Invaders – animal or human – caused defensive structures to be built in Scotland from before the birth of Christianity. Crannogs, also popular in Ireland, provided secure, protected settlements in Scotland from around 600 BC.
Crannogs were built in and on water, utilising the abundant waters of Scotland’s lochs. It is likely that the first crannogs were literally dwellings created above water level, with firm foundations – solid stakes anchored in the muddy yet stable bottom of a loch. There would normally be some kind of pathway from loch shore to crannog, giving inhabitants access to the wider world. This causeway would be easily defendable, providing built in security for crannog dwellers.
Later crannogs were constructed by creating man made islands, using stone and rock to build an islet that could support dwellings. The houses on these islands tended to be made of wood, which was in abundant supply in early Scotland, when forests covered much of the land. The construction of such dwellings and islands suggests that early Scottish inhabitants must have had skills in engineering, construction and design. There must have been commitment to work together for the good of the wider community – building an island in a loch would take the skills and effort of more than one man, woman or child. Somehow, perhaps through travelling builders or bards, the knowledge of how to build these dwellings passed between communities which were largely self sufficient, creating security and the chance to establish firm roots – a new way of living and being.
A crannog would house humans and animals. Wooden structures would be insulated with materials such as fleece and bracken. Fire for cooking and warming would form the heart of a home. Food might come from fish, crops of barley, wheat and spelt, animal products and meat.
Today remnants of these ancient settlements still remain. Should you see an island in a loch look closely – could it have been made by man, or is it a naturally occurring island? Could it be an ancient island that crannog builders appropriated for their dwellings? Whilst most of the original crannog dwelling structures have long since perished, foundations of some ancient buildings have been found below water. Crannogs offered people of the time a contained, sometimes sophisticated community. Food was husbanded and stored. Crannog dwellers practised the weaving of cloth, the making of utensils, the crafting of weapons and the building of boats to provide secure transport between crannog and shore.