9. The Archaeology of Medieval Argyll (AD 1100 – AD 1600)

John A Raven1

1. Historic Environment Scotland, Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh EH9 1SH

With contributions from the RARFA working group: Colin Breen, David Caldwell, Piers Dixon, Heather James and Richard Oram

Brief Summary

Between AD 1100 – 1600 Argyll transformed from being inhabited by a hybrid culture of both Gaelic and Norse speaking peoples to being predominantly Gaelic speaking, under the influence of the Kingdom of Scotland. The period was a mix of shifting alliances, territorial struggles, with the Church and secular administration becoming ever closer. Fish was significantly important to the local economy as too were other forms of trade such as cattle droving, textile production and a variety of small scale industries such as mining (silver and copper), charcoal burning, bloomeries, boat building and general crafts production.

Secular lords used an increasingly nuanced set of monumental and architectural motifs to demonstrate their social position. They were amongst the first to adopt castle building techniques in places where they would interact with outsiders and most needed to express their dominance, especially near harbours. However, they were equally at home reoccupying duns and crannogs when engaging with their own communities and where they wanted to demonstrate their ancestral links to the land.

The church was a central part of the medieval period and this is when we start to see the first stone built chapels being built and the emergence of the classic late medieval West Highland sculpture, which consisted of either grave slabs depicting warrior figure s or warrior-type imagery or with scrollwork, mythical beasts, angels, tools and crosses. By the 12th century the reforms that swept Europe saw a shift in focus away from the Celtic church to a more Latinised church. Towards the end of this period the growing influence of the Protestant Church was also being felt. Although there are a large number of resources to help study and understand this period, many aspects need further research, such as how poorer people lived; the date of the different types of settlement that we have for this period; the fishing economy; the environment (see Section 10.2) and how the changes in temperature in weather affected agriculture, settlement and diet; chapels and the medieval spiritual landscape; patterns of patronage, and; administrative landscapes such as parish boundaries.