Crannogs are a significant part of the prehistoric Scottish landscape. Despite the considerable work that has taken place on crannogs, they remain under-studied and under-theorised in comparison to brochs and hillforts.
The Living on Water project will address this by developing a social history of Loch Tay, focused on the crannog dwellers; and achieved by combining state-of-the-art scientific techniques with more traditional archaeological practice.
To achieve the aims, the project is bringing together a team of archaeologists and archaeological scientists from the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre at the University of Glasgow, the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology and the Scottish Crannog Centre, the Universities of Bradford and Nottingham Trent, and AOC Archaeology Ltd. The project is being funded by Historic Environment Scotland.
WHAT IS A CRANNOG?
Crannogs are artificial island dwellings, built and used in Scotland from 800 BC until just a few hundred years ago. They frequently appear now as small rocky islands in many lochs, although they are also often completely submerged.
We know that crannogs were dwellings, people lived on these islets, but for what reason remains stubbornly unclear.
Crannogs may have been the high status dwellings of local leaders or chiefs. Perhaps they were trading posts located on waterways people used to move through the landscape or that living on water held some spiritual or cosmological significance.
What we do know is that crannogs were commonly built and used through the Iron Age across the entire country.
The Living on Water fieldwork takes place two to five meters below the surface of Loch Tay. This kind of shallow water archaeology presents us with unique opportunities and challenges.
We need pumps to power water dredges that remove the sediments from the sites but we also use pumps to provide air through the surface-supplied diving systems.
Unlike projects working at greater depths we are able to keep divers under water for much longer hours, allowing us to do more work.
But working underwater has positive implications for the nature of the remains we discover.
The underwater environment these crannogs are in slows down the decay processes. The preservation is so good that wooden tools (see the foot plough to the right) are perfectly preserved. Additionally, these environments preserve delicate plant remains that we would only recover from terrestrial settlements if they were accidently charred.
Also, water can support entities with a greater mass, so not only do transportable items remain relatively unchanged in appearance after over 2500 years, but the entire underwater site often retains much of its three-dimensional shape.
The incredible preservation under water means that excavating these sites allows us to learn things about Iron Age people and their economy that would otherwise remain unknown.