Learning more about Arran’s Bronze Age

A report on the findings of a roundhouse in the Arran hills, and the subsequent development of the replica built in the Brodick Castle country park, from local MSP, Kenneth Gibson.

It is believed that Arran has been inhabited almost since the end of the last ice age and the retreat of glaciers that once encased all of Scotland just over 14,000 years ago. Evidence of early human activity is most stark when looking at the standing stones at Machrie Moor, which date back 3,500 to 5,500 years.

However, recent investigations reveal a wee bit about Arran’s Bronze Age.

In 2001 a site was discovered by members of Arran Mountain Rescue Team after it was exposed by a wildfire which burnt off the heather to reveal a raised circle with two prominent ‘doorway’ stones. Sixteen years later, archaeologists working with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) led a dig on Coire a’ Bhradain, above Glen Rosa.

While investigating the remains of a small roundhouse, sitting on the west-facing slope of the coire, at a height of about 390 metres above sea level, the team uncovered a central hearth with remnants of charcoal and a small fragment of burnt clay. The charcoal was identified as hazel and submitted to the Scottish University Environmental Research Centre for a radiocarbon date, the results of which suggest that that the roundhouse was occupied around 1400–1300 BC, placing it in the Middle Bronze Age.

It is now believed the roundhouse, which measured around six-metres wide, was used as temporary shelter during deer hunting trips through ‘the Bowman’s Pass’ at the top of the coire. It could also have been used as seasonal shieling site to keep grazing animals out on the hill.

It required a physically fit team for the long walk up to the site, carrying all the digging equipment required for the project. However, given the incredible views enjoyed there, it’s understandable why Bronze Age inhabitants would also have been drawn to the spot.

Stone and earth roundhouses generally survive in less developed upland areas and a number of such sites are in the care of NTS. Such sites are characteristic of the later prehistoric period in Scotland. The date indicates it is of a similar date to some of the larger roundhouses, excavated at Tormore on the western side of Arran.

Such an exciting post-excavation analysis has helped to build picture of life on Arran over three thousand years ago and these incredible findings can be used to shape the visitor experience at the replica roundhouse at Brodick Country Park.

This replica in the woods just to the north-west of the castle in 2012–13 was co-ordinated by Corinna Goeckeritz, one of the Trust rangers at Brodick, and the completed structure is now used as an educational element for school groups and for wider events.

The featured image shows the Bronze Age roundhouse at Brodick Country Park.