Archaeological excavation undertaken by Argyll Archaeology Ltd during work to construct a new house at Torloisk, Isle of Mull, has produced a beautiful blue dumbbell glass bead that dates back to the Iron Age, making it some 2000 to 2500 years old. It was found during monitoring work required as a condition of planning consent. This condition was attached by Argyll and Bute Council on the advice of the West of Scotland Archaeology Service because the proposed new house was located within a former township mapped on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, and it was felt that construction would have the potential to disturb material relation to the possible medieval origins of the settlement; however, the results suggest that occupation can be traced to considerably earlier than this.
The glass bead is pale blue in colour as a result of iron impurities, and would have been attached to clothing or as part of a hair decoration by means of a thin cord wrapped around its centre. The bead was recovered from the ashes of a possible furnace, which was in the shape of a figure of eight, at one end of which was a fire that was so hot that it had turned the silt bright reddish pink in colour. At the other end of the furnace pit was a deposit of charcoal, and it was from this that the bead was recovered. The glass bead may have been accidentally lost, perhaps falling off clothing while the hot ashes were being raked out of the furnace, or alternatively, it is possible that it may have been made on site, fashioned into shape from glass imported from the continent. Interestingly, a very similar glass bead was recently recovered from a Iron Age Dun at Balure, in Knapdale and a couple of similar examples were found at an Iron Age roundhouse at Braust, Isle of Man.
The rarity of these beads has led some to suggest that they are a high status item, only worn by the richest or most important members of community. As well as the furnace other features from the site include hearths, large pits and postholes. A full excavation report will be lodged with West of Scotland Archaeology Service.