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The Ardnamurchan Transitions Project

Directors: Hannah Cobb (University of Manchester), Helena Gray (CFA Archaeology Ltd), Oliver Harris (University of Newcastle), Phil Richardson (Archaeology Scotland)

This project represents a joint venture between researchers at the Universities of Manchester and Newcastle, Archaeology Scotland and CFA Archaeology Ltd. We have identified the Ardnamurchan peninsula as an area which has been largely omitted from the recent intensive excavation and survey activities that most of the rest of Western Scotland has been subject to. Consequently other than Henshall?s classifications of the three Neolithic chambered tombs on the peninsula (Henshall 1972), and the excavations of the Mesolithic site of Risga in Loch Sunart (Pollard 2000), little is known of the transitions from hunting and gathering to farming and metalworking in the area. Similarly, in the historic period, various social transitions (such as the Highland Clearances) are documented in the local textual records, but we aim to investigate the reality of these transitions by exploring the archaeological evidence for them.

Ard1 Ard2 Ard3

To meet our aims to examine the social dimensions of and transitions between different lifeways over time we have been excavating in a beautiful bay, Swordle Bay, on the north coast of the Peninsula, since 2006. Our excavations have focussed on two key areas in the bay; the first is the Neolithic chambered tomb of Cladh Aindreis. Our work to date has shown that this tomb has been significantly altered through time, right up to the last few hundred years. We have also focussed our reseach on a more recently occupied area of the bay; the Coldstream Clearance village. By working intensively in these two areas, as well as undertaking a detailed survey of the Swordle Township, documenting new buildings and features and undertaking a test pit survey throughout the area to try to identify new sites, we aim to develop a detailed picture of transitions in different lifeways from prehistory to the present day in Swordle Bay. In future years we will use this study as a template for similar investigations throughout the peninsula.

Although in some ways our aims reflect traditional research agendas in archaeological investigation, we are also particularly concerned with exploring the potential of such research excavations to provide and develop innovative vocational training for undergraduate students. 
Most research excavations work on a limited remit that often use unpaid undergraduate labour for largely menial tasks, and critically such projects rarely situate any field practice within its theoretical context. Consequently students frequently find it hard to reconcile the outcomes of their compulsory fieldwork activities with the general theoretical aspects that they are taught in the classroom. We believe that this is not only detrimental to archaeology as a discipline, but to the personal development of you as students. Indeed positive excavation experiences can provide vital life skills whether or not students intend to continue in archaeology after graduation. 
Consequently another project aim is to provide all undergraduates attending with clear and varied vocational training. We hope this training will empower students by providing positive training in a number of transferable skills, whilst at the same time integrating critical theoretical issues, which more traditional excavations might not otherwise address.

More details of our work so far and our plans for the future of the project are available on our website at http://ardnamurchantransitionsproject.googlepages.com/. This also includes downloadable copies of our reports and links to and copies of publications that have arisen from this.


Henshall, A., S. (1972) The Chambered Tombs of Scotland: Volume 2., Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Pollard, T. (2000) Risga and the Mesolithic occupation of Scottish Islands. in Young, R. (Ed.) Mesolithic Lifeways: Current Research from Britain and Ireland. Leicester, University of Leicester.