30 June 2011

The Crannog of Loch Tay

It is possible that one of your ancestors called something like this home.  It is a crannog, a free-standing wooden structure which was a popular form of dwelling place for over five millennia.  Most were built on lakes and rivers and a crannog afforded a deal of protection to the better off members of the population.

Although the reproduction here is on the shore of Loch Tay in Scotland the word crannog derives from Old Irish and means young tree – a term which first appeared around the twelfth century.  It has other meanings too, such as crow’s nest and pulpit which seem almost more appropriate than the most common translation of the word.

The word has been adopted in to the English language and broadly refers to any structure which has been created as a partial or complete artificial island. There are close to four hundred crannogs in Scotland but the crannog capital is Ireland, which has over a thousand examples.

This wonderful replica is based on a defensive homestead in Scotland called the Oakband Crannog which, it is estimated, was built about two and a half thousand years ago. This was at the time Confucius and Pythagoras were alive and the population of the world was around only 100 million people.

The crannog was built by the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology to discover more about how and why the ancient people of Scotland and Ireland built their homes in or near water and for people to directly experience how they survived without any sophisticated technology.

Crannogs served as more than just a homestead for farmers.  They were, it is thought, considered status symbols for those who we might call middle class today.  Refuges in times of trouble they were also used as non residential hunting and fishing stations.  Some were even made as holiday homes – a place for well of Stone Age families to get away for the weekend!

The reproduced crannog is unique in Scotland and was constructed by a painstaking process of rediscovering the antique technology used to create the originals and using the same timber as that found in the Oakband example. The thatched roundhouse stands on stilts and it is accessed by way of walkway of alder logs.

The walls of the crannog are made from hazel, which was wovern and then stuffed with fleece from sheep and goat fibers. Bracken was also added to keep out the piercing Scottish winter wind and to help insulate the house. Inside corn would be ground and cloth made on a loom.

Animals would share the crannog with their human owners, but were segregated in to one part.  The space for people too was separated in to two, one part for living in and the other for storage.   No artificial materials were used in the construction of the crannog so it is as authentic as a reproduction is going to get.

The result is something quite special which casts a light on an ancient yet sophisticated culture of the past.

Like to visit? Instructions on how to get there here.