Friday, 11 March 2016

Recon on Lewis

Recon Survey to the Outer Hebrides

to see this in 3D go to GoogleSpheres here

Over the last 10yrs or so I have made a number of visits to the Outer Hebrides for both work and holidays. Most of the research trips have focused on marine biological habitat mapping and assessment of the impacts of storm activity on the coast lines. However, as with most of the Scottish landscape, the archaeology of the islands tells a compelling story, especially in comparison to the work we are currently doing up in Orkney.  So when Donald Herd, a colleague and native of Lewis, mentioned the possibility of a trip to visit his ancestral stomping grounds with the possibility of building collaborations for some future work on the islands I readily agreed to go even if it is sometimes dodgy weather in March!

Donald hails from the village of Suainebost in the far north of Lewis where there is a fantastic community historical society – Comunn Eachdraidh Nis.  This group is working to preserve island history, language and culture for both local community now and in the future as well as providing a resource for visitors to the area. This north part of the island has a diverse range of heritage on offer from some of our most ancient rocks in the Lewisian Gneiss to the heritage of the people. A great example of this is the recently completed investigations published in two books by Chris and Rachel Barrowman on the archaeology and heritage of Ness and an investigation on the unusual 16C-17C remains on the sea stack of Dun Eistean.  Hopefully we will be able to find funding to work on some of this in the future.  

The island of Lewis is justifiably famous for its archaeology, the centre piece of which are the iconic standing stones of Calanais (Callanish).  The best estimate of when the stones at Calanais were raised is about 3000BC, nearly at the time that farming began during the Neolithic here. However it is incredibly difficult to date the actual erection of stone circles, especially when almost no other structures, either houses or burial chambers have been discovered in the surrounding environment. We visited this site in order to check out the wider landscape as a potential place to conduct palaeo-landscape studies.  Since it was a quiet time of year with no visitors, Donald also took the opportunity to fly the site for aerial photography.  The results were quite stunning and fit nicely into the quick 360 image that we took at the centre.

We experimented with photographing a number of the stones as the structure displayed in the Lewisian Gneiss that the Neolithic people used is quite stunning!

As the day was such a good one we visited a much later broch on our way back to the north of the island.  Dun Carloway is a remarkably well preserved Iron Age broch (a type of fortification found throughout Scotland) likely constructed between 100BC to 100AD. It is of typical double wall construction which can be seen in the east side. The remains were in use, laterally as a kiln until at least 1000AD.  Folklaw has it that the clan Morrisons of Ness (Donald’s ancestors) used to hide in it while they went on cattle raids of their rival clan, the MacAulays! 

Now looking forward to a trip back, if for no other reason than to try some of the island's famous product - Black Pudding!  trouble is there are so many to try .......

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