GENERAL HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL BACKGROUND
APPROXIMATE GUIDE TO THE PAST AGES AS USED HERE;
MESOLITHIC - 7000 to 3500 BC (Hunter/Gatherer)
NEOLITHIC - 3500 to 1800 BC (New stone age - Agriculture)
BRONZE AGE - 1800 to 500 BC (better pottery, weapons and textiles)
IRON AGE - 800 BC to 400 AD (iron tools, )
MEDIEVAL - 400 to 1600 AD ( )
Nennius first described Loch Lomond in c. 800 AD as having sixty islands. Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1140 also described the loch as having sixty islands and it was not until 1724 that Alexander Graham of Duchray came closer to the truth when he describes thirty islands. Further early descriptions of the loch are to be found in Walter MacFarlane’s Geographical Collections and in Pennant’s Tour of 1772. Loch Lomond was once called Lochleven, the word leven referring to elm trees. The loch appears in early 13th century charters as Lochlomne.
Little evidence of prehistoric activity earlier than the Early Christian period and Medieval period has been retrieved from the Loch Lomond islands. Dunbartonshire in general has been much neglected by archaeological surveys and there are undoubtedly a great many sites yet to be discovered not only on the islands but throughout the whole district.
Although recorded artefacts are scarce and no remains of burials or settlements have previously been reported on the islands, the wooded hills and floodplains of the River Leven, Endrick Water and River Falloch, (where a number of archaeological sites are known), must have provided ample opportunity for hunting of game and wildfowl as well as fishing in abundance on the loch. The islands would also have offered safe settlement locations away from both wild animals and tribal disputes as well as known sanctuaries for the Early Christian saints.
Mesolithic artefacts dating to between c. 7000 BC to 3500 BC have been found on Inchlonaig and also near the mouth of Glenfinlas. These artefacts are stray finds found by chance rather than from a site investigated by excavation. Basically all they tell us is that people were living on and around Loch Lomond during this period. Mesolithic sites are elusive and often found in coastal locations on raised beaches. Mesolithic people led an often nomadic life as hunters and gatherers and nothing of detail can be re-constructed from the Inchlonaig finds.
In around 3500 BC the Neolithic period began with the first agriculture and landscape management. Although a number of stray finds have been found in Dunbartonshire and there are some chambered cairns including one overlooking the loch at Cameron Farm, only one flint axe found on Inchgalbraith may represent this period on the islands. Unfortunately this axe was destroyed soon after it was found by the stonemason consulted as to what it was made of. He smashed it with a hammer and declared it was indeed flint!
A polished axe made of schist was found beside the loch at Inverarnan in 1929 and two other stone axes are reported from Claddochside and near Arden in the 19th century. One other stone axe is known from Glen Falloch. There may also be the remains of a long cairn at Stuckindroin Farm by Ardlui. However, the cist found here earlier this century suggests the cairn material is actually Bronze Age in date and that there are actually four individual cairns, rather than only one long cairn. The remains may be further confused by glacial moraine deposits.
No finds of Bronze Age date, c.1800 BC - 500 BC, are known from the Loch Lomond islands with the exception of one barbed and tanged arrowhead which was found on Inchmurrin by the local antiquarian A D Lacaille in the 1920s. Once again this is a stray find and may represent a hunter's loss. There are several Bronze Age burial sites in Dunbartonshire and a number of cists and cremations have been found in the Vale of Leven at Bonhill, Millburn, Old Kirk Farm by Balloch, Pappert Hill and at Shanacles near Balloch. A burial mound about 15 m in diameter and flanked with stones used to stand about 150 m north of Craigengelt House at Rowchoish but no trace of this now remains. There is also a large round cairn by Fruin Water at Bannachra. A large Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual site and cemetery was excavated under the A82 Duntocher Boulevard at Clydebank in the 1930s but this is really outwith the sphere of the Loch Lomond islands.
There is a cup marked boulder at Shantron near Luss. The purpose of these cup and cup and ring marked stones, of which the Shantron example is atypical, is not fully understood and the subject of debate. One cup marked boulder is to be found at Highlandman's Wood in Glen Fruin and there were also some particularly fine cup and ring marked stones at Greenland by Milton which have now been removed for safe keeping. Apart from these few sites in the district no other sites have previously been reported on the islands.
Cairns found on Inchlonaig by the surveyors in 1995, may represent Bronze Age burials but without testing one by excavation it is impossible to be absolutely certain they are not clearance cairns, although their situation suggests this is not the case. Clearance cairns are formed by the clearance of stones from the field for agricultural purposes.
The Iron Age, c. 800 BC - 400 AD was a time of rapid technological advancement and increasing population. This is the Celtic period of epic battles and great heroes so often romanticised by the arts and popular imagination. The dominance of defensive hill forts and duns during this period attests to the tribal nature of a developed society who needed to protect their pressurised resources from one another.
There are a number of Iron Age forts along the Clyde including Dumbarton Rock, Sheep Hill and Dumbowie Hill. Although early traces of occupation at Dumbarton Castle have been obliterated by later activity such a strategic site would have been occupied. Carman Fort above Renton appears to date to the Dark Ages according to its plan and without excavation it is impossible to determine if there is Iron Age occupation but it is probable that this was also an Iron Age stronghold. Ardmore point is another strategic site at which one would expect to find Iron Age and Dark Age occupation and a rock shelter on Ardmore excavated in 1958 produced occupation material tentatively dated to the Iron Age. On the shores of Loch Lomond only two duns are known. One at Shemore by Luss and another at Arrochymore. A dun once stood at Dumfin, Glen Fruin but this has now been quarried away. Walter MacFarlane, the early 18th century antiquary, also reports a ruin of a circular building sixty paces across constructed of large drystone boulders that stood on a point of land at the north end of the loch. This building has not been identified on the ground.
The cropmark of a roughly circular enclosure about 50 m in diameter is known at Gartfairn near the mouth of Endrick Water. This site may represent a later first millennium BC settlement site perhaps containing one or more roundhouses but without excavation it is impossible to be certain of this identification.
No Iron Age sites have been recorded on the islands but the twenty or more crannogs in Loch Lomond probably originate in the Iron Age though they may have been used into the Post Medieval period. However, there is no mention of this in local records. A radiocarbon date has been retrieved from Cameron Point crannog which calibrates to the Iron Age. Crannogs are defensive sites by nature although they may have been linked to the shore by a causeway. There is an isolated Iron Age find of a La Tene I (c) type pin from Clairinsh recovered from the 1935 excavations but the building which it came from is probably of Medieval date. It is possible the pin head originally came from the nearby crannog, The Kitchen.
Clan MacFarlane Worldwide has participated in several archaeology projects in the MacFarlane homelands in Arrochar Parish in the past few years. Dr. Heather James presented an overview of some of the work and discoveries in a recent speech that can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/ReGWQf_CzWc
The formal reports are available here on our website: : https://www.clanmacfarlane.org/public_html/clan-macfarlane/archaeology.html
Between April 11th and April 19th, 2017 CMW worked with Calluna Archaeology to investigate what is likely the Alms House built by James MacFarlane in the 1600's. This site was identified as "Site 28" during the 2016 Walkover survey of the Arrochar Parish
An excavation was carried out on a site at Creag a’Phuirt on the west shore of Loch Lomond in 2017. It was thought that this might be an almshouse built by James Macfarlane opposite his house on Island I Vow between 1612 and 1625 to provide for travellers passing through the district. The building proved to be a small, well-built, slightly trapezoidal-shaped structure, with a slate roof, but no obvious entrance or fireplace. The floor consisted of re-deposited loch-side material with water-rolled stones and contained a sherd of late 16th/17th century window glass and a broken sherd of 17th century pottery. Considering its location and date, this structure may well have been the almshouse perhaps comprising two stories, with access from an outer stair. By the mid-19th century the walls had been robbed and the site left ruinous.