Welcome to the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project website
The Ardnamurchan Transitions Project is a long-running research and community project exploring the archaeology of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Western Scotland. Since 2006 we have been digging sites in Swordle Bay on the north coast of the peninsula. We are looking at how people lived in this landscape through time, especially at moments of dramatic social change. The project is a collaborative effort between archaeologists from the universities of Manchester and Leicester, CFA-Archaeology and Archaeology Scotland. We have excavated seven sites from five different periods: Cladh Aindreis from the Neolithic; Ricky’s Cairn and a ring ditch feature from the Bronze Age; the Iron Age site of Dun Mhurchaidh; the 19th century settlements of Swordle Corrach and Swordle Huel, and the first complete Viking boat burial on the UK mainland.
Our project also runs as a training excavation, and in conjunction with this we strive to develop innovative archaeological methods and inspiring teaching and training. In 2014 we were proud to receive the prestigious Archaeology Training Forum award for this work.
Origins of the project
The project began in 2006 with the initial aim of looking at two particular transitions: the start of farming at the beginning of the Neolithic in around 4000 BC, and the start of metal working at the beginning of the Bronze Age, around 2500 BC. To do this we started excavating the Neolithic chambered tomb of Cladh Aindreis. We chose this site because an initial survey by Audrey Henshall had suggested the possibility of Mesolithic occupation on the site, and also because Neolithic tombs were often reused in the Bronze Age. This site was excavated for 5 seasons until 2010 and again in 2014, and it has revealed a wealth of fascinating insights which you can find out about here. We also began a process of environmental, geophysical and walk-over survey looking for other sites.
Expanding the project
In 2009 we decided to expand our project to look at all periods of history, not just the Neolithic and Bronze Age. This was driven by a growing interest in other periods of history, the indication from our survey work that there was a lot more to find out about in one bay, and a desire to use the field project to rethink issues of long-term change. The walk over survey we conducted suggested there were more than 50 previously unknown archaeological sites in the immediate area, potentially from many different periods. To explore the potential of these sites we began excavating the 19th century AD site of Swordle Corrach. This was a settlement abandoned during the Highland Clearances. We became interested in the history of the Clearances on Ardnamurchan: what were living conditions like immediately prior to the Clearances? Our work expanded at this site in 2011. During the same season we had further successes, identifying a metalworking Iron Age site on Dun Mhurchaidh and, most extraordinarily of all, discovering the first complete Viking boat burial on the UK mainland. Since then we have continued to expand our studies, investigating a second 19th century settlement at Swordle Huel, a Bronze Age ring ditch with an accompanying cremation burial, as well as returning to Cladh Aindreis in 2014.
The project is committed to involving and including local people within our work. Each year local volunteers have joined our excavations, and we always welcome more. If you live locally and would like to try it out please do get in touch! In 2014 we had several local volunteers come and help out, and we are really grateful to them for all their support.
There is an interpretation board close to Coldstream Cottage, just above the bay, with information about the sites. We have also visited local schools to talk to children about archaeology. In the coming years we will also be offering further local talks and open days on site, and are hoping to develop a popular publication outlining our findings.
We are always looking for ways to extend our outreach activities, and we welcome suggestions about how we can do more, or other avenues for outreach, so please do get in touch. In addition, if you are interested in archaeology on Ardnamurchan you can also find out about Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology, which has been set up by local people with help from Archaeology Scotland. You can read about some of their findings at http://kilchoan.blogspot.co.uk/, which are already looking really exciting and the blog has lots of other interesting information about the events taking place on Ardnamurchan!