20 July 2023
Scotland’s last remaining township could be a lot older than previously thought following an Iron Age discovery that dates it back as far as 200BC.
The Auchindrain (Bail’ Ach’ an Droighinn) historic township, an open-air museum located between Inveraray and Lochgilphead in Mid Argyll, was thought to have dated back to the 16th century but the discovery of an early tool for grinding grain could push that back by up to 1,800 years according to experts.
Dr Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator for Iron Age and Roman Collections at the National Museum of Scotland, explained: “We are confident that this item is a ‘bun quern’. With a domed profile and cup-shaped hopper to hold a reservoir of grain, it is very distinctive and makes the identification certain. It's certainly not a style you'd associate with post-medieval townships, which were much more likely to use flatter ‘disc querns.
“It’s in a battered condition that might well be deliberate. Querns were often intentionally broken up in the Iron Age, perhaps when the owner died or a house was abandoned, with the fragments being carefully buried. This was not the same as the medieval and post-medieval traditions of the laird breaking the old hand querns in order to force his tenants to use the estate’s mill,” added Dr Hunter.
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Auchindrain Director Bob Clark commented: “The quern was found during an exploration of the retaining wall around a communal ‘kailyard’, or vegetable garden, which occupies the flattened top of a glacial mound within Auchindrain. The wall consists of stones gathered up from the surrounding area and the wall-builders would have seen the quern as just another stone to use rather than something special.
“The find location at the base of the wall indicates that the quern had been moved from its original position but it is very unlikely that it has travelled far. The earliest written records of Auchindrain date to the 1500s but the burial cairns on the surrounding hills suggest that the glen has been occupied as far back as Neolithic times,” added Mr Clark.
The 22-acre site at Auchindrain is Category A listed in its entirety and is a conservation area. The buildings, their original contents and supporting archival and photographic material form one of Scotland’s 51 non-national museum and gallery collections that are recognised by the Scottish Government as being of national importance.
Visiting Auchindrain Township
Auchindrain Township is open daily 10.30am to 4.30pm. Auchindrain, Inveraray, Argyll, PA32 8WD; website.
Report and images courtesy Auchindrain Township