As part of our Archaeology project with the Callander Heritage Society, we recently investigated the enigmatic site of Cambusbeg West thought to contain a structure from the Iron Age. Over the course of a frosty weekend in October 2019, this site was studied by a team of volunteers with support from Clyde Archaeology and Northlight Heritage.  Gavin MacGregor (Northlight Heritage) and David Sneddon (Clyde Archaeology) talk us through the findings from the excavations below.

Lying in a small clearing amidst dense forestry the site appeared to be a sub-oval enclosure measuring up to 19 m in diameter, sitting on a marked terrace.  It comprised a bank, up to 4 m wide and up to 0.7 m high, most visible along its northern extent. It had been suggested this may relate to the remains of a monumental Iron Age structure, potentially even a Broch.  Before excavation there was clear evidence the site had, in parts, been disturbed with two 19th century longhouses having been built on or up against the western and southern sides.

Volunteers digging the top of the enclosure bank

Volunteers digging the top of the enclosure bank

The volunteers undertook archaeological evaluations of the site to establish the chronology and character of the archaeological remains. One trench was hand excavated to examine the main bank structure which potentially represented a massive wall construction. It revealed evidence for a probable collapsed inner-wall face. 

A further ten smaller trenches, each measuring 1m by 1m, were excavated across the level area and southern sides of the terrace.  Some of these revealed where the large enclosure bank had been robbed out but also confirmed traces of walling were preserved below ground level.

Recording trenches on a frosty morning

Recording trenches on a frosty morning

The excavation showed at least three phases of activity were likely at the site. The first appeared to be a circular monumental structure, probably dating to the late first millennia BC and/or early first millennia AD. The second was a possible 17th and 18th-century settlement, evident through a small assemblage of Scottish post-medieval pottery of Throsk-type form. A north-to-south-running clay-bonded stone wall uncovered in the centre of the site may relate to this period but could also be earlier. The third comprised evidence of a 19th-century farmstead, the construction of which also remodelled the prehistoric enclosure.

A few sherds of glazed medieval pottery from the 13th to 14th centuries provide a tantalising glimpse of another possible phase of settlement at Cambusbeg West, while a cast copper alloy object with torn edges was also recovered but its purpose and date remain unclear. It was made of copper, lead, tin and zinc, a common mixture used from the Roman period onwards, but it had no diagnostic features to aid identification. 

The top of the stone wall in the centre of the site (the bottom of it wasn’t reached)

The top of the stone wall in the centre of the site (the bottom of it wasn’t reached)

A spring within a triangular walled enclosure sits just south of the main site.  Being a good source of water, it may have been one of the reasons people first created the enclosure here. As is sometimes seen today, it is likely springs were associated with other special meanings, and the one at Cambusbeg West may have held particular significance with the people who once lived there.

This work was funded by National Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Environment Scotland and forms part of the Callander’s Landscape wider community archaeology project. It is hoped that the Callander Heritage Society will further explore this complex, multi-phase site in the future. Thank you to the landowners, Cambusmore Estate Trust, for giving permission to excavate at this site and at Bridge of Keltie in September 2019.