Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Imagining…the Crannog lifestyle

...of my late first century Celtic characters in The Beltane Choice.

What might the living conditions of my characters have been like if they were the son and daughter of a chief?

Wikimedia Commons
Celtic roundhouse settlements and crannogs have been reconstructed in various parts of the British Isles which can give us a semblance of what daily life might have been like for my characters: Lorcan of Garrigill, a Brigante, and Nara of Tarras of the Selgovae. I’ve not yet been to a reconstructed roundhouse settlement but I have visited The Scottish Crannog Centre at Loch Tay in Perthshire, Scotland.

My first visit was in 2002; about five years after The Scottish Crannog Centre opened its doors to the public. Prior to the visit, I’d read that as part of the archaeological aerial surveys of Scotland during the late 1970s, there had been 18 artificial islands identified on Loch Tay as crannogs. This wasn’t totally new information because hundreds of years ago it was known that there were a number of artificial islands on the loch which had been inhabited during the last three thousand years. The 1979 survey pinpointed to 18 definite artificial islands which had been submerged in the peaty waters of the loch.   

The Scottish Crannog Centre
In 1980, underwater archaeological investigations began on one of these artificial islands called Oakbank Crannog and in a sense that work still continues as part of the continuous running of The Scottish Crannog Centre.

Because the water of the loch is generally cold, the underwater archaeologists found that the remains of the Oakbank Crannog dwelling were in a good state of preservation. Timber piles had been driven into the water in a circular pattern above which would have been a horizontal platform which supported the beams of the roundhouse. Forty elm and oak posts had been laid down to support a walkway which led to the shore. The discovery of other artefacts in the surrounding silt and loch bed give authentic details of the way of life in such an early Iron Age dwelling. Remains of wooden domestic utensils, woodworking tools and agricultural tools were found in such good state that recreation was possible.

Pollen deposits, plant remains and insects found below the crannog dwelling make it possible to glean a good idea of daily life. The latter discoveries were possible because over time layers of stones had covered these remains, minimal water erosion having occurred. It’s thought that the Oakbank Crannog was inhabited for around 200 years and had perhaps as many as six phases of construction or repairs to it.

The results of the investigations were huge and a full size reconstruction was begun in 1994. Construction methods were used to mirror the original methods as much as possible- though for a visitor centre health and safety has naturally forced compromises.

Between my first visit in 2002 and a subsequent visit in 2014, many improvements and changes have been made to the Visitor Centre Shop and surrounding area but the crannog dwelling itself remains very similar. Like all wooden and thatched constructions, continual repairs have been necessary but these are implemented during times when the centre is not open to the public.

Inside the roundhouse, there’s a wonderful feeling of living in the past and the resident archaeologists/staff give a fantastic tour. A visit to the site also includes demonstrations of all sorts of daily life situations: fire making; cooking; pottery; weaving; wood carving; drilling with wooden tools... are only a very few of the experiences the centre offers its visitors.

When I came to write about Lorcan of Garrigill’s settlement, and in particular the roundhouse of his father Tully, the chief of Garrigill, I was able to make a clear mental picture of it. When I wrote about Nara of the Selgovae being dragged to the Crannogs of Gyptus I imagined myself walking along the shores of somewhere similar to Loch Tay. Memories of my visit to the Scottish Crannog Centre were immensely important when I came to describe those parts of The Beltane Choice—though what a reader has on the page is my interpretation of what a slightly different setting might have been like.

The Scottish Crannog Centre is a fantastic place to visit.

I’m sure that a visit to any of the reconstructed Celtic roundhouse villages would give the visitor similar lasting impressions.

The Scottish Crannog Centre has my Celtic Fervour Series—including The Beltane Choice—for sale on the shelves of their lovely little shop. 


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