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Cnoc an Rath

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Cnoc an Rath consists of an irregular earthen circle, 91ft by 88ft in diameter, and a 10ft deep ditch. It is surrounded by a stone wall, built by Lord Bannatyne, and planted with firs, among which is the tomb of James Hamilton of Kames, 1775-1849.

Cnoc an Rath is a sub-circular univallate earthwork situated on a slight rise in level pasture land. The inner bank, which has been effaced on the SW side, is up to 0.8m high internally and encloses a level area 24.0m in diameter. The well-preserved ditch is 1.6m deep on the north side. A 2.6m wide causeway crosses the bank and ditch in the east and ends at the outer enclosing wall where there is now a vertical drop of 1.6m. The 46.0m diameter stone wall which is from 1.0 to 1.8m high has damaged or destroyed the outer limits of the earth- work, and Miss Marshall suggests that there was formerly an outer bank. However, as Talbot suggests, the feature appears to be too well-defined to be anything other than medieval, probably a ring-work. The tomb is in poor condition.

Now archaeologists believe they have identified one of the Norse parliament sites – known as a ‘thing’ - on the island of Bute, which points to it being the headquarters of the powerful Norse King, Ketill Flatnose, whose descendants were the earliest settlers on Iceland.

The significance of the mound site at Cnoc An Rath, which has been listed as an important archaeological monument since the 1950s, has been unclear for decades. Some had suggested it could have been prehistoric or a medieval farm site.

However, the idea of the location being a Viking site had been raised through a recent study of place-names on the island, which suggested long-lost names in the area may have contained the Norse word ‘thing’.

A series of excavations has now uncovered samples of a preserved surface which when analysed through radio-carbon dating correspond to the time when Vikings were active around the Argyll coast.

The new findings were presented yesterday at the Scottish Place-Name Society Conference, held in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Archaeologist Paul Duffy, who runs Brandanii Archaeology and Heritage Consultancy, said the dates had been pinpointed through analysing pieces of charcoal. He said the dates identified corresponded to the end of the period of the kingdom of Dalriada and the start of Viking settlement on Bute.

“The first date from the site is between the mid 7th Century and the mid 9th century," he said. "That is the end of Dalriada and the time when the Vikings arrive at the end of the 8th Century - so it puts it firmly in the time we were looking at, although maybe a little bit early to be a 'thing' site.

“The second date we got back - was late 7th Century to late 9th century – which puts it quite firmly in the period when we are fairly sure Vikings are active round about the Argyll coast and Bute.”

He added: “What we have found is evidence of human activity on the site, which is suggested to be a 'thing' site, which dates to the same period we would expect 'thing' type activities or assembly activities to be happening on that site.”

Duffy said Bute has been suggested as a possible location for the headquarters of the Gall-Gaidheil – translated as ‘Foreign Gaels’. These Norse-Gael people dominated much of the Irish Sea region, including western Scotland, for a part of the middle Ages and are believed to have offered support to various high Kings of Ireland in battles.

The evidence for the Bute connection is found in the Irish religious text manuscript Martyrology of Tallaght, which dates to around 900AD, and refers to the bishop St Blane of Kingarth on Bute, as being in the territory of the Gall-Gaidheil.

Duffy said:“We have got a very unusual and definite historical evidence which puts Bute in the Gall-Gaidheil territory, and possibly quite an important place in the Gall-Gaidheil territory.

“What we have now is another brick in the evidential wall which suggests there is an assembly site on Bute.”