“Remembering the Crannog Experience”

Volunteer Patricia Hromadova (on the right), studying Archeology at the University of Edinburgh, writes about her experience volunteering and the loss of the Crannog building.


I was just about to write a blog about my volunteering experience at the Scottish Crannog Centre (SCC) when I discovered the videos showing the reconstructed Iron Age house in flames. I visited the SCC in May and spent three amazing weeks observing the hard work of the crannog family. Seeing the crannog burning in less than two weeks after I left was shocking. Still, I do not find any words that could make up for the loss, and I do not dare to imagine how people who have been working there and giving so much to the place must feel. All I can do is share some of my memories and impressions from my time at the museum.

On my first day, I observed all the ways members of the crannog community use to bring the forgotten lives of ordinary Iron Age people back to the present. The crannog and the living history area were inspired by the collection of artefacts retrieved by archaeologists from the original Oak bank crannog. Each area (technology, textiles, cooking, trade), represented and interpreted different objects that the visitors could observe in the museum, while the crannog itself was a solid version of all the stories behind them. I spent most of my time in the cooking and trade areas and the museum. I listened and learned from the apprentices and all staff members; everyone had their unique interpretation style. I quickly realized that this variety ensures that the visitors can learn something new every time they come for a tour and attracts them to come back for more. They also can grind their flour and feel the hardship of the work on their joints, taste the iron age bread, smell the herbs or stand in the log boat. The hands-on experiences make everyone realize that Iron Age people were just the same way as we are, but the aspects of their lives differed.

Later, I had an opportunity to help an experimental archaeologist Emma to build a furnace and prepare the smelting workshop. Doing practical archaeology was priceless. As I watched the furnace work and saw the flames coming out of its top and sealed door, I could understand why people might have thought about the transformation of the ore into a precious lump of iron as magic. Unfortunately, the furnace fell apart at the end, but regular rebuilding would have been common. The activities inspired by crannog archaeology are fascinating and I wish the best Iron Age experience to all future workshop participants.

Back in the museum, I had the chance to talk to many visitors. After the tour, many were able to relate to the artefacts. They were no longer just dead objects with labels, they carried stories. Preserved lyre bridge, butter dish, and butter were of special interest since their exceptionality was explained during the tour. I enjoyed talking about the timbers and the information they can give us. Archaeological analyses can tell how the wood was worked and used or how the preference of material shifted from oak, elm, alder to almost exclusively alder. We can see how people in the past learned and we learn as well.

The crannog at the centre was a result of the archaeological effort to rebuilt and understand what was lost in time. However, the effort did not end with its construction. It inspired the whole living history area that further teaches what the Iron Age was about. Many visitors remembered the crannog being built from the scratch and I do not doubt it had special importance to them. Recently, it has joined its predecessors buried at Loch Tay but I believe its legacy will live on and I can’t wait to see the future of the museum.

I’d like to say thank you to the whole crannog family for allowing me to be with you. I wish you all the best in these difficult times and I am hoping to meet you all again in the future.