Six Bronze Age roundhouses, unearthed at a settlement on the west coast of Scotland, had what are thought to be primitive refrigeration and heating systems.
The roundhouses have ring ditches inside their structure and are believed to have been used as cold storage larders for food such as cheese, milk, dried meat, salted fish and grain. The settlement, on the site of a new housing development at Dunstaffnage, was uncovered by a team led by Dr Clare Ellis, from Argyll Archaeology.
Dr Ellis told The Scotsman, “This is a new design, not recognised or seen before in Scotland. The general consensus until now was that ring ditches occur outside the roof supports of roundhouses, but still within the roundhouse structure, and were erosional features where animals were kept. But these are inside the roof support area and the theory is that they are low cellars that would have had wooden floors over them. We think they are an early form of larder storage system.”
The roundhouses also have wood-lined air vents leading off the central hearth, which would have channelled air into the base of the fire and controlled the level of heating inside each dwelling. Outside are the remains of a burnt mound where water was heated, suggesting a secondary use as a primitive sauna. Dr Ellis’ team also discovered the ancient settlement’s burial pits, which included important finds such as flint imported or traded from Ireland.
The area around Oban was popular with Bronze Age tribes because of its sheltered climate. Dr Ellis said, “It’s unusual to get so many roundhouses surviving together in this way. They are not particularly huge so they were probably just ordinary people living here. They would have been farming – and communication would have been by sea, rather than by land. It’s a good spot. There is a lovely sheltered bay here and you have got all the islands, like Lismore and Mull nearby.”