Archaeologists dig into island’s past

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Archaeologists are on a small island off Luing this week digging into its past.

Helped by volunteers from Luing History Society, a team from the Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists (ACFA) are spending seven days on Torsa in the hope of discovering more about farming life there long ago.

Dugie Macinnes is leading the survey and is keeping his fingers crossed the survey will come up with discoveries that will rival finds from previous explorations and excavations on Luing that are almost complete.

Boat skippers in the foreground, Martin Whitmore on the left and Pete Hooper on the right, bring the team over to Torsa.

Back on Luing, 400 previously-unrecorded sites and features, including
prehistoric roundhouses, a promontory fort and dun, a mill complex, old settlements and evidence of its farming and quarrying past have been uncovered during ACFA projects in collaboration with the history group.

Exploration on Torsa will involve lots of patience and lots of walking, carefully inspecting the ground on the look out for signs of structures or human activity, even the slightest bump, hollow or arrangement of stones could  be significant.

The team has been waiting until this time of year for when the bracken and vegetation is low. Each feature they find will be recorded, measured and photographed with particularly interesting features being  drawn to scale.

The task of this week’s survey is to try and find out where Torsa’s past inhabitants lived and farmed.

Once the island had five tenants and their families growing arable crops and raising livestock, but change set in after 1805 when the landowning Earl of
Breadalbane more than doubled the rent. Most tenants fell into arrears and by 1841 there were only two farms and 24 inhabitants left.

During the survey the northern end of the island, Eilean na h’Eaglaise translating as Church Island, will also be searched for clues to its past.

‘Was there once a chapel or church and can any evidence be found?’ added Mary Braithwaite, who lives on Luing and is a trained archaeologist, and part of Luing History Society.

What archaeologists already know for sure about Torsa is that it has a Medieaval castle on one side of it and boat graffiti on the other, on a large outcrop above a natural anchorage between it and Luing.

Caisteal nan Con, or Castle of the Dogs, may have been built by the Campbells who were given Torsa and large areas of the mainland by Robert the Bruce in 1313.

In the 16th century Torsa seems to have been held first by the
MacDougalls and then by the Macleans of Duart. The castle name might originate from its use as a hunting-seat, though some have suggested that it was rudely named by enemies of the powerful Macleans.

The boat graffiti carvings show several schooners in full sail and include the dates 1871 and 1929.


Caption: Start of the first day on Torsa. NO_T45_luingarchaeologists