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During groundworks for the construction of The Cairn Distillery at Craggan, near Grantown-on-Spey, archaeological work was carried out by AOC Archaeology which uncovered evidence of multiple phases of activity on site, including funerary, settlement, grain processing and metal working activity.

The archaeological excavation and post-excavation works were kindly funded by Gordon and MacPhail.

Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition
Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition
4200-4000 BC

The earliest activity identified on site is related to the Mesolithic and Neolithic transition. A radiocarbon date of 4241–4049 cal BC at 2σ and a lithic were obtained from an L-shaped pit alignment on site. Unfortunately, the L-shaped pit group also contained small fragments of 17th to 20th century AD glass, metal waste and a radiocarbon date of cal AD 1232-1378, confirming that the features had been filled with a mix of material from different periods. It was therefore not possible to securely date the L-shaped pit alignment or determine its function, but it shows that early prehistoric activity must have occurred in close proximity to the site.

Late Neolithic
Late Neolithic
3000-2500 BC

A Late Neolithic date was obtained from a single cremation pit which contained the remains of one adult, possibly male. This was an isolated feature that did not relate to any other Neolithic or funerary activity identified on site. Other prehistoric monuments exist in the wider area, including a number of standing stones located to the southeast of the Site and several stone burial cairns. These demonstrate that the area was important in prehistory, and it could be that the cremation was located here because of this.

Late Bronze Age
1200-800 BC

A Late Bronze Age date was obtained from the possible remains of a post or stake which was burnt in a fire pit. This suggests that there might have been Late Bronze Age structures within the site but no evidence of these was found during the works. The wood could have been gathered from nearby by later communities and burnt as very well-seasoned firewood!

Middle-Late Iron Age
Middle-Late Iron Age
400-0 BC - AD 0-400

The majority of the features identified on site related to the Middle (400-40 cal BC) and Late Iron Age (1st to 4th century AD). In both of these periods there was a substantial rural settlement composed of roundhouses and associated features. The dating evidence suggests that there was a pause or shift in settlement location away from Craggan as the Middle Iron Age settlement declined before the area was resettled in the Late Iron Age with new structures being built near what would have been the ruins of the Middle Iron Age settlement.

Iron Age

A roundhouse is a type of structure built by creating a circular ring of wooden posts that hold up a thatched roof. The walls would likely have been made from turf with potential for wattle screens or partitions inside. Internal features such as pits, and ring ditches are often present and indicate areas where people or animals have been active and worn down the ground. After the collapse or abandonment of a roundhouse, the walls and roof decay and are often removed along with the upper floor layers by later agricultural ploughing so that only the deepest features such as postholes, pits, and ditches survive.
The roundhouse structures found at Craggan are typical examples of Iron Age roundhouses, measuring about 6m across, and often identified by the presence of a post ring and/or larger segments of ring ditches. A metal working furnace also confirms that metal working was taking place on site in the Middle Iron age settlement, most likely for production/repair of everyday tools and domestic items.

Grain Processing
Grain Processing
Late Iron Age

Within two of the roundhouse ring ditches rotary quern stones were identified. Three of the quern stones had been arranged in a straight line along the base of the ring ditch of one of the roundhouses, which suggests deliberate deposition. This roundhouse also contained a pit which had evidence of grain being deliberately deposited within it for storage. Taken together, this confirms that substantial grain processing occurred on site in the Late Iron Age. Cooking waste and evidence for on-site food processing was identified relating to both periods, confirming this was a small agrarian settlement with access to grain, livestock and wild natural resources.

Early Medieval to Medieval
Early Medieval to Medieval
5th - 12th centuries AD

A phase of Early Medieval settlement activity was also identified at Craggan. The settlement activity from this period started in the middle of the site and through the 5th-6th century there was some small-scale settlement activity. The features from this period demonstrate food waste was being disposed of but there is limited evidence for the type of structures on site. Perhaps the structures were seasonal or temporary, or perhaps the materials they were built from have not survived to leave an archaeological trace.
From the 7th century AD the settlement activity moved back to the same location as the previous prehistoric settlement, on the higher gravelly ground. It comprised of at least one roundhouse structure with a stone-built hearth, fire pits, metal working features and another phase of grain processing. The structure was a relatively small post-defined structure, with a large hearth and other refuse pits nearby. Nearby some pits were found within a cluster, one of which was a possibly a rudimentary grain drying feature. Other evidence of grain processing included a pit with a quern or mill stone roughout and a pit next to it with evidence for grain processing waste being dumped. This demonstrated that they were continuing to process grain for the early medieval settlement, as well as manufacturing their own querns or millstones.

Metal Working
Metal Working
Early Medieval

Most of the metal working evidence from Craggan was dated to the Early Medieval period. A second smelting furnace dating to the 8th-10th centuries AD was identified, as well as two metal working refuse pits which contained hammerscale, a byproduct of smithing. Although no evidence remained of the structure it is likely that at least one of the metalworking waste pits contained remains of a cleared-out furnace, indicating there were multiple metalworking craft areas on the site. The lack of structural evidence for this period could be because the settlement at this time was composed of a small group of people with a focus on metalworking for the wider community. It could also be a factor of archaeological survival, if their buildings were primarily turf-built structures (as are many early medieval settlements seen elsewhere in Scotland at this time) they would no longer survive on a site like Craggan.

An Important Excavation

Craggan has been one of only two modern excavations to take place in the Grantown-on-Spey region and has provided a rare opportunity to investigate a large previously unexplored area. Finding this multiperiod settlement is significant in characterising Iron Age and early medieval settlement in this region, as well as feeding into wider research. The early medieval settlement in particular is significant as often very little is known about rural settlements from this period as they are so challenging to identify. The discovery of a single human cremation from the site dating to the Late Neolithic is also significant as these are rare finds, with only one or two others securely dated from this period known in the Highlands. Located near the foothills of the Cairngorms, adjacent to the River Spey, Craggan’s location has attracted human activity since early prehistory. It is now the site of The Cairns Distillery, a new venture by Gordon and MacPhail. It is particularly fitting that they are now, in some form, continuing the long tradition of grain processing evident on the site since the Iron Age.
L-shaped pit alignment with a radiocarbon date from the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition
Late Neolithic cremation burial
Structure D – Late Iron Age
Structure A – Late Iron Age
Structure B (and grain drying feature) – Early Medieval
Structure E (and metalworking feature) – Mid Iron Age
Structure F – Mid Iron Age
Structure C (and querns) – Late Iron Age
Structure H – possible Early Medieval four-post structure
In Situ

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