8.3.1 Antiquarian accounts

As Ritchie (1997) has documented, antiquarian interest in the sites of the area was (with the exception of Iona and Norse burials) mainly confined to prehistoric monuments, until the famous Celticist W F Skene identified Dunadd as the capital of Dál Riata in 1876, and WFL Thomas expanded on the importance of its footprint in inauguration rituals there. These insights led to the pioneering survey of Lorn and Mid Argyll’s duns and forts by David Christison (1904) and the excavation of Dunadd by Christison and Anderson (1905). Apart from providing large numbers of finds, these excavations, and a number of interventions around Iona Abbey (CANMORE ID 21664) and at St Blane’s, Bute (CANMORE ID 40292), belong to the antiquarian period in their lack of rigour and recording. Rather more controlled excavation at Dunadd was undertaken by J Hewitt Craw (1930), which, while recovering many more finds by sieving, still lacked proper stratigraphic recording. However, Craw was able to note the resemblance of the E ware pottery found at Dunadd to that from the Mote of Mark, and date it and the accompanying brooch moulds to the eighth century, thus giving a chronological marker for this period for the first time.

Figure : Brooch moulds from Dunadd ©HES

Norse period burials, with their rich grave goods, have understandably attracted attention since the late 18th-century uncovering of graves at Ballinaby (CANMORE ID 37407), Islay. Several important boat burials and other graves were excavated in the 19th century from the islands off the Argyll mainland, mainly Islay, Colonsay and Oronsay, Coll and Tiree (see summaries in Grieg 1940; Graham-Campbell and Batey 1998). Other stray finds have been re-assessed and for example on Islay at Cruach Mhor (CANMORE ID 37666), Gordon was able to identify a grave assemblage from a series of stray finds eroded from sand dunes (Gordon 1990). Ongoing research by James Graham-Campbell and Caroline Paterson in relation to the extensive pagan Viking assemblage from Scotland, as a whole, includes a much deeper understanding of the antiquarian finds of potential grave material within Argyll. These results are eagerly awaited and will change perceptions of this part of the archaeological record when they are fully available. This will also provide a correction of the several inaccuracies identified in the reporting of Grieg in 1940 and potentially an increase in the number of graves identified within the islands, although very interestingly there remains a distinct lack of verified grave evidence on the mainland of Argyll (James Graham-Campbell pers comm.). It was only in the post-WWII period that advances began to be made in understanding the archaeology of the early medieval period in the area. It is best to consider these investigations in a thematic manner, rather than a chronological one.