So you go on holiday to get away from it all......
29/08/2019 | Lara Band
On 16 August this year, this intertidal archaeologist set off on an adventure, a holiday to somewhere she'd never been before but had long wanted to go. By train and ferry to an archipelago with incredible white sandy beaches, huge open skies, rich flora, rare fauna and abundant archaeology, for what's a holiday without at least a little archaeology?
Remains of the Iron Age settlement at Coileagan An Udal, North Uist
© Lara Band
The day after arriving on South Uist in Scotland Western Isles, a little scroll of Twitter and hang on, I recognise that view, that image of Scolpaig Tower. And so it turns out that CITiZAN's Scottish friends, SCAPE (Scotland's Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion), were also visiting the Western Isles, to make a film on crofting for a local community project and to carry out field work and site with Uist Community Archaeology Group.
Unable to resist the possibility of a Sunday wander along stunning coastline looking for signs of past occupation and present coastal change we joined SCAPE's Joanna Hambly, UCAG and two visiting archaeologists from City University of New York at Balranald RSPB reserve. Several occupation sites have been recorded along the coastline here over the years, dating mostly to the Iron Age. The earthy matrix, masses of limpet shells, pieces of animal bones, fragments of pottery and laid stone blocks visible in the vertical faces of the dunes confirmed we'd found middens associated with sites previously recorded on the interactive map produced for SCAPE's project SCHARP: Aird An Runair, An Caisteil and Aird An Runair; Traigh Nam Faoghailean. A holidaying lichen specialist joined our group for a while and, in assessing the likely age of lichens on the exposed masonry, could give us an estimate of the speed/extent of erosion for both sites over the last few years - a great example of transdiciplinary working!
An unexpected find, a possible quern stone, lay partially covered by the sand on the beach, but exposed enough to catch an observant eye. Some debate ensued as to whether it was a natural feature, caused by sea action on a stone caught in a natural dip but the profile of both the dip and the stone itself suggests otherwise; it was also similar to one found nearby previously. Sites updated using the SCHARP app, we returned to base. The CITiZAN app was in fact based on the SCHARP app, with a similar user interface and a similar 'backend', meaning CITiZAN and SCHARP data can be combined to provide an overview of sites and coastal change along both England and Scotland's coastlines.
Joanna Hambly of SCAPE and members of UCAG gather round a midden at Traigh Nam Faoghailean, North Uist
Aird An Runair Quern (SCHARP feature 13907)
Monday night was film night at Lochmaddy Community Hall, to see the film produced by SCAPE's Tom Dawson and ex-SCAPEr Tanya Venture. With talks from the New York archaeologists Frank Feeley and Seth Brewington on their research into social and climatic change in, resepectively, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, a Gaelic choir and the ubiquitous (we were assured) raffle it was a fun and unexpected night out.
Cladach agus Machair (Shore and Machair)
And then finally who would turn down the offer of a boat trip by a UCAG member to a now uninhabited island with the promise of multiperiod archaeology and spectacular views? Not us, of course. And so on Tuesday off we went to Ronay to see such delights as the possible remains of a possible medieval chapel, shielings and other stone building remains and constructions.
Of course the holiday wasn't all archaeology, though it's hard to stray too far from sites with fascinating stories to tell even when just going for a wander. Six nights wasn't nearly enough; if you ever get the chance to go, go - and go for longer than we did!
Ronay, Western Isles with the remains of a croft and possible chapel in the foreground
© Lara Band
Remains of the crofting township Roisinis, Eriskay
© Lara Band
Contemporary archaeology: a wind blown buoy on the machair; Udal, North Uist
© Lara Band