Sunday, January 15, 2012

Medieval fishing village discovered in Outer Hebrides by island boatman

The Outer Hebrides (Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan Siar, ) also known as the Western Isles and the Long Island, is an island chain off the west coast of Scotland. The islands are geographically contiguous with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, one of the 32 unitary council areas of Scotland. They form part of the Hebrides, separated from the Scottish mainland and from the Inner Hebrides by the waters of the Minch, the Little Minch and the Sea of the Hebrides. Scottish Gaelic is the predominant spoken language, although in a few areas English speakers form a majority.

Most of the islands have a bedrock formed from ancient metamorphic rocks and the climate is mild and oceanic. The 15 inhabited islands have a total population of about 26,500 and there are more than 50 substantial uninhabited islands.

There are various important prehistoric structures, many of which pre-date the first written references to the islands by Roman and Greek authors. The Western Isles became part of the Norse kingdom of the Su├░reyjar, which lasted for over 400 years until sovereignty was transferred to Scotland by the Treaty of Perth in 1266. Control of the islands was then held by clan chiefs, principal of whom were the MacLeods, MacDonalds, Mackenzies and MacNeils. The Highland Clearances of the 19th century had a devastating effect on many communities and it is only in recent years that population levels have ceased to decline. Much of the land is now under local control and commercial activity is based on tourism, crofting, fishing, and weaving.

Sea transport is crucial and a variety of ferry services operate between the islands and to mainland Scotland. Modern navigation systems now minimise the dangers but in the past the stormy seas have claimed many ships. Religion, music and sport are important aspects of local culture, and there are numerous designated conservation areas to protect the natural environment.


From the Daily Mail: Medieval fishing village discovered in Outer Hebrides by island boatman
A medieval fishing village is believed to have been found in the Outer Hebrides after a tip-off from an islander.

The site is among potential new historic finds made along the islands’ coasts following information from members of the public.

Archaeologists said they were told about the village after bumping into local man JJ MacDonald. The possible fishing station was discovered near Loch Euport, on North Uist.

The project team said on Ordnance Survey maps the area is called Havn, the Norse word for harbour.

Last year, fishermen, beachcombers, divers and islanders in the Hebrides were asked for information on where archaeologists might find ancient sites along shorelines.

The project involves the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), WA Coastal and Marine, Historic Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council).

Archaeological investigator at RCAHMS, Dr Alex Hale, said the village was among the most promising tip offs.

'Meeting JJ MacDonald was one of those fortuitous moments that can only happen when you are in the field,' he said.

'We bumped into JJ at his boat shed, by chance, and the amount of knowledge he has of the local environment is incredible.

'He’s obviously very knowledgeable about the area of South Uist where he lives and was able to help us identify sites that we’ll now be able to investigate further, such as the fishing station.'

The experts are now working on confirming, dating and analysing the sites and relics they were alerted to, along with aerial photographs of the locations.

Finds included Neolithic pottery found by a diver in Loch an Duna, on Lewis.

A previously unknown complex of fish traps and evidence of occupation south of Lochboisdale on South Uist have also been found.

Dr Jonathan Benjamin, of WA Coastal and Marine, said local knowledge was key to the first major study of the Western Isles’ marine archaeology.

He said: 'As full-time archaeologists we don’t have the benefit of observing the shoreline between the low and high tides, day in and day out, year after year.

'That’s why we’re relying on the knowledge of people who live and work on or near the sea, and who might have noticed something out of the ordinary, either in a fishing net, or at an especially low tide.

We’re also explaining to people the sorts of things that we’re interested in, because they may have seen or noticed things in the past, but disregarded them as not important.'

The Western Isles’ coasts have been a rich source of archaeology in the past.

The 12th Century Lewis Chessmen were found beneath a sand dune near Uig on the west coast of Lewis at some point before 1831.

More recently, in 2007, ancient coins were discovered on a beach, giving new clues to the far-reaching influence of the Roman Empire.

Archaeologists believed the pieces of copper alloy dated from the middle of the 4th Century.

Like the chess pieces, they were found in a sand dune, but the location in the Uists has been kept secret to protect the site.

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