>Turf Houses in Scotland

>This is a huge topic that has only really started to be fully appreciated relatively recently.
It sits within the landscape of the forms of social & economic organisation that the islands have witnessed during the past 9000 years of human habitation.

Scotland’s Rural Past is a 5-year project that ends in 2011 which supports local communities across Scotland to investigate deserted rural settlements dating from the medieval and post-medieval periods’http://www.scotlandsruralpast.org.uk/

RCAHMS Interpretation Officer Brian Wilkinson has written ‘ A Study of Turf: Historic Rural Settlements in Scotland and Iceland’ which explains how the so-called ‘traditional’ island blackhouse is actually an adaptation of an earlier form that used turf for its exterior walls and was, in fact, technologically superior to the more modern, ‘improved’ version.

An archaeological reconstruction of one of the Icelandic types of Turf House was recently completed and its story can be read here.

As I said at the start, this is a huge topic that is still in its infancy and I am sure that the closing conference of Scotland’s Rural Past on the 18th of June 2011in Birnam will generate much interest.

>Some Sites in Strond

>I have made reference to Harris Development Limited in previous posts but, somehow, have failed to examine one of their Projects despite it being of particular significance regarding the story of Strond.

I refer to an (undated) ‘Record of Strond Site’ where we have a map and accompanying photographs that relate to these 46 sites.

It is the first three of these (STF1, STF2 & STF3) that I wish to focus upon for they record two slipways, including possibly Port Ungasto, and a wall that may be part of Dun Boraigeo. I have shown the location of the possible site of Port Ungasto on this map where the symbol of a telephone indicates the location of the old Strond Post Office and it is between there and Borghasdal that the ruins of the dozen-and-a-half houses that, I believe, were ‘Port Esgein, Farm of Strond’ in 1851 are found.

So we have a port, defended by an adjacent dun, with a small settlement on farmland bounded by a hill behind with a well-defined track to Rodel and another to the Carminish peninsular and the dun the protects that part of the coast with its natural ‘harbour’. My earlier impression that these coastal duns might have been both symbols of power & ownership as well as places of safety when danger was signalled seems perfectly plausible and I think it highly likely that the relatively modern group of houses from 1851 were displaying a continuity of use from the days of the duns. As I have made clear before, the earliest accurate map made by Bald in 1804 (and having georeferenced it to Google Earth I can attest to how remarkably accurately he performed his duties as a surveyor) clearly places Strond in what we know as Borghasdal and equally surely shows little sign of significant settlement along the coast until we reach Carminish.

I may well be wrong but, if not, then it seems even more certain that the Paisley Sisters were living in 1851 in what is now one of the ruins near Borghasdal and that the plaque commemorating them is either indicating another place that they occupied at some other time or it is possibly in altogether the wrong location.

Note: I first suggested this a year ago in ‘A Stroll From Strond To Rodel Across The Decades…’ where the connection between the ruins and the records is explained in more depth.

Of Sea-Levels & Archaeology

One of the questions that has long been of interest to me is that of the changing coastline of the Western Isles due to variations in sea-level over time.

Happily, and serendipitously, the article on Harris that is the subject of my previous post has a map indicating the projected coastline as it was about 12,000 years ago. This map (Figure 9 in the article) comes from:

Wickham-Jones, C.R and Dawson, S (2006)
The scope of Strategic Environmental Assessment of North Sea Area SEA7 with regard to prehistoric and early historic archaeological remains, Strategic Environmental Assessment Programme report,
London: UK Department of Trade and Industry

Fortunately, this report is available from the Department of Energy & Climate Change (http://www.offshore-sea.org.uk/site/) .
The download is :http://www.offshore-sea.org.uk/consultations/SEA_7/SEA7_PreArchaeology_CWJ.pdf

It is a complex and comprehensive document but a glance at Figure 2.11, showing the expanding coastline of the isles at 10m intervals of dropping sea-levels, gives an indication of how crucial sea-level changes are in understanding the story of the isles.

I have only just found this article (itself lying submerged in an unexpected location!) but thought it to be of sufficient interest to bring it to your attention immediately.


Shima – The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures

I came across this publication when performing a search for articles about the archaeology of Harris.

It is a biannual online publication, http://www.shimajournal.org/ , which is produced in bound form annually.

The article ‘Defining the Archaeological Resource on the Isle of Harris’ by Colls & Hunter is in the current edition (Vol 4, No 2) which probably explains why my previous searches had failed to find it!

I would urge you to read the article in its entirety for it not only explains the present state of knowledge regarding the archaeology of Harris but also why the island has, largely speaking, been neglected.

The good news is that the survey upon which the article is focussed suggests that Harris is stuffed full of hidden treasures that may one day reveal the complex history of the Western Isles in greater detail.

One day…


Just a brief musing on whether the technique of dendrochronology (‘tree-ring dating’) could be applied to learn about the origin of timbers found in various structures on the Western Isles?

I have seen references to Viking ‘flat-packs’ of roof timers and boats being exported (a precursor, perhaps, of IKEA!) , Baltic timber found in Stirling Castle, etc but am not aware of any studies relating specifically to the isles.

If anyone has any information on any work that has been done then I would love to learn of it!