Protecting the Stones of Worship
- Thursday, 24 November 2016
Damage caused by a Pagan bonfire to the stone circle of Na Clachan Aoraidh - set high on the limestone ridge of Cnoc na Craoibhe above Loch Tummel in Tay Forest District - was turned into an opportunity to investigate and record the site in detail.
Na Clachan Aoraidh translates from Gaelic as ‘the Stones of Worship’. The site is an unusual ‘four poster’ stone circle – a square arrangement of four large stones on a low stone-built platform. It’s an early Bronze Age ceremonial site and was probably built about 4,000 years ago.
Na Clachan Aoraidh is a place with real character, with spectacular views over the surrounding landscape and towards the mountain of Schielhallion. The site also has significant archaeological importance, both in terms of buried archaeological deposits and in structural detail. Although likely ceremonial, the few excavated examples often also display activities associated with funeral pyres and cremation burials. There is a particularly dense concentration of such sites in northern Perthshire, with examples scattered through the Tay, Earn and Tummel valleys.
Archaeologists were busy excavating at the site during two sunny weeks in November. Particular care was taken to explore the soil itself, taking samples to compare heat-damaged deposits with undamaged areas, and sieving the soil for microscopic flakes of charcoal and cremated bone. The project will see the centre of the site protected under the turf with a sacrificial layer of gravel.
Tay Forest District staff visited the excavation to hear about the results of the dig and learn more about our conservation management. Dr Clare Ellis from Argyll Archaeology presented her thoughts and discoveries, while FCS archaeologist, Matt Ritchie, explained the importance of the work in the context of the protection, conservation and presentation of the historic environment on the National Forest Estate.
Matt said: “Although the vandalism was unfortunate, by looking to repair and protect the site we have also enabled conservation and research, demonstrating that we take our wider land management responsibilities seriously and turning a problem into an opportunity. After further detailed post-excavation analysis in the laboratory, we should now be able to tell the story of Na Clachan Aoraidh – and of its Bronze Age builders. This is why we protect these places.”
Doug Howieson, Forest District Manager at Tay Forest District, said: “It was great to see the archaeologists in action and to learn more about the site. I knew there is a lot of history and archaeology on the National Forest Estate – but I never knew our District was home to one of the best four poster stone circles in the world! There was a really good turnout from the team for the visit and this shows the strength of interest that this project has stimulated."