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Celtic Hist. Newsletter: Crannogs  hist-@historicgames.com
 Apr 04, 2010 12:42 PDT 

The Celtic History Newsletter

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MacGregor Historic Games

Crannogs are usually artificial "islands" that were constructed mainly
in lakes, but on occasion in rivers. The name may derive from the
Irish word for tree "crann" and may have referred to the timber
palisades that protected such sites, or the timber foundations on
which they were built. In Ireland most of the crannogs have been found
in the north midlands and south Ulster, but the term is also used in
Scotland where similar sites have been found. Crannogs have even been
found on some of the islands of in the Inner Hebrides. They probably
developed from the practice of living on small natural islands where
it was convenient for fishing and hunting water fowl, as well as
providing protection in times of danger.

The first efforts to identify and study crannogs began in the 19th
century as drainage operations in wetlands exposed some of the early
finds. They seem to cover a wide time frame. Although most seem to be
from the Medieval era, some artifacts have been found associated with
Crannogs as far back as mesolithic times, suggesting some had been
dwelling places for quite some time. Some Scottish crannogs seem to
have been used as late as the 17th century.

The earliest, prehistoric crannogs seem to have been associated more
as temporary, or seasonal lodgings for fishing or hunting as opposed
to long-term dwellings. These were platforms erected in shallow water
and the edges of lakes or marshes. Most true crannogs, consisting of
artificial islands, were mostly constructed during the Medieval period
and could include a building surrounded by one or more palisades
-Possibly the wetlands equivalent to contemporary ring-forts.
Tree-ring dating of the surviving timbers (dendrochronology) dates the
major phase of building of Irish crannogs as being from the 6th to 7th
centuries A.D.

There are two basic types of crannogs. One had a solid base and was
literally an island, (some could have been man-made expansions on
existing tiny "islands" or rocks near the shore). the other is a type
of raised structure, in the form of a stilt house or large dock. This
later type stood above the water and was substantially taller.

Once a proper location was found construction of a prehistoric crannog
began with a circle of oak pilings with sharpened bases that were
driven into the bottom, creating a circle about 200 ft. in diameter.
The piles were lashed or woven together with branches and wattle.
Then, the interior surface was built to rise above the water, using
first wooden logs, then with branches and rocks, clay, peat, and other
earthen materials. At the center, a large stone hearth would be built
with large flat stones, and wooden home was constructed around it. The
largest crannogs could contain several homes or structures. Access to
the shore was by boat or sometimes a stone, or timber causeway.

Excavation of crannogs has been an important resource for
archaeologists since the cold and water-logged conditions can help
preserve wood, seeds and plant fibers that would not survive in drier

This month BBC Alba TV has a six-part series on the archeology of
Scotland which will include "reconstructing an Iron Age crannog based
on underwater research and using the methods people would have
employed 2000 years ago."

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