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Secrets of Wester Ross Iron Age to be probed in three-day roundhouse dig near Gairloch Museum as part of BBC week of events; Achtercairn Archaeology Trail in spotlight as public dig led by Dr Tom Gardener set to begin


By Hector MacKenzie

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Archaeologist Tom Gardener.
Archaeologist Tom Gardener.

AN archaeology dig delving into thousands of years of history is set to begin in Gairloch tomorrow as part of a week of nationwide events spotlighting the work of museums.

Gairloch Museum will host a live, public excavation by archaeologist Tom Gardener on the Achtercairn Archaeology Trail during the BBC’s #MuseumPassion week.

Dr Gardener will spend three days digging the roundhouse closest to the award-winning museum . It has not previously been studied.

The Achtercairn Archaeology Trail, a two-mile circuit nestled just behind Gairloch Museum, takes in the sites of 10 roundhouses as well as some stunning views of Gairloch and Skye beyond.

Dr Gardener will be helped by local volunteers, including Gairloch Museum trustee Jeremy Fenton who first discovered and began work to uncover the roundhouses in 2009, after spotting the reference to the sites on a map at the museum.

Curator Dr Karen Buchnanan said: “We’re really delighted that Tom has agreed to lend us his experience and supervise the dig. It’s a great chance to gather more data and material for carbon dating, and it will give visitors the opportunity to see a dig in action and to hear first-hand about these fascinating roundhouse dwellings and the part they play in our local history”.

A view of the dig site.
A view of the dig site.

Visitors are welcome to walk the Achtercairn Archaeology Trail and meet the archaeology team. The dig will be taking place between 10am and 4pm on Wednesday 14th, Tuesday 15th and Friday 16th of October.

Visitors who would also like to visit Gairloch Museum and learn more about roundhouses are encouraged to phone ahead to book a time for their visit. Full details of how to visit can be found at https://www.gairlochmuseum.org/visit

#MuseumPassion will take place on October 15 and will consist of a whole day of promoted content on social media, TV and radio focusing on the UK’s museums.Other events taking place during the week will include coverage of the Art Fund Museum of the Year award.

Tom Gardner is an experienced archaeologist and palaeoecologist currently working for Historic Environment Scotland and is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Edinburgh where he obtained his PhD in 2019.

He has family just outside Badachro, where he has frequently holidayed. He will be present to answer any questions about the excavation, archaeology, and heritage management.

Jeremy Fenton strimming.
Jeremy Fenton strimming.

A roundhouse – or more specifically an ‘Atlantic roundhouse’ – is a prehistoric drystone tower residence with a single entrance. Atlantic roundhouses are unique to Scotland and mostly found in the northern and western mainland, the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

The entrances to roundhouses normally face south-east, probably to provide shelter and morning light. There was a conical thatched roof, supported on wooden posts, ring beams and rafters. They were built during the Scottish Iron Age (c.800BC to 500AD) in different shapes and for different purposes which archaeologists still debate today.

Related: Gairloch Museum takes share in biggest prize of its kind

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