Ancient Monuments

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Baliscate, chapel 655m WSW of

A Scheduled Monument in Oban South and the Isles, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 56.6115 / 56°36'41"N

Longitude: -6.0811 / 6°4'51"W

OS Eastings: 149678

OS Northings: 754073

OS Grid: NM496540

Mapcode National: GBR CCC7.PCC

Mapcode Global: WGZD5.K2GX

Entry Name: Baliscate, chapel 655m WSW of

Scheduled Date: 19 July 2011

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12958

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel; Secular: house

Location: Kilninian and Kilmore

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Oban South and the Isles

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument comprises the remains of a small, early historic chapel and burial ground, set within a rectangular enclosure. A second square enclosure, of unknown date, lies immediately to the WSW. The remains are visible as low earthworks. The chapel and burial ground were in use in around the 7th to 8th centuries AD and the chapel was later re-occupied, probably between the 12th and 15th centuries AD. The site lies about 1 km south-west of Tobermory, occupying a level terrace on NE-facing slopes overlooking the N end of the Sound of Mull. It stands at 100m above sea level and offers views north-east to the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

Detailed information about the monument derives from a survey of the earthworks and sample excavation. The chapel is a rectangular building measuring 8.7m ESE-WNW by 6.8m transversely, with a single entrance in the N wall. It lies on the S side of an enclosure measuring 18.7m ESE-WNW by 15.7m transversely, with walls 1.2m wide. Excavation has demonstrated that this enclosure represents an artificial platform that was formed, on the NE side, by dumping earth within a large stone revetment that was over 2m wide at its base. Two deposits of possible decayed wood and an inhumation burial, attributed by radiocarbon dating to 610-690 cal AD, were found beneath the stone walls of the chapel. This has led researchers to suggest that the first building here may have been a timber chapel with horizontal timber sill beams. The stone chapel has rubble-built walls with a clay core. Excavation has indicated that at least five more graves lie in the area just south of the chapel, some apparently dug against the chapel's S wall. Human remains have been recovered from one of these graves, whilst a second was excavated but contained no surviving bone. The other three graves have not yet been investigated. A rectangular stone structure, infilled with stone but containing a central socket, lies immediately beyond the E end of the chapel. It represents a 'leacht', the site of an external altar or shrine of a type often associated with stone crosses. A fragment of stone cross, dating possibly from the 8th century AD, was recovered from debris overlying this structure and may be part of a cross that once stood in the socket. Sherds of medieval redware pottery and a silver long cross penny, minted probably between 1320 and 1335, have been found in deposits that post-date the chapel. These deposits suggest that the chapel was re-used as a medieval dwelling. The square enclosure to the WSW measures 12m by 12m, with drystone walls 0.9m thick, and a tumble of stone in the NW corner that indicates the position of a small structure. This represents a sheep fank with a probable sheiling hut within it, of unknown date.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

Archaeologists have excavated a relatively small proportion of the chapel and surrounding enclosure, but this demonstrates that the monument contains a wealth of information about the form and development of small chapels in the 7th to 8th centuries AD and about the populations that used them for worship and burial. There was evidently a complex sequence of development here. There is clear evidence for at least one grave lying underneath the stone walls of the chapel, whereas five other graves appear to date to a time after the stone chapel was built. There are suggestions that the first chapel building may have been built of timber. This is not proven but the buried remains have the potential to reveal the sequence of building, from the erection of the first chapel, through abandonment of the site as an ecclesiastical centre, to its probable re-use as a medieval dwelling. The stone structure at the east end of the chapel, probably a leacht, is an important feature that would have faced people as soon as they entered the surrounding enclosure via its E entrance. There is potential to examine in detail the buried remains of this feature and to assess its relationship with the E wall of the chapel.

The excavations demonstrate that the preservation and condition of buried archaeological remains is good. They demonstrate that there are significant assemblages of artefacts and ecofacts, including pottery, charcoal and carbonised plant remains, such as barley and oat grains and hazelnuts. These can allow us to build up a picture of the activities that took place on the site, the physical conditions, and the environment and land cover at the time. They can further our understanding of society, ritual, economy, and agriculture. The presence of remains from different periods gives the possibility of exploring issues such as the duration of occupation, the extent to which occupation of the site was continuous and the nature of abandonment processes. There is also potential to compare the character of the ecclesiastical occupation of the site with later domestic and secular occupation. In addition, the artificial platform on which the chapel was built will have sealed the previous ground surface, and may tell us about previous land-use and agriculture. There is high potential for this because excavation within the adjacent square enclosure has produced four ard marks, which indicate ploughing in prehistoric times. Although bone preservation seems not to be ideal, there is still potential for the human burials around the chapel to enhance our knowledge of status and burial practice, and to reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps the types of activities people undertook during life.

Excavation has demonstrated that the site was re-occupied after the abandonment of the chapel, probably between the 12th and 15th centuries. The monument thus preserves rare evidence for medieval settlement along this part of the west coast, and has the potential to tell us about agriculture, crop processing, and trade and exchange. The sheep fank and associated structure are undated, but may be of 16th- to 19th-century origin, extending the time span represented by this monument.

Contextual characteristics

The chapel and two enclosures forming this monument are part of a landscape that contains a variety of other remains. This monument lies physically within the circuit of a much larger enclosure that measures about 210m by 200m, covering an area of 1.37 ha. This extensive enclosure is defined by a stone and turf bank for over half its circuit, and is defined elsewhere by natural scarps. A near vertical slope subdivides the internal space into upper and lower areas, the chapel lying in the lower part. Some researchers have suggested that this extensive enclosure is contemporary with the chapel. In consequence, they interpret the chapel as the central feature of an early historic monastery, and the large enclosure as the 'vallum monasterii' that divided the monastery from the secular world. This interpretation is unproven and it is perhaps more likely that the outer enclosure is part of a post-medieval field system. Nevertheless, its presence enhances the interest and importance of the monument, especially as there is evidence that the chapel building and adjacent sheep fank were occupied long after the site had lost its ecclesiastical function. Other features in the vicinity are also undated and include a cairn 25m east of the chapel and part of a building with rubble and clay walls 50m east of the chapel.

The monument lies only 36 km north-east of Iona, and the radiocarbon date obtained from human bone suggests that it was occupied in the century after St Columba arrived at Iona, perhaps during the lifetime of Adomnan, Columba's biographer. The location and date of the monument suggest that it was established as part of an expansion of Christianity organised from Iona, and finds from the excavation provide some support for this. One of the two excavated graves contained a headstone that resembles Iona marble and a red pebble that has been likened to examples from Fionnphort, across the sound from Iona, although other origins for these stones are possible.

Small chapels of proven early historic date are rare in Scotland and few examples have been excavated to modern standards. Nevertheless, the chapel, graves, and artefactual and environmental evidence from Baliscate can be compared with the larger part-excavated monastic settlements at Whithorn, Hoddom, Portmahomack, Iona and Inchmarnock. These sites will allow researchers to set the findings from Baliscate in context, enhancing their significance. Baliscate, through the remains already excavated and those known to be preserved beneath the ground, adds to our understanding of the infancy of Christian communities in Scotland, revealing national similarities and regional diversification. It offers the potential to examine the connections between ecclesiastical sites and the ways that Christian culture was dispersed.

Associative characteristics

The beginning of Christianity in Scotland is an important subject, particularly to the present Christian community, and the early ecclesiastical settlements are vital to any understanding of how the faith spread throughout the country. Documentary sources refer to the coming of Christianity, but the accounts we have are partial and problematic. The fragmentary nature of the historical record enhances the significance of the archaeological remains preserved at Baliscate.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular of early historic ecclesiastical sites in the British Isles. With proven well-preserved archaeology, this site has the potential to make a significant contribution to our knowledge of early ecclesiastical architecture and economy. The deposits deriving from re-use of the chapel and its environs after the end of ecclesiastical occupation provide evidence to illuminate a poorly understood period of west coast Scottish archaeology. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand early historic chapels and the role they had in the dissemination of Christianity.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as NM45SE 25. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR references are WoSAS PIN 57999 and event ID 4250.

Aerial photographs: OS72-080-292, held by RCAHMS


Wessex Archaeology, 2010 'Baliscate Chapel, Isle of Mull: archaeological evaluation and assessment of results', unpubl client rep 71503.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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