8.3.2 Carved stone monuments

One exception to the pattern of neglect of early medieval archaeology has been the study of the Early Christian carved stones of the area (Foster et al 2016) which are still one of the most important resources for understanding the period, and one of the outstanding collections in European terms. These have excited interest from at least the 17th century, with good drawings of some monuments by Edward Lluyd in 1699. However, detailed descriptions of many monuments were not published until the mid-19th century (Graham 1850, Stuart 1867, Drummond 1881). Although Allen and Anderson’s (1903) Early Christian monuments of Scotland remains the key corpus of these monuments, it did not deal comprehensively with the western Scottish material, and many of the simpler cross-marked stones were not recorded. The key modern recording work was undertaken by the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland as part of their work in compiling the Inventories of Argyll from the 1960s to 1980s. The carved monuments from these seven volumes were extracted into a single publication (Fisher 2001), which combines descriptions with an overview of research on the stones. This extensive research has concentrated on the art historical study of the crosses, particularly those with figurative scenes, and is too extensive to describe in detail here. An exception has been the work by Meggen Gondek deriving from her PhD on the social implications of the wealth and power invested in the construction of the monuments (Gondek 2003, 2006b) and a study of the important but little-known site of Cladh a’Bhile (CANMORE ID 39051), Ellary (Gondek 2006a). More recently, Katherine Forsyth and Adrian Maldonado have re-assessed the Iona monuments in advance of their re-display in the new Abbey Museum. New insights into the location and meaning of many of the monuments resulted from this work (Forsyth and Maldonado 2012). Further investigation of the Iona group by these specialists is proposed. The Norse grave-slabs from Iona whose importance has been previously highlighted (Graham-Campbell and Batey 1998, 250) reinforce recent historical and archaeological work by GUARD Archaeology Ltd at the Glebe Field site (Will 2012) and others nearby, just outside the monastic enclosure. Finds of Hiberno-Norse pins, steatite vessels and other Norse artefacts indicate that Iona was thriving in the Norse period, rather than being destroyed by raiding, and may have been the site of a market here.

Figure : Luss Hogback Stone ©HES

Other significant carved stones from the Norse period include a fine runic carved fragment from Inchmarnock, Bute which is a find recorded before the more recent excavations by Lowe, a Ringerike style cross slab from Islay (Dóid Mhàiri) (Graham-Campbell and Batey 1998, 250), and a runic inscription from Dunollie (K Forsyth pers. comm.), as well as the enigmatic Luss hogback stone. This latter piece, which is located within a circular churchyard within the village of Luss, is a complete recumbent stone of hogback form with clear roof tegulations visible (Lang 1974, 217-8), and part of a larger cognate group of stones best exemplified in Scotland at Govan on the Clyde (eg Ritchie 1994) from the Viking age. Another cross from Kilmartin church can be included here, as well as a cross-slab from St Finan’s church, Kilmorie which seems to have affinities with Govan.