Alex Hale (RCAHMS) – West Dunbartonshire

Alex Hale, RCAHMS

Alex Hale, RCAHMS


Six places, in six kilometres, for six million people


‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’.

‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’.

Imagine time travelling along the River Clyde from Erskine Bridge to Dumbarton Rock, from the 19th century to prehistory and back again. The sights, sounds and smells would be mind-blowing. Without Dr Who’s tardis or Captain James T Kirk’s Starship Enterprise we are a bit stuck in today. So what is it about time travel that makes us want to do it?

Places from the past give us glimpses that we can enjoy, ignore, smell, touch and feel. But more than that, we can use places from the past to discover where we came from, make up stories about where we are going and look at the lives of people who have gone through similar and different experiences as us.

Here are six places along the River Clyde, within six kilometres of each other and right on the doorsteps of six million people (roughly the population of Glasgow). From East to West along the River Clyde in West Dunbartonshire:

  1. Bowling Basin at the West end of the Forth and Clyde Canal –DP011643 (also see the Scottish Canals website)
  2. Bowling HarbourSC124627 (harbour in 1927) and DP011642 (now in 2005). A vital harbour and ship-building yard, at the sea-canal interface.
  3. Dunglass Castle and memorial to Henry Bell, who built the first ever steam-driven vessel, the Comet – DP014231. The memorial was erected by the Lord provost of Glasgow who had been on the Comet’s maiden voyage and he wanted to commemorate Bell’s amazing achievement.
  4. The Lang Dyke- the massive wall that runs down the middle of the Clyde from Bowling to Dumbarton. Built in the 1770’s it allowed bigger vessels to make the journey upstream to Glasgow, rather than having to stop at Port Glasgow. For a good picture see: and more information see:
  5. Dumbuck crannog– a 2000 year old wooden building, with wooden dock and log-boat!-DP046361
  6. Dumbarton Rock and CastleSC602891. Not only a 16th century garrison castle, but the at the highest point on the rock were found the remains of the Early Medieval fortifications of the power centre of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. (see also
    Dumbarton Castle, Oblique aerial view from SW. © RCAHMS

    Dumbarton Castle, Oblique aerial view from SW. Copyright RCAHMS (SC602891)

    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.

Waterlogged Day, Waterlogged Wood….

My name is Anne Crone and I am a post-excavation project manager at AOC Archaeology Group, working in their Loanhead office in Scotland. I am currently managing a number of large post-excavation projects, the most important of which is the Cults Landscape Project – important to me because I also carried out the fieldwork in partnership with my colleague, Graeme Cavers, and because it has enabled me to ‘indulge’ many of my research interests, in crannogs, waterlogged wood and dendrochronology.


The Cults Loch crannog under excavation


The fieldwork project has involved the excavation of a number of sites in and around Cults Loch, a small kettlehole loch at Castle Kennedy, near Stranraer in south-west Scotland. The project arose out of the initiative of the Scottish Wetland Archaeology Programme, the aim of which was to more fully integrate wetland archaeology into more mainstream ‘dryland’ archaeology. So we selected a landscape in which the archaeological sites appear to cluster around the loch and within which there were two crannogs – these are man-made islands found only in Scotland and Ireland and which are repositories of all sorts of waterlogged organic goodies!  We have excavated one of the crannogs which sits on a little man-made promontory jutting out into the loch, the promontory fort that lies on the other side of the loch, overlooking the crannog, and one of the palisaded enclosures that lies on the grassland around the loch.

And now we are halfway through the post-excavation programme.  We know that this is a later prehistoric landscape because we have 1st millennium BC radiocarbon dates from the promontory fort and crannog. But more exciting – I have been able to dendro-date some of the oak timbers from the crannog and we now know that most of the building activity took place in the 2nd and 3rd decades of the 5th century BC, and that there was refurbishment of the causeway in 193 BC – for me these more specific dates bring the occupants more clearly into focus…

Today – well, it started off with a 3 mile walk to work – usually a great start when I can think through my schedule for the day – but today the heavens opened and I was soaked by the time I arrived at the office! After drying out I settled down at my desk to read the report on the soil micromorphology from the crannog which my colleague Lynne Roy has just finished. As project manager I need to edit and check each report before it is sent out to the client, in this case Historic Scotland, but as the archaeologist I also want to read it for the insights it will give me into the taphonomy of the deposits on the crannog. And it is really fascinating! We found large patches of laminated plant litter, interspersed with gravel and sand layers which we interpreted as floor coverings that had been repeatedly renewed. Lynne’s analysis has revealed that the occupants probably cleaned away as much as possible of the dirty floor coverings before scattering over a sand and gravel subfloor and then laying down fresh plant litter. She can tell which surfaces were exposed for a length of time while others were covered almost immediately. And her work on the hearth debris indicates that peat turves were probably the main form of fuel on the site.


Recording timbers in the warehouse


Like many archaeologists the majority of my time is spent at my desk, writing reports, editing reports, filling in/updating spreadsheets, and dealing with emails. So it is a pleasure to be able to don my lab coat and spend some time in our warehouse handling waterlogged wood. I am currently writing the report on the structural timbers from the crannog. The majority of the timbers were undressed logs or roundwood stakes, mostly of alder and oak, so most of the recording and sampling was done on the crannog. Samples for dendro and species identification were brought back to the lab but we only brought back complete timbers which displayed interesting carpentry details and were worthy of conservation. I have been completing the recording of these timbers and deciding which ones should be illustrated for the final report. There are some interesting timbers in the assemblage –large horizontal timbers with square mortises, presumably to take vertical posts, but what is the function of the horizontal timbers which have very narrow notches cut diagonally across them? Next week I will be off to the library to look for comparanda and to find explanations for some of the more unusual aspects of the assemblage

Read more about Cults Loch here