A Surprising Find During Archaeological Dig

In 2015 a small-scale archaeological dig was undertaken in what are known as W.3, W.4 and W.5, the low ruins just as you enter our carpark. We’ve never known much about them, other than that they stand alongside W.1 and W.2 which are currently our workshop and a storeroom, and were once probably two small houses sat side by side.  

Building W isn’t shown on the 1789 map of Auchindrain, but by 1871 there is a long row of buildings in this area. For many years it was assumed that this was a longhouse much like buildings A, D and H, but the layout just didn’t seem right. You can see in the drawings by RCHAMS from the 1960s that if it was a longhouse the byre and kitchen would be next to each other with no partition, but that there would be a stone wall between the kitchen and the closet. This is odd, as usually you would partition yourself off from the smelly, noisy cows rather your own family! 


 If W.1 and W.2 were a long house there would be a stone divide between the kitchen and the closet, and not between the byre and the kitchen

By 1897 it appears that the central sections of this row – W.3 and W.4 – no longer had a roof and probably lay in ruins. We certainly know that by 1946 when an aerial photo of Auchindrain was taken, W.3, W.4 and W.5 were ruins, and by the time Auchindrain became a museum in the 1960s only W.1 and W.2 remained, as a ruin, with what was left of the other buildings hidden under vegetation.  


Left, building AHCND.W in 1904 and right, in 1946.


The census data from this area of the township is hard to interpret as it is difficult to match up families with houses which are now ruins or totally invisible above the ground, especially as between 1841 and 1871 a quite large number of people were living in this part of the township.  Because we can see no evidence of interior doors connecting the different parts of building W, we think this was a terrace of four small houses, each with its own door opening up on to the road into Auchindrain (which is now mostly under the car park and Visitor Centre).  But the cobbled pavement along the front of the houses still mostly survives. 

The first aim of the 2015 dig was to find the floor of ruin W.4, which was revealed to be on two levels with a raised platform at the back of the building. Within the east wall the dig also found the remains of a fireplace which was seen to have been sealed off with stonework.  We had not expected to find a fireplace, and its presence helped us to deduce that W1, W2, W3 and W4 were originally four small houses. We believe that W5, which the dig showed had been built up against the end-wall of W4, was added by Duncan McNicol in the 1850s as a weaving shed, after he and his wife moved here from Building O, exchanging houses with his nephew Neil McGugan.  We also believe that, after 1871, when fewer people were living within this part of the township, W4 at least was converted into a byre – that is when the fireplace was walled up and the floor altered to create an animal platform with a drainage channel in front of it.  Later, it was abandoned. The tree, which on a ring-count was over 100 years old when cut down in 2015, probably started as a seed that took root in the abandoned chimney. Once again this confirms our dates and maps, as the tree must have started to grow after the house fell into ruin sometime between 1871 and 1897.  


The fireplace as revealed in 2015 


During the 2015 dig the fireplace was too entangled within the tree’s roots for full investigation and removal, but by last winter the wind and rain of Argyll had caused the stump to decay enough for our team to remove the fireplace. Although in some circumstances its better practice to keep large archaeological finds in situ, we realised that the fireplace was deteriorating in the harsh weather at Auchindrain, especially the fragile metal bars. Once removed, the loose mud and moss was carefully cleaned away to allow the metal and stone to dry out, and revealed just how well made the stone section is. It has a beautifully-carved round moulding running from top to bottom, together with a flat area and holes to mount a “swee”, or chimney crane, for cooking.  It’s a fireplace design unlike any others within the township. Now accessioned into our Recognised Collection, the fireplace will stay safely in store to preserve it for the future.  


The fireplace, removed and cleaned up