It’s hard to believe but the archaeological team will be at Clachtoll broch for just one more week. It’s also hard to believe the transformation to the building in that time. Almost the entire interior of the ruin has been revealed, with hundreds of tonnes of stone taken out and the floor removed right down to the bedrock, apart from in a couple of places.
The construction of the broch is now laid bare, and we can see the masterful work of its Iron Age architect, known affectionately by John Barber as Ug. We can also see the somewhat less masterful stonework of others who modified the building after its initial erection but before its now legendary catastrophic collapse. The opening to the chamber in the east wall is one of these – it’s decidedly wonky and unlikely to be the work of our master builder.
Today, something new was pointed out by the ever fascinating Dr Barber. In the east wall, under the chamber opening knocked through by one of Ug’s successors, and below the neat courses of massive stones laid down by Ug (or rather, presumably, by the sweat and toil of Ug’s merry band of slaves or brow-beaten younger siblings), there is a lower layer of walling of uneven rocks. This layer is semi-circular, it is undeniably strong, given that the rest of the broch has been sitting on it for two thousand years, but it’s not tidy. Who built it? Proto-Ug, John suggests. Could this mean there was a roundhouse in place before the broch was constructed?
The floor layers reveal that there was a considerable period of use before the conflagration destroyed the broch, not least because there have been three hearths built on top of each other. The bottom of these will be left in place for posterity. Hopefully dating of the many finds in the hearth area will give more of an idea of when each layer was in use.
With the repairs to the south wall complete it has been possible to continue uncovering the staircase, so you can now march up and down the 13 steps from the ground floor up to the first floor. I can’t tell you how pleasing this is – you’ll just have to come and march up and down them yourself!
With just a week to go, the trowels are still picking away in the entrance passage, at the bottom of the stairs and in one or two other corners. Finds are still being made every day – a lovely engraved, sparkly schist spinning whorl was found just before I arrived today and a copper pin has been unearthed that is a lovely thing in its own right and may also match the decoration on some of the pottery that has been found – perhaps it was the plaid-fastening of Gus, the local potter. Who knows what will be discovered in the last few days?
Yet some of the secrets of the building will be left uncovered for future generations. There is a room between the walls, to the left of the staircase, which seems to be at least 4 metres long, but as there is a huge crack in the inner wall, which is leaning inwards, the decision has been made not to try to excavate into that chamber for fear of the wall disintegrating. The fate of whoever was sleeping in there the night of that collapse will remain a mystery. And there’s something magical about that.