Ian.—This time I
think it would be better to walk over the moss and learn to jump
over the wet places: it is a weary thing to wander along a straight
smooth road, but on a moss we leap from tuft to tuft, and it keeps
up our spirits and gives us a springy step.
wet feet. I must dance like a young girl to get along; you are much
older, but you Highlanders keep up your vitality.
course; by walking over mosses. Well, I will show you something
wonderful. I will lift that grass and dig black peat from below, and
near the peat I will show a wooden foundation. We shall see ashes
and bones, with proof enough that these wild looking places were not
wildernesses in all times.
That hollow is a
watercourse for a small stream: it once held a greater supply, but
the water was sent down the other way, namely by Achnacree, about a
hundred and twenty years ago. You see that where the water flows
most rapidly there is green grass ; where it is most stagnant there
is moss, and where there is little or no water there is heather.
that is quite flat. Surely it never contained a stream.
flat part was a little lake from which the stream flowed, and the
name was and is Loch-an-Tawail by sound, which may be Loch-an-t'Samhuil
or Loch-an-t'Shomhairle, the Loch of Samuel or the Loch of Somerled.
It is sometimes flooded now, and was more so when I was a boy, and I
used to wade into that green place in the middle, which now is
difficult to distinguish from the rest.
yes; it is all nothing. Willie and I walked over it and there are
only a few holes and a few stones. Like so many things we come to
see, they are all gone before we come. I expect the hills soon to
disappear; indeed I should not be surprised if they are gone when we
waken to-morrow, these antiquities produce so many illusions.
mist comes over the hills or over your eyes you will not see much,
and a thick mist of peat covers that which you will see here. The
best part is not on the surface. In this hole, into which you looked
carelessly, are seen beams or rather young birch trunks lying
horizontally heaped over each other like pig-iron. This extends to
the bottom. I am not sure of the deepest, but some are about five
layers deep, perhaps usually four, and others may be more. There is
a nearly oval figure formed by a slight raising of the turf, and in
the middle is a still higher part. This oval is about 50 feet long
and 28 broad; it evidently marks the dwelling, but the tree
foundation goes beyond this to the breadth of 6o feet. And now I
will leave you to ask questions, or to read a description which I
have taken out of a book. The book itself is new, as the discovery
was made but lately.
No piles were seen.
There were many leaves, half rotten, and a few branches. The young
trees had been felled with sharp axes ; there was none of the
clumsiness of the stone age. The encircling mounds were but a few
inches high, but they showed organic matter decaying and turned into
peat. It seemed as if a double wall of wattles had existed, it might
have been peat or grassy turf. I saw no proof of clay to fill up the
chinks: the Highlanders do not object to chinks even now.
The wood was birch.
It is near the "Lake of the birches."
There are few trees
that can give it that name now, but we can imagine a time when there
were many birches. Many scores of the same class must have been laid
under this spot. At the cast end of the oval was an elongation not
surrounded by the turf mound. I believe the foundation extends along
it, and I suppose this to have been a platform before the door, a
place for the inhabitants to sun themselves, and a landing and
disembarking spot. (This platform was afterwards found to extend all
In the middle nearly,
but a little to the westerly end, of the oval house was the
fire-place. It is higher than the rest of the space. It is here that
the bones were found, with shells and nuts. Under a few inches of a
white powder is the hearth. It consists of four flattish stones;
under the stones is also to be found more peat ash and some few
remnants, but very few, of the substances connected with food. There
were no implements, but we did not look into the most promising
spot. They, if at all, will be found farther from the fire. Under
the ashes is a floor of clay about six inches thick. This is laid as
flat as our wooden floors are.
At the east end, at
an opening or door apparently, to judge from the failure of the
encircling mound, was another smaller and ruder fire-place. The
stones supporting it were found, with abundance of peat ash, bones
and nuts. But the finest fire-place was at the west. The end was
that of an oval, and a large fire-place was at the extremity, with
bushels of ashes. The fire-place was rudely made by a bank of
flattish stones raised above the floor. On each side was a raised
seat, made also of flattish stones, and quite broad enough to serve
for two or even three persons. These seats were the chimney corners
of the chief inhabitants, and fine fires they seem to have had. The
seats might have been covered, and in any case I do not doubt that
they were comfortable. There were then three fire-places in the
length of fifty feet, increasing in importance until the west was
On the outside of the
enclosure, a large amount of nutshells was found as if thrown over
into the "yard" in a slovenly way.
There is a full
account of lake dwellings in Switzerland by Professor Keller; this
comes nearest to that at WauwyI. There are no piles.
There were found
several wooden pegs, and a piece of a knife not larger than a large
pocket one, a hook such as might have been used to hang a pot,
several pieces of skin soles, and a slipper of thin skin rather
neatly made, not in the Icelandic fashion. There was also the side
of a wooden basin well turned. The wooden articles dried up,
shrivelled, and completely changed their shape in the open air; but
a comb was preserved by being kept in a box filled with peat, which
was allowed to dry slowly for two years. It was made of wood, one
side having smaller teeth than the other.
This dwelling was
larger than single rooms in the Highlands now are. It may, like
Deirdre's, have contained three apartments. The people need not have
been lower in civilization than some we see now, if houses are to be
the criterion. The bones found were split up in the recognised
method. This is
supposed to indicate a scarcity of food : it may also indicate an
idle way of spending time and lounging over the meals, as well as a
liking for marrow, in which we succeed them. When thinking whether
it was possible to judge from this as to the age of the remains, I
asked some friends who had been brought up in the Highlands, whether
any peculiar attention was ever given to the marrow of bones
generally, independent of the admired "marrow bones."
I heard of nothing
like splitting bones among the inhabitants, but it is known in
Iceland even now. A lady from near Loch Broom said that her father
had a peculiar knack by which he could break a bone, and he
occasionally performed it as a feat before his sons and guests,
using a leg of a sheep. The lady did not know if it was done by
strength or by skill, but thinks it required both. Her brothers, who
were strong men, often tried, but could not accomplish it. This is
an evident relic of early times. As many of the prehistoric are also
contemporaneous habits, it would be interesting to trace out that of
bone splitting more fully.
And now as to the age
of this dwelling. The peaty turf over it was soft and full of fibre.
I see no reason for arguing great age from this. Even allowing a
very long term for its growth—a foot in a century—we have only three
hundred years, and, as until 1740 there was a greater supply of
water to it, the growth may have been more rapid. On the other hand,
the stream, in former times, went through here, and it may have
washed off the surface of the moss or prevented the increase. The
trees, however, are quite rotten, and although in every respect
looking fresh, even preserving the perfect appearance of the bark,
the spade goes through them with ease. Birch does not keep well
under water; still, although easily crumbled by the fingers or cut
by the spade when wet, it became actually hard and strong when
dried. It seems as if the water united with the woody fibre, and
made a soft compound or hydrate. This compound was easily decomposed
by driving off the water. It is analogous to the soft gelatinous
hydrate of alumina or iron which becomes hard by drying.
The circumstances are
a little contradictory. The size and independent position of the
house might point to a person of some local village importance: do
the split bones and the poor hearth take us far back, if so how far
? We do not require to go out of this century in Scotland to find
men having only two apartments and still giving judgment as
magistrates or so-called bailies to the neighbourhood for miles, and
keeping the peace better than more learned lawyers have been able to
do. In the Highlands I have myself seen men living in hovels, dark
and inexpressibly low in material civilization, whilst the inmates
had really as much good feeling and general wisdom in their speech
as many men who gave much better dwellings to their cows, and
incomparably better to their horses.
The dwelling does not
show the civilization of the occupant correctly, neither does the
food. In the dwellings mentioned, the food seems to have been far
inferior in variety and elegance to that used in the lake dwellings
of Switzerland among men who are said to have worshipped the water
and the moon.
If the dwelling does
not show the condition in civilization of the individual, neither
does it of the race. We have dwellings from London to Caithness and
Kerry in abundance, as uncomfortable as those of many savages, but
out of some of the worst some of our best minds have emerged.
According to Scott,
many of the Highlanders of the last century were savage, but a
sudden peace brought an almost instant civilization. The talent for
rising was there; where was it prepared? Such a change is not made
among negroes except in rare individuals. The theory of development
forbids us to believe this sudden step to be taken by any nation
never previously affected by civilization. This, I believe, is a
very important point. Such a step proves the organization to have
been previously developed. The organization of a nation cannot be
supposed to develop at once, not even that of an individual. I do
not therefore expect to find savage traits among such people, except
so far as the necessity for struggling produced savage habits, just
as we see that it produces them in war in our own times.
In order to see if a
wild race has a developed organization, it would be needful to bring
up some of the infants to civilized ways. If they showed an
incapacity, we might presume, if the numbers were sufficient for a
good experiment, that they were really savage. If they showed a
capacity, we could not imagine them to be properly savage. The power
may lie dormant, but cannot far precede, we may suppose, its first
exercise. This is said without objecting to the supernatural.
As there is no reason
to suppose that, however inferior as architects, the men were
savage, let us now look for the inhabitants. Who were the people
that cracked nuts at that hearthstone? Did the "mighty Somerled"
live in this lake dwelling?—or perhaps some of the relatives? We are
told that he had possessions both on the mainland and the Western
islands. His power went to the second son, whose descendants are
Macdougalls of Lorn, and live within six miles of this place.
Did not Somerled, who
died in the twelfth century, live in a stone castle? It is most
probable. One of the family may have done otherwise. It is only
certain that he was closely connected with this neighbourhood. We do
not depend wholly on traditions concerning him, as the family and
this Ioch have kept the family name.
A piece of wood with
a cross burnt on it caused a good deal of interest. This kind of
cross is not uncommon in the old Irish remains. It is a Greek cross
with crosslets, and has been imagined to indicate a time before the
Latin Church entered. It is, however, an old form also in Iceland,
which greatly weakens all this speculation, already shown by Dr.
Stuart to be incorrect. Indeed, we may see almost exactly the same
forms in his great work, "The Sculptured Stones of Scotland."
As the present
Icelandic forms are identical with the cross found, so may the
purpose be; but we know that religious forms sometimes degenerate
into such things as witchcraft and charms. Mr. HjaItalin tells me
that they make in Iceland exactly the same cross, but without the
circle, on a piece of paper, as a charm when going to wrestle. It is
put in the shoe with these words:
"Ginfaxi under the
Gependi under the heel,
Help me the Devil,
For I am in a strait."
These words at the
beginning may be very old, the meaning not being clear I am told.
Mr. Hjaltalin also refers to "Travels, by Umbra," for several
varieties of crosses like these. [A cross with different lines upon
it is given by Jon Arnason in his "Islenskar bjodsogur og Aefintyri,"
vol. I., p. 446, and Ginjaxi under it. The charm is given a little
different on p. 452.]
It may be repeated
that I do not consider the lake-dwelling to be very old.