Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset


Date 25 June 2007 - 2 August 2007

Event ID 558890

Category Recording

Type Excavation


NB 5355 6501 In March 2005 the Dùn Èistean Archaeology Project (DEAP) committee commissioned us to undertake and manage the DEAP, a multi-disciplinary field project centred on the small island site of Dùn Èistean in Ness on the NE coast of the Isle of Lewis. We had undertaken three previous seasons of work of topographic and geophysical survey and trial trenching at the site in 2000–02, and DEAP was built on the results of this work. Excavation on Dùn Èistean represents only one half of the project, the other being the Ness Archaeological Landscape Survey, NALS, which aims to survey and record the archaeology of Ness from the earliest prehistoric remains to 1950s.

This report describes the results of the third and final season of excavation on Dùn Èistean, undertaken over six weeks between 25 June–2 August 2007. Professional archaeologists worked alongside local and student volunteers on the excavation, and environmental processing and web site maintenance were undertaken in the local community at the Comunn Eachdraidh Nis (Ness Historical Society) whilst the excavation was ongoing.

Four excavation areas were opened in 2007. New trenches were opened over a large, well preserved building, Structure C, and one of two smaller circular buildings, Structure F, at the head of a natural gully on the E side of the island. Trenches were also re-opened over a group of buildings at Structures D and the base of a ruined tower, Structure G, in order to complete the excavation of features uncovered in 2006.

Excavations in Structure C revealed a kiln barn, with the bowl and flue of a corn-drying kiln set into the N end of the building. This significant find adds a new dimension to the interpretation of the occupation on Dùn Èistean as it is evidence for the drying of larger quantities of grain than previously found on the site. It also suggests the presence of a larger and more permanent community on the island than previously thought. The flue and

burnt deposits associated with the use of the kiln had been robbed and modified when, after the barn had gone out of use, two small circular turf and stone shelters were built into the NW and central areas of the structure. A small finds assemblage of coarse pottery, a sherd of glass and a musket ball was recovered from these later structures, which had disturbed earlier floor deposits below associated with the barn.

Work in Trench D revealed three phases of buildings and occupation across the area. The earliest phase comprised the remains of an old ground surface, the stone footings of the corner of a building, an occupation layer and a thick ashy midden deposit. Above this two separate areas of activity were excavated: in the E. a large circular hearth interpreted as a communal cooking hearth, and to the W a large rectangular courtyard area containing several phases of floor and heath deposits. The finds from this phase are broadly datable to the 16th to early 18th centuries, and include pottery, bone, charcoal, iron objects and flint flakes deriving from fire-lighting. The range of material is in keeping with broadly domestic occupation, but with indications of episodes of conflict, as witnessed x the consistent finds of pistol and musket shot. The latest phase of buildings consisted of small, sub-rectangular buildings constructed from turf walls with rough stone facings, from which 19th-century glazed pottery was recovered.

In Trench F the eastern of two scoops or terraces, Structure F, was excavated and a D-shaped turf and stone building was uncovered. The back of the building had been set into the hillside above Palla na Biorlinn, a gully leading down to a rocky ledge where tradition records a landing place on which the Morrisons would pull up their boats. A turf wall was set onto the back of the terrace, with a dry stone face at the base defining the curved interior. The front wall of the structure was built from double faces of neat stonework, with a turf core, and a doorway looking out to the sea and down the Minch. A wooden threshold and scatters of coarse pottery sherds and charcoal were excavated at the doorway, while inside the building two phases of occupation were identified, overlying a carefully built drain to channel water out from the slope behind. Finds from this trench included flakes of flint from firelighting, a small group of iron objects, a musket ball and two small pieces of glass. The same broad dating is suggested for this trench, and the finds assemblage again provides a picture of domestic habitation and episodes of conflict.

A small part of Trench G was re-opened in 2007 in the centre and to the S of Structure G, the base of a ruined rectangular tower on the highest point of the island. A new extension was also opened to the N on the seaward side of the structure to investigate the N face of the base of the tower wall. Investigation in the interior of the tower identified two phases of collapsed tower, and there is evidence that there was a flaw in execution of the first phase of construction which caused the initial collapse. Finds of coarse pottery, a sherd of imported glazed pottery and pistol shot in the collapsed tower suggest that this building is contemporary with the other structures on the site.

The final season of excavations on the site have added to a growing picture of a community living on Dùn Èistean during the troubled times in Lewis in the late medieval period. The corn drying kiln and barn may be evidence for a larger and more permanent community on the island than has previously been

suggested, sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries, as may the large communal hearth in Trench D and the several occupation deposits excavated in Trenches D and F. Glazed pottery and glass found in the later turf shelters in Trenches C and D suggests a later reuse of ruined structures in the 19th century, but in the absence of absolute dating it is problematic to define which of the different phases of occupation in the earlier

periods are contemporary. This is one of the most crucial issues to be addressed in the post-excavation programme, and it is hoped that it will be done in tandem with a typological study of the coarse pottery from the site. Geoarchaeological samples were also taken from the site in 2007 to investigate the methods of construction used in the structures, and the occupation and hearth deposits within them. The environmental material collected from flotation has great potential to add information on the diet and crop processing on the site, and the everyday life of the inhabitants. With the completion of the final fieldwork season, DEAP will now embark on two years of post-excavation analysis and research towards publishing the evidence from this

important medieval fortified settlement.

Archive to be deposited in Museum nan Eilean. Report deposited with SMR and RCAHMS.

Funder: Heritage Lottery Fund; Historic Scotland; Comhairle nan Eilean Siar; Comunn Eachdraidh Nis; Comunn na Gàidhlig; Clan Morrison Society; Glasgow University.

People and Organisations

Digital Images

First 100 images shown.