MHG18008 - Possible occupation site, Ballachulish Moss


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Type and Period (2)

  • OCCUPATION SITE (Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 551 BC)
  • PLATFORM (Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 551 BC) + Sci.Date

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Full Description

NN06SE 12 054 603.

The peat moss at North Ballachulish was surveyed and sampled by GUARD in order to assess its conditions, extent and archaeological potential. Various archaeological discoveries were made in the vicinity of the moss during the 19th century, including the recovery of a carved wooden figurine which has since been radiocarbon dated to c626BC (NN06SE 2-6).
A sub-surface contour survey revealed that the N portion of the moss survived to no greater depth than half a metre, having been used as a source of fuel throughout the 19th century. The S portion of the moss survived to a greater depth, over 3.5m at its deepest. The ground surface beneath the S portion was found to undulate, probably due to the presence of various kettle-holes and glacial melt-water channels.
A Russian corer was used in order to extract a series of seven peat cores from the S portion of the moss. These varied in depth from around 1m to over 3.5m. It is hoped that these will allow an insight into the vegetational history of the area while also providing radiocarbon dates for the initiation of peat growth.
The peat moss clearly has archaeological potential, surviving to a considerable depth in places. Any development taking place on or around the moss will necessitate the implementation of a watching brief in order to monitor the removal of peat. <1> <2>

NN 054 602 (centre) A programme of survey and excavation was conducted in the S portion of North Ballachulish Moss between March and June 1996 in response to development threats (see Pollard 1993 for previous work). The work was carried out in two stages: March 1996 - surface penetrating radar survey; June 1996 - excavation and coring programme.
The radar survey showed the underlying topography to comprise three large lake basins, the deepest up to 4m, with areas of shallower peat in between. A series of anomalies was detected at 1-1.5m below the surface in an area of deep peat on the edge of one of the lake basins. The anomalies persisted over an area of 40 x 50m.
Two major trenches were excavated. These were positioned over areas of deep peat using results of the radar survey to assist in their location. The largest trench, c 4 x 2 x 1.5m, was positioned over the edge of the deepest lake basin containing the anomalies. A compacted surface rich in charcoal and small angular pebbles, mainly of quartz, was encountered at 1-1.5m below the surface. Worked wood was found associated with the feature. <3>

Scheduled as 'North Ballachulsih, prehistoric ritual site NNE of Hotel... a group of archaeological features within and under the peat which forms the remaining part of North Ballachulish Moss.
Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 3 March 1999.

Ground Penetrating Radar revealed three peat-filled basins with shallower areas of peat in between. In the deepest basin which had a maximum peat depth of 4m, a series of anomalies was noted which was tested by sample excavation. There seems to have been a wooden platform there, built during the Bronze Age in an area of open water. This was identified as a compacted surface rich in charcoal and small angular pebbles, mainly of quartz, and four in situ wooden posts/stakes with the addition of a fifth, worked stake with a worked end. Two samples from the stakes were taken and submitted for radiocarbon dating, which indicated Bronze Age dates. The peat directly above the feature was also radiocarbon dated, which produced older dates from the peat than the feature. This indicates that the stakes were driven through the peat layer. <4>

It was initially assumed that this feature represented a platform at the edge of a lake, but macrofossil evidence suggests that the feature dates to a period when bog formation was well underway and that the ground surface beneath at the time of construction was likely to have been solid. Interpretation on the basis of the limited excavation, about the function of this (i.e domestic or ritual) is limited. It can be noted however that various items seem to have been ritually deposited in the (then) lake including the famous Ballachulish figurine (MHG4306). <5>

As a result of the work the area was removed from the Local Plan housing allocation and scheduled.

See also link below to Scottish Radiocarbon Database for radiocarbon dates.

Sources/Archives (5)



Grid reference Centred NN 0541 6012 (4m by 4m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NN06SE
Civil Parish KILMALLIE
Geographical Area LOCHABER

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