Yellow sandy layer showing outline of stonemason’s yard

One of the main objectives of this year’s excavations is to understand how the older archaeological deposits have been affected by the complex series of landscaping and reconstructions events which have taken place around the Abbey over the last 150 years. In our last post, we mentioned that we had found evidence of the stonemason’s yard from the building works that took place between 1902 and 1910. The evidence is quite extensive, and covers a wide range of the manufacturing process for the stones now incorporated into the Abbey. The tough, yellow sandy layer we mentioned last week is the dust created from the stonemasons shaping the stone. Its outline in our trench shows the walled area of the yard – the dust only travelling as far as the walls allowed it to go.

Cobbled area indicating the location of the stonemason’s bench.

Directly east of the yellow stone-dust layer is a layer of cobbles, which served as the surface upon which the masons placed their bench (or banker). Here, they would shape the stones by chipping off unwanted pieces, which we found in a tough, compacted layer to the south of this bench. Within these layers of stone-working debris, we have also found a piece of window tracery (or mullion), a finished wall stone, and a chamfered block from an arch.

From left to right: a pile of chipped stone, window tracery, shaped stone for a wall, and a chamfered stone from an arch.

Directly to the east of this yard we have found a large spread of limpet and periwinkle shells, which were used to create mortar for the renovation works. There are also several spreads of mortar to the east of the mason’s yard.

When the building works were completed, the debris was left largely in place. We believe the leftover shell was spread across the site to even out the ground layer. Otherwise, the majority of the debris has remained untouched for just over a century, allowing us to reconstruct the workstations of the stonemasons from 1902.

We have met a large number of people over the last two weeks! If you happen to be in the area, we are excavating until the end of this week. Feel free to stop by and say hello!

2 thoughts on “Day 15: The Stonemason’s Yard

  1. Hi everyone, am following the dig with great interest. Re stones and rubble, you might be interested in the following:
    “Iona Cathedral was a quarry for building crofters’ houses and even steadings. In our barn was found quite a nice carved stone used by masons to strengthen the wall.” Quote from a letter written in 1926 by the Revd Robert Ritchie, whose parents took over the Columba farm in 1868 + former Free Church manse, now hotel. Their barn is still there, opposite the hotel, to the right of the craft shops, end on to the road. I spotted a possible candidate for this ‘quite nice’ stone in the north outer wall, about eye-level – but if any of you have time you’d have a better eye for identifying it (unless now whitewashed or harled over, of course). Impossible to know when it was incorporated into the building but the FC ministers also worked some land and would have used a barn.
    Also, my father talked of ‘rubble’ cleared from the Abbey between 1902-10 being used to make a low wall on the brae below Clachanach, above the shore where the croft’s main well was.  And among the rough boulders making up an old steading wall at Clachanach, facing the road, there’s one block suspiciously square and neatly cut – I’ve often wondered…
    Not sure I can make it over, though will be in Oban 2nd/3rd June if any of you are travelling back through?

    1. Thanks, Mairi! We’ll definitely check it out – looking forward to seeing you if you can make it over!

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