On the shores of Loch Tay, seven miles west of Aberfeldy, in Perthshire.
In 1997, by the underwater archaeologists Nick Dixon and Barrie Andrian.
The centre opened following the reconstruction of an iron age crannog, created as an archaeological experiment by the centre’s founders. It has evolved to become a museum with unique insight into the life of crannog dwellers more than 2,500 years ago. Crannogs are artificial islands built on lakes and estuaries, and were mainly found in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Staff take visitors through a crannog dweller’s daily life, and demonstrate prehistoric ways of cooking, weaving and wood crafting. If the weather is suitable, visitors can hire a log boat and go out on the water.
The museum holds everyday household objects used by crannog dwellers, such as bits of jewellery and cooking equipment. Most of the collection was recovered from the bottom of Loch Tay. The director of the Scottish Crannog Centre, Mike Benson, says that it tries to limit the amount of written information given to visitors, and prefers staff and volunteers to tell stories about crannog dwellers so that “the experience is wrapped around people”. The centre’s five apprentices describe how their iron-age counterparts learned different trades.
One highlight is a piece of a lyre that was found at the bottom of Loch Tay and is about 2,500 years old. The centre used this ancient artefact as the focus of a recent project called the Bridge That Connects Communities 2,500 Years Apart. It aimed to dispel the myth of an uncivilised Scotland, and instead show that it was a culturally advanced society.
Lyres were musical instruments played in ancient Rome and Greece, and the one found here shows that those ideas and technology travelled. This year the centre is undertaking a similar project but using a piece of textile, again found in the loch. Called Let’s Get Weaving, the project will highlight the community effort in making it.
Help at hand
The crannog community is made up of 22 staff and around 60 volunteers.
Most of the centre’s income comes from the entry fee of £10. It recently received grants from Museums Galleries Scotland as part of the Scottish government’s Covid Urgent Response Fund.
“The main challenge during Covid is to create an environment for staff to feel safe enough to deliver an immersive experience,” says Benson. An NHS consultant briefed staff on how to maintain a safe distance while still delivering the experience visitors expect.
“Remember what your mission is and what your values are,” says Benson.
Just over 26,000 people visited in 2019, a record year. The centre had about 15,000 visitors last year.
The venue has been granted permission to buy land a mile from its location by the Scottish government. The plan is to build four or five crannogs, and Benson hopes to move there in three years.
Victoria Miller is a freelance journalist