Bute Archaeology

The Isle of Bute is a very attractive place to live in and to visit. This fact has been known since very early times and we can trace the earliest visitors to Bute back to the Mesolithic period when people came in boats to set up summer camps. They hunted the deer and gathered plants and shellfish. We know they were here because of the archaeological remains they left behind their shell middens and sharp little stone tools.

Later, in the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period, people began to farm the land and settle on the island. This was approximately 6000 years ago. Although we don't know the peoples names, we know where some of them were buried. Neolithic people buried their dead with great ceremony and huge cairns still exist as monuments to our ancestors. At Cairnbaan in Lenihuline wood, a cairn 30 metres long covered cists containing the remains of the dead. At Glenvoidean, the late Dorothy Marshall excavated exquisite Neolithic pots which had been placed there as grave goods for departed souls.

The Bronze Age which lasted from approximately 2500 BC until 500 BC was the time when the great stone circles were erected. On Bute the remains of circles can be seen near Ettnck Bay and near Kilchattan Bay. The Bronze Age people also made elaborate arrangements for their dead relatives and many cists and cairns have been found and excavated on the island. At Ambrisbeg the cairn contained not only a full sized adult cist but also a tiny one, the size of a baby. Some beautiful examples of decorated pottery have been found in Bronze Age cists from all over the island.

The Iron Age lasted from about 500 BC until 500 AD and on Bute these people left their mark in the form of great forts, placed at strategic points around the coast. At Dunagoil Fort on the south end of the island, excavations uncovered a wealth of artefacts which bring us closer to the people who lived there. There are tools and moulds for the manufacture of metal weapons but also jewellery and weaving combs which show us the domestic and artistic side of these people.

A decorated armlet found at Dunagoil
(on display in Bute Museum)

The next period in the archaeology of Bute is the Early Christian period and for the first time there are written records as well as an archaeological record. We know the names of the Celtic saints who were associated with the like Blane and Ninian but we do not know the names of the monks who lived and worked at the monasteries dedicated to these saints. These monks, however, left us their craftsmanship in the form of elaborately carved stone crosses such as the Inchmarnock Cross and the McAlister Stone, both of which have found a safe home in the Bute Museum.

The Vikings visited the island many times and are recorded in the sagas raiding Rothesay Castle. A Viking sword hilt on display in the museum is a tangible record of the Viking presence on the island.

The Bute Museum has one of the best collections of local archaeology to be found anywhere in the country. Bute has always had a very keen and knowledgeable band of amateur archaeologists, most notably Miss Dorothy Marshall. The Museum collection continues to grow as new sites are discovered on the island. The archaeology / history room also has a superb display of more recent history including domestic bygones, agricultural tools, wartime memorabilia and tourist souvenirs.

Bute Museum (right)

Anne Speirs (nee Dall)
Born in Kirkcaldy but resident in Bute for 30 years. My husband's family, the Speirs, have lived on the island for three generations.

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