BY HILL AND SHORE
 

Angus Martin

Part 2 of 2

     On the Sunday of my second week at Polliwilline I therefore prepared a flask of tea and 'pieces', mounted my bicycle and headed up Glenahervie brae. I was rewarded that evening not only with potsherds, but also with three flint flakes. These opened up an entirely new and altogether more exciting door into the past, for if people had worked flint in the glen, thousands of years back, mightn't there be a possibility of finding a few artefacts too?

     There followed a fortnight of almost daily trips to Earadale - sometimes for merely an hour in the late evening, sometimes for four or five hours earlier in the day - during which I walked the forestry furrows over the greater part of the glen. I wasn't disappointed. The final haul amounted to, in addition to bags of potsherds and glass. etc., some 50 flints, including two tools that can be positively identified (barbed and tanged Bronze Age arrowheads, from around 2400 BC until at least 1500 BC), two blue glass beads (one broken), a small oval piece of (?) jet with a hole cut through its centre, a coin, slag from two sites, a possible stone hand tool, and charcoal and bone mixed. These finds are, according to Scots law, technically Crown property. and have all been passed on to the Treasure Trove Advisory Panel Secretariat in Edinburgh for evaluation. 1 am hopeful, however, of having them returned for presentation to the Museum here, and hopeful too that more flint tools will be identified by someone with the expertise that I lack.

     I shall never forget the sheer thrill of coming on the arrowheads, lying as plain as could be in the furrow ahead of me. Sarah was with me when the first one was found, and she shared in that excitement, which rather compensated us for an earlier soaking in a heavy shower of rain, and for the pestilential attentions of clegs. In fact, I later wrote a poem, entitled 'Archaeology', which wove some of the threads of that day into a more complex fabric.

     I alerted Frances Hood to the finds, a week into my activity, and she drove down to Polliwilline to look at what had thus far been discovered. We then drove up to Earadale and looked over the site and discussed the possibility of organising a small team of helpers to search the area later in the year, for sections of furrows in the better soil were heavily overgrown with vegetation, which might well have concealed further artefacts.

     I also contacted Mr William Watson, who had ploughed and planted the glen on behalf of Scottish Woodlands Ltd. The ploughing was done in March, with snow on the ground. Field-walking on land recently ploughed for afforestation is, generally speaking, an extremely valuable exercise, representing the last chancc to spot ancient remains before the land is thoroughly disturbed by tree roots. A large-scale exercise by the Lanark and District Archaeology Society from 1987 onwards has identified an entire Neolithic and Bronze Age landscape on Biggar Common. Perhaps we in Kintyre should be doing a good deal more field-walking in an organised fashion.

FLINT

     My activity at Earadale has certainly deepened my interest in archaeology in general, and in flint in particular. I've had, for many years, an interest in beach flint. Where do the pebbles and larger nodular lumps that are washed up on the Kintyre beaches originate? This is a question which has not yet been answered satisfactorily, though the existence of offshore Cretaceous deposits, which produce beach flint on Islay and Mull, has been confirmed. And how much use was made of beach flint in prehistoric times? It must have been recognised as a valuable resource, and the larger pieces, at least, collected for turning into tools.

     My daughters Sarah and Amelia and I spent many hours scouring the small beach below our caravan for flint, and found in excess of 50 pieces, including three which appeared to have been worked, though caution is necessary in evaluating such material owing to the possibility that fracturing could have occurred naturally by the clashing together of pebbles in violent stonns.

PREHISTORIC ARTEFACTS FROM PEAT

     The contribution of peat-cutters to archaeological knowledge has been a significant one, both nationally and internationally, with many remarkable treasures uncovered, as well as the prehistoric 'bog people', preserved, fully clothed, in the peatlands of Denmark and Germany. Bog bodies have also been uncovered in Scotland, but most of these appear to be no earlier than the seventeenth century. Locally, the Museum contains a wide selection of prehistoric artefacts dug up with the peat at the main mosses of South Kintyre. viz. Aros, Darlochan and Gortan: Neolithic polished stone axeheads, flint arrowheads from the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods, a socketed bronze spearhead. etc , but my personal favourite is a chunky amber pendant given to the Museum by the late Duncan McLean. shepherd in Killypole, who - to quote the caption - 'found it while digging peat on the hill of Slate'. I can well imagine his curiosity as he took the soiled object in his hand, and his mounting excitement as he wiped it clean and realised that he held something ancient and mysterious.

     As peat-cutting has declined, the finding of artefacts has rather devolved on to forestry workers, and the Museum contains a few donations from such sources: a stone axehead, shaped from a rock which was quarried near Langdale in Cumbria, and which was found in 1973 by Mr Campbell Lang and donated by the Forestry Commission; a flint knife and flint projectile point found, while tree-planting at the Mull in 1990, by Mr Jim McAlister of Carradale; and a flint scraper found near Dalbuie by Mr Gilbert Milne in 1992.

     Another such find came to my notice only recently, and I record it here. It was a Bronze Age spearhead - from the period 1500-1400 BC - about six inches long, socketed to take a wooden shaft and with a small metal loop for carrying the spear slung over a shoulder. It was found by Mr Sandy Rowan, Tayinloan, in 1987, in the bottom of a forestry furrow about a mile south-east of Arnicle farmhouse in Barr Glen. It was passed on to Mr Ian MacDonald, Clachan - from whom this information comes - and he sent it to the National Museum of Scotland. Two archaeologists from the Museum came from Edinburgh and, accompanied by Mr Norman Newton, examined the site with a metal-detector, but found nothing more. The spearhead was retained in Edinburgh and Mr Rowan received a monetary reward.

     Incidentally, anyone finding anything organic in peat - such as a wooden object, or even a body - should keep it constantly wet and report it to Ms Eila Macqueen, Museums Development Officer for Argyll & Bute District Council. She is based at District Library Headsquarters, Highland Avenue, Sandbank Dunoon, and her telephone number is 01369 703214/703735. Organic objects are particularly prone to warping and disintegration

TRANSFER OF HISTORIC BONES

    A little publicity was generated for Campbeltown Museum in August by the decision to transfer three human bones to the Clan Donald Centre on Skye. A most interesting story lies behind these bones. They were removed from a cave on the Island of Eigg by one Peter Smith, and given to Campbeltown Museum in 1910. They lay in storage at the Museum until this year, when Mrs Gloria Siggins, Carradale, a Friend of Campbeltown Museum, initiated their transfer.

     The cave from which they were removed was the scene of a notorious massacre in about 1577, when some 395 islanders - men, women and children of Clan Donald - were suffocated by the smoke from fires lit outside the narrow cave entrance by a party of Macleods. The harrowing tale has been variously documented, most recently in a reprinted edition of Seton Gordon's Highways and Byways in the West Highlands (Birlinn, 1995). It was recorded that merely two Eigg families - in some accounts, one family - escaped the vengeance of the Macleods, by having hidden themselves in a different cave.

     These bones came to the notice of Mrs Siggins during cataloguing of the artefacts in storage, in 1993, and she mentioned them to the late Doug Murdock of the Clan Donald in the USA, who was in Kintyre in that year, leading the re-enactment of Magnus Barelegs crossing of the isthmus at Tarbert by longship in the 12th century. He told Mr Rob Parker, international director of the Clan Donald Centre at Armadale, who then contacted Mrs Siggins. And that was how the bones, with the agreement of Argyll and Bute District Council and the Friends of Campheltown Museum, found their way to Skye.

     Mrs Siggins's clan contacts arose from her involvement with the excavations at Finlaggan, Islay, the medieval headquarters of the Lordship of the Isles, in other words, the southern confederacy of Clan Donald She is at present working, on behalf of Dr David Caldwell, director of excavations at the site, to set up a fund for continuing research there.

THE ANCHOR OF THE MADELAINE ANN

     It seemed that suddenly this year, a number of people were talking about the big anchor which lies well above the shoreline south of Leac. Bhuidhe. Ian Forshaw, a Carnpbeltonian 'exiled' in Cambridgeshire, sent me a photograph of the anchor, and Robert Kelly in Machrihanish, who had walked out to it, with Teddy Lafferty and Neil McKay, measured the thing and supplied me with detailed dimensions, of which the following will give an indication of its scale: 6ft 6in long with a stock 7ft 6in across.

     The question everyone was asking - what ship was it from? The vital clue lay in the Museum: some anchor-cable links described as being from the 'Magdalene of Dundalk wrecked at Galdrans in December 1904'. The Galdrans was too far north to be strictly accurate relative to the position of the anchor, but as a general location it was fair enough. I got our tireless District Archivist, Murdo MacDonald, on to the job and he came up with, as we shall see, persuasive evidence of the anchor's origin, in the form of a photocopy of a news report from the Argylishire Herald of 29 December, 1904.

     The Madelaine Ann, as she was actually called, was wrecked 'about 200 yards south of the Galdron's [sic] rocks'. She and her crew were casualties of a terrific storm which erupted from the west on Friday 21 December and reached its terrifying climax on the Saturday morning, blowing at 100 miles per hour and causing tremendous damage and loss of life throughout the British Isles.

     The Madelaine Ann - 108 tons register and belonging to Dundalk in County Louth, Ireland - was sighted on Saturday morning before daybreak, 'in distress off the coast', but 'the storm was so fierce she could not be approached'. At some time during that day, she drove in on the coast and was 'smashed to matchwood'. Her master, James McCourt, and her crew of four, Patrick and John McCourt, James Kelledy [?recte Kennedy] and an unknown boy, were destroyed in the breakers. All the bodies but that of the boy were recovered and taken to the mortuary at Kilkerran Graveyard, where - horribly broken and mutilated - they were formally identified by relatives.

     The following remark in the report seems to me to place beyond all doubt the origin of the anchor: '... the largest anchor the vessel had on board [was] thrown about 50 yards up beyond the rocks.' It is there to this day, a mystery no longer, but a memorial. Perhaps in December 2005. the centenary of the tragedy, a simple memorial service of some kind could be held on the coast.

     BRAMBLES were plentiful this year, from mid-August on, and our jeely production was high. The back of the Trench Point was our main gathering spot. I went there with Bella, my youngest daughter, on Monday 4 September. a local holiday. September week-end was traditionally the main gathering time for brambles, with solid movements of townsfolk out into the countryside. The bramblers were unmistakable, being thickly clad and carrying baskets and, optionally, walking-sticks; but their numbers thin by the year. Baskets have given way to plastic buckets or bags, and the walking-stick - crooked at an end for catching that tantalisingly out-of-reach cluster of big black ones - is virtually obsolete. There were few other pickers beyond the Trench while we were there. but I did speak with Neil McKay and Willie McBrayne, who were seriously equipped for the business, and three others, gathering more casually.

     The following Sunday, 10 September, we all headed to our caravan at Polliwilline and put in a couple of hours' gathering there. It was a beautiful autumn day - sunny and warm - and the berries were abundant There were other berries on our minds, too. Pd been in the White Hart Hotel the previous evening and got into conversation with Eddie Kerr, a part-time barman there. He is a keen wine-maker and the talk turned to that subject. He was bemoaning the complete absence, these past five years, of any sloes - the glossy fruit of the BLACKTHORN - in the places he habitually gathered them. It puzzled him, and puzzled me too. Was there some sinister environmental agency at work? There is a thicket of blackthorn, expanding by the year, on the coast between Polliwilline and Glenehervie, and I promised Eddie we'd take a look there. Judy walked up the shore herself and found the berries fairly abundant, I reported this by letter to Eddie, but when I met him a couple of weeks later he was able to tell me that his usual sources of sloes, at Crosshill and Carradale, were once again productive. A pity - I was looking forward to a Polliwilline ploy after the first frosts! The sloe is the most acidic of fruits and virtually inedible, yet it was from that fruit, selectively crossed and recrossed with the cherry-plum, that our cultivated plums came.

     While Judy was surveying the blackthorns, she noticed a MINK snoking along the lower shore. It failed to notice her, and she watched it until it disappeared south. Minutes later, climbing the scree to get a better look at the upper parts of the thicket, she found herself just a couple of feet from a basking ADDER. It, however, noticed her and withdrew into its hole. She'd been thinking about adders on her way up the shore, and I too had been thinking about adders, remembering, as I gathered brambles by the side of the track, how, five years ago, in early October, I'd climbed the steep bank to reach a bramble bush and found myself looking at a brown-coloured adder sunning itself on a small ledge. I jumped back down, found Sarah, and lugged her up the bank to see her first snake, but we saw only its tail withdrawing into the nearby hole. Mink continue to thrive all over Kintyre. 'Our' mink at Polliwilline have no fear at all of humans, and go about their business quite brazenly. Their business too often includes predations on poultry.

MUSHROOMS, more plentiful this year than for many a year, began to appear early in September, and I received quite a few reports of sightings. Most of these sightings were either rather beyond the range of my bike and me or in locations that hardly attracted me, but on Saturday 9th I got word from a farmer friend not far from town, cycled out to his fann and lifted a couple of pounds of field mushrooms. The following week, a tip-off led me to another source near Machrihanish, and I was able to gather there right into October, by which time wintry weather had suddenly arrived. In the last week of September we had heavy rain, sleet showers and strong westerlies.

JET, LIGNITE AND CANNEL COAL

     I was in touch this summer with Dr Alison Sheridan, Assistant Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museums of Scotland, and sent her samples of sea-coal from various Kintyre beaches.

     She, with a colleague, Ms Mary Davis, is trying to establish, through non-destructive analysis, the nature and provenance of all jet-like artefacts from pre-Iron Age Scotland. They have concentrated on the most abundant type of material - the spacer plate and disc bead necklaces of the Early Bronze Age, highly prestigious objects in their time, as evidenced by their deposition in the most elaborately constructed of graves - and have found an intriguing picture emerging.

     Complete necklaces of true jet, which was highly prized for the magical properties ascribed to it, were indeed imported from Whitby - the only known source of the substance in the British Isles - and some of these appear to have been placed in graves relatively soon after their acquisition (within one or two generations, say). Some necklaces, however, contain amounts of non-jet material, usually a locally-available substitute, lignite or cannel coal, which may have been used to replace broken pieces. There is, however, another group of necklaces which seem to be more substantially mixed, incorporating jet, lignite and cannel coal, and bits from previous necklaces. Finally, there are a small number of necklaces which seem to consist entirely of local material. From these analyses, a complex picture of Early Bronze Age aristocratic society can be reconstructed.

     So far, the two spacer plate necklaces found at Campbeltown appear to consist entirely of jet, but more research is required. The similar necklace from Monybachach, Skipness, contained jet, lignite and cannel coal mixed, and was clearly old when buried.

     As I write, the more recently-discovered of the Campheltown necklaces is in Edinburgb undergoing X-ray fluorescence examination. It was uncovered in 1970 when Mr Tommy McGrory bulldozed the burial cist in which it had been deposited. while preparing the building site of what is now Stronvaar Avenue [see Frances Hood's article in the first issue of The Kintyre Magazine, 1977, and Dr Peltenburg's full account of his excavation of the cist, published in Glasgow Archaeological Journal 6, 1979] That necklace consisted of 134 pieces and, as reconstructed, was on display in Campbeltown Museum until May of 1993, when the building was broken into and robbed, and an attempt - fortunately unsuccessful - was made to smash the reinforced display case. The necklace is due to be returned to Campbeltown soon. The second Campbeltown necklace, supposed to have been found at the head of the Loch, is held at Inveraray Castle.

    Dr Sheridan excavated a cist from the same cemetery in 1991. As with the 1970 excavation, it was a rescue operation, triggered when the late Eddie Brodie struck the cist with the shovel of his digger while levelling the site of what is now Campbeltown Hospital. That excavation produced the remains of three persons - probably a primary and one or two secondary internments - plus a singed cattle bone and a Food Vessel. The stones which formed the cist remain piled in the grounds of the Library, next to the Shore Street fence.

     Dr Sheridan and Ms Davis have already examined the 4000-year-old necklace which was found in a cist at Poltalloch, Mid Argyll, in 1928, and in a report published in The Kist - the magazine of the Natural History and Archaeology Society of Mid Argyll - of Spring 1995, reveal that all but 24 of its 117 component parts are of Whitby jet. the remainder being of cannel coal.

     The origins of such cannel coal is difficult to determine. It occurs extensively in Ayrshire and the Central Belt of Scotland, but also closer to home, in the Drumlemble-Machrihanish area. There are said to be outcrops in Tirfergus Glen. Whether what I have been accustomed to calling sea-coal is in fact cannel coal remains to be established.. There are certainly seabed outcrops of coal in Machrihanish Bay, because onshore gales cast ashore slabs of the stuff around the mouth of the Backs Water.

     Some of these slabs are sizeable, and the coal burns, but tends to heat up into an incandescent mass, leaving an ash-white solid deposit. High grade coal it is not! Further south, in the Galdrans, the coal is washed up in sea- worn shapes - some of them very attractive and lending themselves to ornamental uses - but these are mostly of modest dimensions.

     Sea-coal can also be found on the beaches around Southend - and I found, last July, an exquisitely-smoothed triangular piece at the Second Waters - but not in any great quantities. Its true provenance, obviously enough, given the long history of coal-mining in the Laggan, is from the Galdrans north to Tangy.
End
No 38 Autumn 1995


Return to Page One

Wee Drams

Page  2:   Some Campbeltown Memories

Page  3:   Pigs, Police, The Peace and Dr. Pirie

Page  4:   Sheriff Court, Tarbert, 1683 - Part 2

Page  5:   Campbeltown Whisky

Page  6:   The Galbraith Poet-Harpers of Gigha

Page  7:   The Victorian Largie Castle

Page  9:  Hamilton, Prince Edward Island // Castlehill Church Glebe // Gigha Tenants, 1779 //
                Gigha Fisheries in 1792 // The Whalers // McShannon Harpers // Geneaology

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