Ludovic McLellan Mann excavates Tiree hut in 1906

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Little is known of the habits and customs, the religions and the civilisations which prevailed in the Scottish area during the Ages of Bronze and of Stone.

The extension of this knowledge has been slow compared with the progress of research in other branches, and indeed with the developments in the domain of prehistoric archaeology and prehistoric anthropology in other countries.

The reason for this is plain. It is not that in Scotland opportunities for securing information are rare, the disclosure of prehistoric sites and the finding of stray prehistoric relics being frequent. It is that such remains are, as a rule, thoughtlessly wrecked and obliterated on coming to light, and that very rarely indeed is an attempt made to record fully and accurately the facts revealed. It is surprising and unpardonable that an intelligent community should thus allow every year a mass of information of the highest scientific value to become irrecoverably lost. Future generations will, without doubt, lament this gross negligence, especially as opportunities for securing information are bound to become fewer as the destruction of ancient memorials is rapidly proceeding.

In the endeavour to extend a knowledge of the facts relating to the early inhabitants, the writer has examined and explored in recent years a number of prehistoric sites, and has recovered and registered many thousands of objects which are the work of artists and potters, and craftsmen in bone, wood, metal, vitreous paste and glass, and in jet, flint, and other stones, who carried on their labours in the Scottish area before the birth of Christ.


When walking last July over a sand-blown area on the north-west side of Tiree, I noticed a piece of pottery protruding from the soil. It was obviously sticking in an old surface layer, from which the superincumbent sand was being blown away. No doubt, within a week or two a considerable part of the old surface would have become exposed and broken up, and the relics contained in it scattered and destroyed. On clearing away the drifted sand I discovered a hard, compact layer of dark soil about nine inches deep and, what is noteworthy, the layer covered a circular space about eight to nine feet in diameter. The layer lay on a deposit of pure white, undisturbed drift sand. Obtaining some assistance, and using a pocket-knife, the whole of the dark matter was patiently dug over and sifted by hand. Quite a large collection of prehistoric relics were in this manner recovered, all broadly contemporary, and hence of considerable archaeological value.


The circular edge of the site was most clearly marked round the south-west side, but towards the north-east edge the black layer (or, as it turned out to have been, the floor of the hut) thinned out beyond the periphery. Here on the north-east had apparently been the door.

It is not surprising that there were found traces of an opening or door facing north-east or opposite to the direction of the prevailing winds and rains. This feature was also noted in the case of a prehistoric village of the small round huts which I excavated in Wigtownshire some time ago. No remains of a walling was observed in the Tiree site, but it was quite noticeable where the floor and débris had accumulated against it. The walling may have been easily perishable or portable. Outside of the line of the walling was white loose sand.


The occurrence of pottery fragments in the relic bed of an ancient dwelling-place is always interesting, as some idea can usually be had of the period when the site was occupied. Quitea large number of fragments of earthenware vessels were found embedded in the hut floor, the remains of at least five different vessels having been found. All were hand-made, but different entirely from the well-known, hand-made Hebridean “croggans” of medieval and modern times. Some of the vessels have been bucket-shaped, with slightly bulging walls and about twelve inches heigh. One vessel has a horizontal beading or moulding running round it, about three inches below the rim. The moulding, before the clay was fired, has been notched at intervals with a fingertip. Another vessel has a raised band placed near the rim, disposed in festoon fashion and similarly marked.


So far as I can learn, no pottery so ornamented has been recorded from Scotland, but I have recently examined vessels identical in contour, size, texture, and decoration, which have been discovered in Wiltshire and other parts of the south of England, in associations pointing to their belonging to the Bronze Age, and probably to the earlier part of that Age.

Reckoning tentatively (for the data are still too meagre to permit of dogmatic assertions) the Bronze Age began about the fourteenth century before the birth of Christ and terminated about the third century before Christ. There are good grounds for the conjecture that during these early times the transmission of fashions and ideas in art and in style of craftsmanship was by no means slow. The various fashions of the potters permeated to remote parts of Great Britain in successive waves and with great uniformity.

Not improbably, then, the Tiree hut under discussion belongs to the earlier part of the Bronze Age of Great Britain, say, to the end of the second millennium or the beginning of the first millennium before the birth of our Saviour, to the time when the great Rameses was omnipotent in Egypt.

Amongst the relics found embedded the floor, which are of less interest than the pottery, are small lumps of unbaked clay, limpet and cockle shells, claws of crabs, two large univaloular shells with broken or chipped away edges and one half (neatly severed) of the valve of a large pecten [scallop] shell. More important than the shell remains are the relics of stone. These do not tend in any way to combat the suggestion as to the chronological position dictated by the character of the pottery. There were found four flint fragments—one fire-injured and showing the “bulb of percussion”—four fine hammerstones, some anvil-stones, two polishers, and two small artificially formed discs perforated near the middle. The discs might at first sight be pronounced spinning-whorls. A close examination of the position and character of the perforations does not, however, seem to bear out that the stones were so used.
The writer ventures to express the hope that he may be favoured by a communication from any reader who may hear of the discovery of ancient remains or relics. 144 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow. (Oban Times and Argyllshire Advertiser, 2 June 1906, p. 3)

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