The Bronze Age in Scotland occurred about 3000 to 4500 years ago and was, of course, marked by the invention of metal. Copper was discovered first, then it was soon realised that by alloying it with tin, a much harder metal could be made - bronze. Bronze became the principal metal to be used for everyday tools such as axes and, later on, weapons, for example, spears and swords. Dress pins and brooches, and even combs were made by casting bronze into moulds. Because bronze is a non-ferrous metal it survives very well in the ground. However, it would seem that much of the precious new metal was recycled in ancient times and it is, therefore, quite rare. 

Gold was also discovered at the same time and many fine pieces of jewellery have been found; of particular note is the unique pair of gold lunulae (necklace shaped like a crescent moon) found at Southside Farm near Biggar. 

In Tweeddale and adjoining Clydesdale there is an incredible surviving legacy of Bronze Age house sites, found no where else in such numbers; these houses are  quite rare in other parts of Britain. They are described as Unenclosed Platform Settlements because, as the name implies, they are not enclosed, indicating they were not defended and are built on artificial platforms created by digging a quarry in the side of a hill, using the quarried material to form the front half of a round level stance on which a round timber house was built. 

The photograph shows the circular shape of a round house beside Fruid reservoir.
The dark areas are the charcoal from the occupation deposits.

Several excavations have now taken place on these ancient house sites. The first was in the Meldon Valley, then came the first excavations in Clydesdale around Crawford when the M74 was built and finally, back in Tweeddale; the work of the Biggar Archaeology Group in Fruid Reservoir shows the style and date of these houses.

On average, the houses were about 10m to 15m in diameter. They had a solid wall made with wattle and daub. At Fruid the wattle was made from seven year old hazel branches. We believe they were coppicing the woodlands to get their building materials just the way they wanted them. The daub was clay from a nearby burn. A metre or so inside this wall there was a  ring of posts set into the a ring of posts set into the ground to hold up the roof which would have been conical and thatched. All the excavations show that the single doorway had a porch over it and a stony pathway leading to the door. Sometimes a drainage channel was cut round the back of the house to keep it dry. Both Fruid houses had these drains. 

The people at this time still used a lot of stone. Arrowheads were made from flint or our own local chert which is found in the hills A nice little chert arrow head was found in the woodland along the Fruid road. These arrows are distinctive in shape having barbs and a little tang to fix to the arrow shaft. Pounder stones and quern stones for grinding corn were used, because these people were farmers although they would still hunt game. 

A bronze age axe-head.

Pottery was used but it is of quite crude manufacture, unlike the decorative and better quality pottery used in burials. In the houses large ‘bucket’ urns were used for storage and cooking. At Fruid, the first ever piece of bronze from such houses was found: a fine mid-Bronze Age axe. Each house has been dated using the hazel charcoal from the walls and they are both around 3400 years old.

Experimental work has shown that these houses were very comfortable places to live and each house would last a long time due to the preservative nature of the smoke inside. The fireplaces were often centrally placed on the floor. 

The big mystery for archaeologists is why they went to so much work scooping out a site when there are plenty of good flat spots on the valley floors? The houses were often strung along the hill 
side forming villages. 

Work continues on the finds from Fruid but the archaeologists are also trying to keep a watchful eye on all of the Tweedsmuir forests. Incredibly there are over one hundred of these ancient house sites currently ‘lost’ among the trees. Most of these will have been badly damaged by the forestry operations and if permission is granted the team from Biggar intend to investigate some of them when the opportunity arises. 

 

Tam Ward

Biggar Archaeology Group