Britain Express > Heritage Traveller > What is a crannog?

What is a crannog?

Posted: 2011-03-18

What is a crannog?

If you've ever seen the word 'crannog' on a OS map, you might have wondered what it signified. I've watched enough Time Team episodes to have a very hazy idea that a crannog was some sort of inhabited man-made island, usually joined to the mainland by a causeway. But that's where my knowledge ended. Until today.

I just ran across a neat little article on the history of crannnogs in Scotland, with a focus on the Inner Hebrides. The website is, appropriately enough,, and its the work of Mark Holley, an American researcher with a Ph.D. in Underwater Archaeology from Edinburgh University.

Here are some of the key points of Holley's history of crannogs article:

  • Most crannogs are circular or oval
  • Materials used include stone, wood, or whatever people could find locally
  • Crannogs were used as housing sites until well into the 17th century
  • There are two main types, with a solid base, or raised on stilts like a dock

Crannogs have been used for habitation longer than any other form of Scottish dwelling, from the Neolithic period (4000-2000 BCE). So until you excavate a crannog it is impossible to tell whether it is incredibly ancient, or a few hundred years old. But excavations can reveal a lot, partly due to the fact that the cold water of Scottish lochs is such a good storage environment. Organic matter such as seeds, wood, and plant fibre can be remarkably well preserved. But that's nothing; a recent 'dig' on a crannog site turned up a butter dish with butter still in it!

As I was about to post this article I ran across another brief explanation entitled 'What is a crannog', by the Scottish Crannog Centre (see Resources below)

I'll keep a close eye out for partly used butter dishes next time I see a crannog marked on my OS map!

Image of Westferry crannog is © Thomas Nugent, used by permission under the Creative Commons license

Resources: (click on the Introduction link)
Scottish Crannog Centre - Kenmore, near Aberfeldy


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