Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset


Date August 2005

Event ID 998243

Category Project

Type Project


Fortified settlement on sea stack NB 5355 6501 The Dùn Èistean Archaeology Project is a multidisciplinary field project running for three years, drawing on previous work (DES 2002, 119) and also the results of a series of separately funded projects, which include documentary research, place-name analysis and the collection of oral traditions. The project includes an archaeological survey of the N of Ness (the Ness Archaeological Landscape Survey) as well as the excavations and post-excavation work at Dùn Èistean.

The first season of excavation was completed at the end of August 2005, and an extensive desk-based assessment has been completed of the NALS area, which has identified over 300 potential archaeological sites. Both the survey and excavation aspects of the project incorporate local and student volunteers.

In July and August 2005, two large excavation areas were opened to investigate the largest rectangular building (Structure A) on the W side of the island and the dun (Structure G) at the NE, seaward side of the site. These ruins were all assessed in trial excavation trenches opened during previous work (DES 2001, 99-100; DES 2002, 119). A smaller trench was also opened over the turf and stone wall (Structure H), but no excavation was undertaken below turf and topsoil removal.

The ruined turf walls and stone footings of Structure A measured over 20m long, and the building appeared from the 2001 topographic survey to be divided into two parts, aligned SW-NE, and possibly representing a dwelling and outbuilding built side-by-side with a gap between them. The 2005 excavation trench measured 21 x 7m maximum and bore out many of the conclusions from the earlier survey. However, it also added evidence that both buildings were inhabited, each with a central peat hearth. Below an abandonment layer of peat ash and broken pottery, each building

had a compacted clay floor utilising the surface of the natural clay above the bedrock. Both dwellings were built from stone-clad earth wall footings with turf on top, and were clearly closely contemporary, being reminiscent of more recent blackhouses, the ruins of which can still be seen in Ness. Finds were limited to sherds of locally hand-made craggan, flakes of flint, corroded pieces of iron and a small shard of glass, and all suggest a 16th- to 18th-century date for the buildings. At the end of the excavation, part of the abutting earth and stone walls of each structure were dismantled and traces of a third, earlier, structure were uncovered below. Only the hearth and some adjacent paving with a possible post-slot had survived; the remainder of the building was presumably destroyed to rebuild the two more recent structures. Following the cessation of primary use and abandonment of the structures, the walls slumped and a

temporary shelter was built into the rubble at the N end of Room 1.

The topographic survey and small evaluation trench on the circular mound, Structure G, had revealed that below the rubble lay the remains of a square tower. In 2005, a large trench was opened across the mound, 30 x 9m maximum, to investigate not only the tower, but also the area around it where the geophysical survey had suggested were the remains of a circular structure, possibly a rock-cut ditch. An early 20th-century marker cairn on top of the mound first had to be removed for health and safety reasons, and the stone from this was quantified and stacked separately to allow for possible reconstruction in the future. The removal of the turf and the latest layer of collapsed soil and rubble from the trench revealed that the circular raised area upon which the tower was built is a natural rock platform, and not an earlier structure as was first thought. By the end of the first season of excavation, part of the collapse around the tower had been completely removed to reveal well-built stonework, bonded with clay, and probably utilising a core of specially mixed clay and peat. At first the interior face of the wall remained elusive, presumably reflecting damage during 19th century investigations by MacPhail and later re-use of the hollow in the top of the mound as a temporary overnight shelter on the island. By the end of the excavation the first indications of an interior face were uncovered, giving a possible overall thickness of up to 2m for the base of the tower wall. The wall also incorporated around 1m

of core material, and was clearly built to carry a considerable load, and therefore height, of masonry. This structure will be investigated over the next two years, with the interior of the tower being the focus of the project next year. First indications are that it was built in one phase, and finds of a musket ball, flakes of flint and sherds of craggan indicate that, like Structure A, the tower dates to between the 16th and 18th centuries AD.

Archive to be deposited in Western Isles SMR and NMRS.

Sponsors: HS, HLF, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Comunn Eachdraidh Nis, Comunn na Gàidhlig, Clan Morrison Society, University of Glasgow.

R C Barrowman 2005

People and Organisations