THEY lived a precarious existence at the mercy of the elements without any of the mod cons people nowadays take for granted.

But even though they had to build their homes on water and erect turf ramparts to keep out warlike locals, it appears that the Iron Age Scots weren't shy about trying to impress the neighbours.

Archaeologists excavating an "astonishingly" well-preserved settlement says that its main building was once clad with a facade of thick oak panels they believe were designed purely to make an impression on visitors.

Remains of the 2,500-year-old planks have been uncovered showing they were delicately shaped before being placed at the front of a massive roundhouse situated on the shores of a shallow loch.

Each of the planks would have come from 400-year-old trees, said to be giants of the ancient forest, that were chopped down using nothing but stone tools and crude iron axes before being split into four and painstakingly shaped by hand.

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The effect would have been to showcase the inhabitants' wealth and power to anyone who happened to call, and demonstrate their mastery over the prehistoric landscape.

Remains from the dig, at the Black Loch of Myrton in Wigtownshire, clearly show the chisel marks made by the builders of the settlement, known as a crannog, as they shaped and chipped at the oak facade,

Yet the rest of the building was made up of rough logs which did not even have the bark removed.

The level of preservation of the remains of the buildings has astonished archaeologists working on the dig, with details such as wickerwork mats that made up the floor of the main building and log-lined pathways all still in place.

However, few artifacts have been found during the three-year investigation, and it is believed the building was eventually abandoned after centuries of use.

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Writing on the project, Project Leader Dr Anne Crone of AOC Archaeology, said: "During the excavation, we were awed by the size and construction of Roundhouse 2. This is the best-preserved of the buildings, and we believe it was designed to impress its Iron Age visitors.

"It is nearly 13 m[etres] in diameter and has a wide, carefully-built entrance flanked by a façade of vertical oak planks. For the façade, the builders selected massive oak trunks which they then split across into three or four thick planks."

Dr Crone added: "The builders had only small axes to fell and shape these massive trees, so building the entrance represented a major investment of their time and energy.

"We think that, by displaying the oak planks around the entrance, the builders were aiming to impress any visitor with their wealth and power."

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The excavation of the 5th century BC settlement, which has been compared to similar finds at Glastonbury in England, has been going on for ten years with work carried out by AOC Archaeology and volunteers.

The timbers of the seven to eight buildings uncovered so far have survived because they were sunk into the peaty mud of the loch, which then dried out over time trapping them below the surface and away from the elements.

Many of the logs uncovered have holes carved in one end, which researchers believe are tow-holes made by the builders so they could be dragged using ropes.

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The discovery of the settlement forced a re-think of the early history of the south of Scotland, proving that people lived in Wigtownshire long before Ninian set up a church at Whithorn in 397AD.

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