Friday 23rd November 2018 Issue No 2313


Sparks Flew at Historic Assynt’s twentieth birthday

Assynt’s community sculpture is well on the way to completion after a dramatic event at Glencanisp when Assynt Foundation’s artist in residence Julia Cowie demonstrated Iron Age metal production with sparks flying. After dark, a furnace was set up, copper was smelted and alloyed with tin, and the resulting molten bronze was poured into moulds to form casts of designs created by local people. Everyone present was invited to help with pumping the huge leather bellows to keep the fire blazing.

Gordon Sleight, chairman of Historic Assynt said, ‘This artist residency has been an inspiring addition to our explorations of Clachtoll broch.  Julia’s furnace was built with local sand mixed with clay and horse dung and fired with locally-made charcoal. The designs have been carved into local beeswax by a range of local children, adults and dig volunteers, so there is now real understanding of how metal objects could have been made by people here back in the Iron Age. We look forward to seeing the final artwork in situ. We’re grateful to Assynt Foundation for hosting this event and making the artist residency possible.’ The bronzes will be installed by Julia in bedrock close to Clachtoll Broch.

The bronze-casting event on Friday 16 November 2018 was part of the twentieth birthday celebrations for Historic Assynt, the community history and archaeology group. As well as metal work, there was a chance to  enjoy some Iron Age food in the form of barley and oat bannocks and soup, followed by a talk by Historic Assynt chairman, Gordon Sleight, entitled ‘Discoveries and Puzzles in Assynt’s Past’, rounding up some of the highlights of the group’s work over the decades.

The birthday events kicked off on Wednesday 14 November in Stoer Village Hall with a slide show and update about the broch project by Graeme Cavers of AOC Archaeology. He emphasised how unique an assemblage of objects has been found, and explained, amongst other things, that the analysis so far is showing that the broch floor was extremely mucky! The floor layers will allow a really rich picture to be established of life inside the broch and its surrounding environment. The audience also enjoyed a talk by AOC’s chairman John Barber about the connections between Assynt’s Neolithic chambered cairns and mounds found from a similar period in Denmark, which have been revealed through research he has undertaken since the 2011 excavation of Loch Borralan East Chambered Cairn, part of the biggest cluster of Neolithic chambered cairns on the Scottish mainland.

These events drew the project to a close for the year, at least in Assynt. Analysis of the finds is ongoing by AOC Archaeology. There will be more events in 2019, including a history books event in March and some more experimental archaeology. The plan is to reconstruct copies of some parts of the broch, including wall, floor and household objects such as mats, fabrics and pots. It will then be burned down to learn more about some of the implications of the broch’s destruction, which was caused by a catastrophic fire and collapse sometime between 100BC and 100 AD.

The broch project is organised by Historic Assynt, a local community organisation. With the assistance of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Historic Assynt raised around £500,000 to enable the excavation and conservation work to go ahead. The project is part of the Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape Partnership of which the Scottish Wildlife Trust is the lead partner. Funding has been provided thanks to players of the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, SSE's Sustainable Development Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, Robert Kiln Trust and individual donors.

For more information, contact:   Gordon Sleight, Phone: 01571 855207

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