A complex ancient landscape at Wheen, Glen Clova
My name is Eve Boyle, and for over twenty years I have served as a field archaeologist with RCAHMS. This job has led me all over the country, identifying, mapping and describing visible remains of our ancestor’s homes, farms and fields. It comes as a surprise to many people (and sometimes ourselves too!) to learn that there are still many areas of the country, particularly in the Highlands, with an abundance of unrecognised and unrecorded sites. The Angus Glens, on the edge of the Cairngorms, is one area that still has archaeological riches awaiting discovery. As an illustration of this, I have chosen as my favourite site this small area of pasture at Wheen, straddling the public road running into Glen Clova.
We mapped all the sites you can see in the picture in 1999, but it was only in the previous year, when this aerial photo was taken, that we realised there was anything of significance to be recorded in the glen. The crisp low light on a November afternoon throws up long sharp shadows that cause the low banks and knee-high footings of stone walls to jump out at us, almost shouting ‘Here I am! Look at me!’
The most exciting features are the prehistoric round houses, dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Three of these are clearly visible, one just left of centre in the foreground, another (which is oval rather than truly round) at the bottom right corner, the third in the middle distance, close to the right-hand edge of the frame. But there are others for the sharp eye to find. Our survey map shows seven round-houses in the area of the photo, with another six in the forestry and on the moorland to the north (the survey map has been turned to have south at the top to match the aerial photo). These are big structures, up to 50 feet across, the homes of farmers and herdsmen living in the glen two or even three thousand years ago. Around them the low light picks out small heaps of stone, now overgrown with grass and heather; these were formed as our ancestors threw into piles the stones dragged up by their ploughs.
But there are many other structures here – rectangular buildings occupied in more recent times, perhaps no more than three or four hundred years ago. The largest group of these, at the top of the photo, represents the remains of a farmstead from the 18th century, while the other small buildings (all shown in red on the survey map) were once perhaps the homes of labourers. The survey map also shows (in brown) short lengths of ruined walls and earthen banks, the remnants of a system of fields, some of which may be medieval or later, while others perhaps are as old as the round houses.
This photo is a marvellous example of the great wealth of archaeology in our countryside, often no more than a stone-throw from roads we drive along every day.
This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.
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