Loch Na Meal Crannog

Surveyed March 10, 1994

NGR: NM 518 527

The Crannogs of Mull were first brought to public notice in 1870 by Mr. F. Campbell who discovered an artificial island after draining a loch located near the village of Tobermory. In ‘The Proceedings of The Society of Antiquaries’ (Campbell 1870) Mr. Campbell wrote that, upon draining Loch Na Meal, for farming purposes, he discovered what he described as “one of the artificial islands which are found in almost all the lochs of Mull.” Mr. Campbell notes that Loch Na Meal, which means ‘loch of deer’, was fifty acres in size, about six feet deep and had a bed of mud several feet deep.

In order to aid the draining of the loch, ditches were dug around the premier. It was during this operation that a dugout log canoe was discovered between the island and the shore. The canoe was located four feet under the surface mud and appeared to be made of black oak. It measured seventeen feet in length, three and a half feet in width and was described as being quite fresh and sound. Several other smaller canoes, along with three modern clinker built boats, were also found nearer the surface of the mud but were not studied as they were in a half decayed state. Campbell submerged the principal Canoe near the Tobermory pier in order to preserve it from cracking, but by 1883 it had disappeared.

Campbell also found, what he described as “a stone causeway laid upon oak trees.” (Campbell 1870) This feature, which was also four feet below the surface mud, ran directly from the shore to the island. The crannog was described as a quantity of loose stones which sat on the only rock near the surface of the loch. Local Geography – Loch Na Meal is located 2 km Southeast of Tobermory amid the stepped hills which dominate northern Mull. As mentioned above, the section of the loch which contains the crannog site has been drained. Surrounding land areas have been forested by The Forestry Commission and are highly disturbed.

The artificial island can now be found standing on a bedrock outcrop 1.3 m above a section of boggy ground 200 m north east of the present shoreline of Loch Na Meal. The structure takes the form of an oval shaped spread of stone, measuring 14 x 19 m at its base. A roughly level, oval, grass- covered platform is located at the centre of the structure. This platform measures 6 x 12 m, and stands 1.0 m above the bottom of the crannog. The area of platform is 49 square meters. No features were noted on this platform, however, the presence of the grass covering may indicate organic material still remains below it. When the Royal Commission surveyed the site in May of 1974 (RCAHMS 1980), they found that the platform measured 6 x 6.8 m and was delimited by intermittent paving stones. These stones were carefully examined but did not appear to be a concentric feature or paving.

A strange circular spur of loose stone, 4.5 m in diameter, projects from the west side of the crannog, facing what would have been open water. This platform is located 0.83 m below the level of the upper platform indicating that water levels would have to be at least 1 m below the top of the crannog for this area to be dry. It seems likely that the platform was part of the living area as it appears to be deliberately built and takes a shape which natural stone tumbling would not. If this platform had been above the water line, it would add 16 square meters of useable area to the crannog. It is possible that the platform might have been a working or storage area, though there is no proof of this as yet.

Another stone covered platform, similar to the first and roughly the same size, can be found projecting from the south east quadrant of the crannog. This platform is roughly level with the first and has a surface area of 15 square meters. Behind this platform are two short sections of dry stone walling which still remain standing. The walling is comprised of stone identical to that found in other areas of the crannog. The east section is five courses high, 0.5 m, and seems to run in a straight line for 1.792 m. The areas at the ends of the wall are masses of stone tumble which may have been continuations of the walling.

The west section of the walling stands three courses high, 0.4m and is 1.635 m long. It takes the shape of an arc which has its base directly under the upper platform. This section may have been part of a circular stone structure, the base of which stone tumble obscures. Such radial circular structures have been found on artificial islands located on Lewis in the Outer Hebridies (Armit 1990). Minimal stone shifting showed that the two sections of walling do connect and continue down for at least 0.5 m. Proper excavation would be needed to determine if the wall was part of a dwelling or exactly what its function was.

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