Case Study 4: Dunbeg and Glenshellach

Clare Ellis, Argyll Archaeology

Two commercial excavations in advance of housing developments on the outskirts of Oban, Argyll have revealed a number of middle Bronze Age roundhouses with unusual internal architectural features. At Dunbeg, a small village located on the north side of Oban, three of the seven roundhouses had narrow, subterranean gullies that ran directly from the central hearth or from the central hearth via an internal C-Shaped gully and out through the porched entrance (Figure 9 and 10); a very similar gully was also recorded in one of the two roundhouses excavated at Glenshellach which is located on the south side of Oban.

Figure 9: Aerial view of the roundhouses at Dunbeg under excavation. © Argyll Archaeology

In one of the Dunbeg roundhouses oak planking lined the gully. In addition five of the six roundhouses at Dunbeg and both one of the roundhouses at Glenshellach contained internal C-shaped gullies, all the gullies were located within and on the northeastern side of the circle of structural postholes; a further example has also been excavated at Kilinochonoch in Kilmartin Glen. In addition at least two of the gullies had formalised floors of compact gravel and another was over 70 cm deep with very steep sides.

Figure 10: Plan of Roundhouse S1 at Dunbeg. © Argyll Archaeology

The location and form of these indicates that these are very unlikely to be the consequence of stock housed within the interior; rather they appear to be deliberate subterranean features. The fact that in two of the roundhouses the C-shaped gullies and linear gullies were integrated indicates that they may have functioned together. One plausible explanation is that the hearth was used to draw air from outside into the roundhouse and sometimes directly into and through the subterranean C-shaped gullies, presumably the latter examples specifically designed to combat the build up of mold and fustiness. Interestingly no other examples of linear gullies leading from a hearth out through a porched entrance within prehistoric roundhouses can be found in the literature and this appears, at the moment, to be a feature unique to mainland Argyll, specifically the Oban area.

Funders: MacLeod Construction Ltd (Glenshellach) and West Highland Rural Solutions Ltd (Dunbeg).

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