the documentary records. A ditch, however, was located. It may represent the line of an old enclosure around the site.

Medieval corn-drying may be indicated by the robbed structures at Site 8. These, together with the two clearance cairns and old dyke at Site 11, may represent outlying elements of the small medieval or later settlement at Site 5, surveyed here for the first time. Meanwhile, evidence from the caves at the south end of the island (Sites 16A & 16B) suggests they were resorted to on a temporary basis in the medieval period.

Finally, one site (Site 9), previously identified as a possible structure, was found to be a natural feature.

Sponsor: Sir Robert Smith

Headland Archaeology, Stuart Halliday and Christopher Lowe, 2000

Reference (2000 - 2004)

As part of an extensive research project on Inchmarnock, the chapel and graveyard were partially excavated between 2000 and 2004 and the results have been comprehensibly published.

Lowe 2008

Excavation (2001)

NS 02 59 (island centre) Two excavations were undertaken on Inchmarnock in 2001. The first was on the site of a post-medieval building, while the second was on the site of St Marnock's Chapel.

Sponsor: Sir Robert Smith

S Halliday 2001a

Excavation (2001)

NS 02 59 (island centre) St Marnock’s Chapel. The building (NMRS NS 05 NW 2) is thought on architectural grounds to date to the 12th/13th centuries. A trench was excavated to the N, S, E and W. Five well-constructed stone cists were identified, although only one contained human remains. A mortar surface was identified in the southern half of the nave but is not thought to be contemporary with the chapel’s construction. Two small cross-slabs were retrieved; one with embossed interlace thought to date to the 12th or 13th century, and a fragment of slate inscribed with the remains of a marigold cross thought to be 10th or 11th century. Smaller fragments of slate were also found to have been inscribed and may be the remains of test pieces, although at least two appear to be the broken remains of gaming boards.

There appears to be no distinct spatial arrangement to the graveyard, and bone preservation varies across the site. A number of archaeological layers were identified and recorded around the chapel and will be excavated in future seasons.

Sponsor: Sir Robert Smith

Headland Archaeology, S Halliday 2001

Reference (2001)

This island is situated 1.2km from the W coast of Bute and measures 3.2km from N to S by 1.2km in maximum width (a). It was divided into three farms, but the steadings of Southpark and Midpark lie adjacent on the raised terrace above the principal landing-place on the E shore. The island takes its name from Marnock, an affectionate form of the Irish name Ernan (b). It was said by Fordun in the late 14th century to have a monastic cell (cella monachorum), and Blaeu's atlas shows a church at 'Kildauanach' ('church of the monks'). These references are probably to the parish church of 'Inchemernolz', whose revenues were transferred about 1360 to the Cistercian abbey of Saddell from the Cluniac house at Crossraguel in exchange for a church in Ayrshire (c). The range of sculpture from the site suggests, however, that a monastic settlement of some kind existed in the early Christian period.

The masons building a nearby farmhouse in 1718 'carried away sundry stones out of the chappell', but its position is shown on an estate-map of 1769, and the 'ruin' was referred to by Pennant in the same year (d). It was 'entirely removed' by the tenant farmer in the first half of the 19th century, and its site was recorded in 1863, some 35m N of Midpark farmhouse (e). Excavations by the family of the then tenant in 1973-4 revealed the footings of a small nave-and-chancel church measuring about 11.7m by 6.2m over all (f). The masonry was of slabby local schist set in lime mortar, with dressings of red sandstone. The S walls preserved a chamfered plinth, and the S respond of the chancel-arch had twin attached shafts of 12th-century character. A slab-lined burial cist occupied the inside of the S wall of the chancel and a sword-decorated coped stone of 13th-century type lay inside the N wall.

'Many human bones and relics of sepulture' indicated that the stackyard surrounding the church had been used for interments (g). Hewison also refers to a 'Women's Burial-place' a short distance to the N, and to adjacent short-cist burials which are no longer visible (h). Several carved stones were found in this area in the late 19th century, while others were found in boundary-walls or in the chapel itself in 1972-4. Except for no.(8), which remains in the church, and no.(13) which is in the Museum of Scotland, the stones described below are now in Bute Museum, Rothesay.


(a) For prehistoric and medieval finds see Marshall 1963, 5-16; Marshall 1980, 15-18.

(b) Hewison 1893, 1, 127-35; Watson 1926, 291-2; Black 1890, 441-3.

(c) Chron. Fordun, 1, 43; Blaeu's Atlas (Bute); Highland Papers, 4, 142-4; Cowan 1967, 85-6; Black 1890, 440-1. The island also belonged to Saddell Abbey, and subsequently to the bishop of Argyll, who in 1540 was receiving a rental of #20 (Reg Magni Sig Reg Scot, 4 (1546-80), no.2115).

(d) Hewison 1893, 1, 133; estate-map in Bute Estate Office (information from the late Miss D N Marshall); Pennant, Tour (1772), 1, 164. 'Considerable parts of the walls' still remained c.1815 (Ross, W 1880 (ed.), Blain's History of Bute (1880), 94).

(e) Name Book, Bute, No.5, p.65; OS 6-inch map, Argyll and Bute sheet 214 (1863/9). Hewison (op.cit., 134) refers to the removal of graveslabs about 1829.

(f) The Commissioners are indebted to Miss Jessica Middleton and the late Miss D N Marshall for information about the excavations. See Marshall 1973, 21; Marshall 1980, 16-17; Marshall 1990, 5-6; measured and photographic surveys of church, 1975, in NMRS.

(g) Name Book, loc. cit.

(h) Hewison 1893, 1, 133, 222-3.

(i) For the suggestion that a central fragment is missing, see Marshall, D N, 'Carved stone cross from Inchmarnock', TBNHS, 23 (1990), 5-7.

(j) Bailey 1980, 196, 204-6; Ritchie 1994, 73, 117-20, 125.

(k) Black 1890, 438.

(l) Hewison 1893, 1, 223. A slab-lined grave was found at the same place (Black 1890, 438).

(m) The Commissioners are indebted to Professors M Barnes and R I Page for access to material from their forthcoming Corpus of runic inscriptions (item no. SC10).

I Fisher 2001, 77-9.

Excavation (2002)

NS 024 596 The second season of excavation concentrated on the area to the NW of the chapel, where the 2001 evaluation (DES 2001, 22) had indicated the presence of a possible 'craft zone' associated with the Early Christian monastic settlement, relatively undisturbed by later use of the site from the 19th century onwards as a stackyard.

The area was covered by a thick deposit that had been effectively homogenised by bracken roots; from this were recovered an exceptional number of pieces of inscribed slate and stone gaming boards. Provisionally dated to the 8th/9th century, possibly continuing later, this is the largest assemblage of such material known from Scotland.

The decorated and inscribed slate assemblage includes examples of abstract designs and casual graffiti, but also what are clearly practice pieces for the composition of more complex designs. Literacy at the site is attested by a number of fragments with practice writing, as well as one example with a piece of readable text. Another piece that is highly significant - a stone with a sketch on one side and practice writing on the other - provides further evidence of literacy at the site, as well as an insight into the dress, weaponry and ship technology of the time. The piece, possibly a devotional object in its own right, appears to depict a shackled figure being led off to a waiting boat by a group of long-haired, mail-suited warriors with weapons.

Sealed below this mixed deposit were at least 17 graves, several stone paths and, at the N of the site, at least two buildings. Large quantities of metalworking debris were recovered from this part of the site. A further 'craft zone', concentrating on the production of cannel coal bangles and rings, may have been located on the W side of the excavation area where many fragments of part-worked cannel coal were found.

An evaluation trench was also excavated in the trackway, to the NW of the chapel, to investigate the area in which a rune-inscribed cross was found in the late 19th century. The trench located a cist and a substantial ditch. The cist was only partially exposed, and so remains unexcavated, but a slot was excavated across the ditch. A cross-incised slab, possibly reused as a cross base, and two pieces of inscribed slate were recovered from the upper fill of the ditch. One of the slates is inscribed with a mix of Gaelic Old Irish male and female personal names, written in an Insular minuscule script.

A trench was also excavated to the E of the chapel in an attempt to locate the 'Monk's Causeway', a stone feature found by the tenant farmer in the 1950s. An uneven paved surface was exposed but no finds were recovered.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: Sir Robert Smith.

R Conolly, E Jones, C Lowe 2002

Geophysical Survey (3 June 2003 - 4 June 2003)

NS 022 597 (centre) A geophysical survey (magnetic and resistance) was carried out in a field to the west of St Marnock’s chapel on the island of Inchmarnock off the west coast of Bute. Low resistance anomalies indicative of field drains and other modern services have been identified. Areas of high and low resistance are thought to reflect geological variations and localised waterlogging respectively. Other low resistance anomalies could locate ditches identified in earlier trial trenching evaluations. However, an archaeological interpretation should be regarded at best as tentative. The magnetic survey has not identified any archaeological anomalies.

Commissioned by Headland Archaeology Ltd.

Archaeological Services WYAS, 2003

Excavation (16 June 2003 - 18 July 2003)

NS 024 596 St Marnock's Chapel. The third season of work in June and July 2003 saw continued excavation of the area around the chapel and to its NW in the craft zone identified in previous seasons.

The excavation in the NW quadrant identified two phases of intercutting graves and a series of early ironworking features and structures. Closer to the chapel lay more graves and further flagged surfaces, underlying the paths identified in previous years. Sherds of medieval pottery, including French imported wares, were recovered in association with these features.

Further examples of inscribed slate and fragments of stone gaming boards were also found. Like the assemblage recovered in 2002 (DES 2002, 22-3), these finds are provisionally dated to the 8th/9th century, possibly continuing later. As before, the assemblage includes examples of abstract designs and casual graffiti, but of particular importance is a piece of Latin text written in an Insular minuscule script. This not only provides further evidence of literacy at the site but, significantly, points to the use of instruction or training through the use of exemplum and copy. Further examples of early medieval sculpture were also recovered, including one slab with an outline ringed cross that had been built into a later long cist.

Nineteen late graves, including several child burials, were located immediately adjacent to the chapel. These appear to date to the period after the chapel went out of use but the yard continued to be used as a burial ground. A number of simple cross-marked roof slates were recovered from these latest burials.

Resistivity and magnetometry survey were carried out in the field to the W of the chapel.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: Sir Robert Smith.

R Conolly, E Jones and C Lowe, 2003

Excavation (May 2004 - June 2004)

NS 0237 5965 The fourth and final season of excavation in June and July 2004 at St Marnock's Chapel (see DES 2003, 38-9) concentrated on the area around the chapel itself.

To the N of the chapel, the remains of an earlier building were excavated, as was a drain, thought to be contemporary with the earlier building, and several graves. These features owed their survival to an apparent shift in the distribution of burials following the Reformation, after which this part of the cemetery appears to have been largely shunned, and burials appear to have been focused on the area immediately to the S of the chapel. Such was the density of burials in this part of the site that no earlier features survived. Excavation within the nave established that this area, too, had been extensively disturbed by post-medieval burials. The nave seems to have been particularly favoured for the burial of children.

The finds largely consist of redeposited material of wide-ranging date reflecting the long history of use, the earliest find being a Mesolithic flint core. As before, the assemblage is dominated by incised and inscribed slate, mainly early medieval in date. The most significant pieces in this season's assemblage are a possible grave slab incised with a complex hunting scene, a boat and abstract designs, and a small piece depicting an aisled basilican-type church with figures. The remainder of the assemblage comprises gaming boards, lettering, abstract designs and doodles. Also recovered were fragments of two early medieval combs and imported medieval pottery.

Report to be lodged with the NMRS.

Sponsor: Sir Robert Smith.

R Conolly 2004

Aerial Photography (9 September 2009)


NS05NW 2 02372 59635.

NS05NW 2.0 Chapel; cist; burial ground; architectural fragment

NS05NW 2.1 Cross incised stone; early medieval

NS05NW 2.2 Cross slab; early medieval

NS05NW 2.3 Cross slab; early medieval

NS05NW 2.4 Cross; early medieval

NS05NW 2.5 Cross; early medieval

NS05NW 2.6 Cross; early medieval

NS05NW 2.7 Cross; early medieval

NS05NW 2.8 Cross; early medieval

NS05NW 2.9 Cross; early medieval

NS05NW 2.10 Cross; early medieval

NS05NW 2.11 Cross; early medieval

NS05NW 2.12 Cross; early medieval

NS05NW 2.13 Rune inscribed stone; cross slab; early medieval

NS05NW 2.14 Cross-slab fragment, early medieval

NS05NW 2.15 Cross-slab fragment, early medieval

NS05NW 2.16 Cross-slab, early medieval

NS05NW 2.17 Cross-slab fragment, early medieval

NS05NW 2.18 Cross-slab, early medieval

NS05NW 2.19 Cross-slab fragment, early medieval

NS05NW 2.20 Cross-slab fragment, early medieval

NS05NW 2.21 Cross-slab, early medieval

NS05NW 2.22 Cross-slab, early medieval


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