Lochinver Quarry

ARS Ltd Project Officer investigating a large midden pit on-site at Lochinver © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
Iron Age domestic hearth inside a roundhouse © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
Volunteers from the Moray Society and students from the University of the Highlands and Islands and the University of Aberdeen ready to begin their first day exploring the fantastic archaeology revealed at Lochinver! © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022

ARS Ltd has been undertaking archaeological investigations at Tarmac’s Lochinver Quarry since initial works commenced in 2012.  The excavations have taken place in advance of sand and gravel extraction and have so far extended across an area totalling c.30 hectares. The ground has been carefully stripped of topsoil to reveal the remnants of archaeological features excavated into the sand and gravel substrate. The site has produced an important sequence of settlement evidence dating from the Neolithic, through the Bronze and Iron Ages and into later periods. However, it is the Bronze and Iron Age remains that form the focus of interest, with Bronze Age settlements in the form of roundhouses spanning from the Early Bronze Age through to the Late Bronze Age in a part of Scotland where very limited evidence of Bronze Age settlement has so far been found. Evidence for the growing of wheat and barley, as well as livestock keeping, has been found, together with the structural form of the settlements, including one with a timber palisade around that dates to around 1600 BC – one of the earliest palisaded settlements yet found in Britain.

The Iron Age remains include rare examples of metalworking hearths, or furnaces, where the smelting of iron took place. Various parts of the process of iron manufacture are represented and, again, this incredibly rare evidence is shedding new light on our understanding of the Iron Age, both regionally, as well as for the national story more generally. Some unusual fired clay ‘pedestals’ are thought to be supports for potential salt-making pans indicating further prehistoric industrial activity at the site. Beads made of faience are also present and there is a possibility that glass-making might also be present – but this requires further analysis.

The present phase of works at Lochinver commenced in early 2022 and has revealed the densest concentration of archaeological features so far identified at the quarry, including a timber palisaded enclosure, approximately 12 roundhouses and other craft-working structures spread across the investigated area, some of which are surrounded by ditches, together with many other associated firepits, metal-working hearths/furnaces, pits, ditches and postholes. The recovery of a number of ceramic beads, fragments of pottery, metalworking hearths, and a rare pair of bronze cauldrons dating to the first century AD, indicate the Lochinver site functioned as a craft/industrial centre in the Iron Age. Sites of this age and type are very rare and once fully investigated and scientific analyses undertaken it will shed much new light on Bronze Age and Iron Age Scotland.

ARS Ltd team member excavating an Iron Age furnace on-site at Lochinver © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
Drone mounted aerial view of the late prehistoric settlement during excavation at Lochinver © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
Cylindrical fired clay pillars excavated during investigations at Lochinver potentially for use during prehistoric salt-panning © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
Still from a 3D photographic model of a late prehistoric cauldron retrieved from excavations undertaken at Lochinver Quarry during 2021 © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
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