Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Thursday, 9 April 2009 11:59 UK

Dig reveals religious settlement

Archaeological dig
The ditch and stone bank were unearthed by archaeologists

Evidence of an ancient religious settlement has been discovered by archaeologists working at a visitor attraction in Argyll.

The finds were revealed at the end of a seven year refurbishment project at Crarae Garden near Inverarary.

The National Trust for Scotland, which owns the garden, said a ditch and stone bank dating back to the 7th - 9th century had been uncovered.

Archaeologists said they suggested an important monastic settlement.

There was already previous evidence to suggest that Crarae was a spiritual place for thousands of years.

A Neolithic chambered cairn, a Bronze Age burial mound and a medieval church and graveyard are all nearby.

The most recent digs discovered that the church site and graveyard were surrounded by a wide ditch and a stone bank, similar to the monastic 'vallum' at Iona.

The surrounding ditch and bank, and the radiocarbon dates point towards an important religious establishment
Derek Alexander
National Trust for Scotland

Radiocarbon dating suggests that the site dates back to the 7th - 9th century AD, making it contemporary with the Iona structures.

Archaeologists also uncovered a possible timber building built in the same period that may have been a blacksmiths.

Derek Alexander, National Trust for Scotland archaeologist said: "It is very exciting to discover the remains of a small monastic settlement at Crarae.

"The surrounding ditch and bank, and the radiocarbon dates when set alongside the place name evidence of 'Killevin', and the previous discovery of a 8th- 9th century cross in the graveyard, all point towards an important religious establishment.

"This was possibly an outlier related to the large early monastery sites on Iona or indeed on Lismore."

Craerae Garden
The garden overlooks Loch Fyne and is 10 miles from Inveraray

The archaeological work was part of a major programme of re-development at Crarae Garden which began in 2002.

The £500,000 project involved cataloguing, mapping and numbering the plant collection, as well as improving footpaths, bridges and updating the way information about the garden was presented to visitors.

Head gardener Nigel Price said: "We are gearing up for a great season at Crarae this year. Now that our extensive refurbishment is complete, the garden is looking better than ever.

"We can't wait to show off our fabulous new look to our visitors in 2009."

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