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South Uist, An Doirlinn

Settlement (Neolithic)

Site Name South Uist, An Doirlinn

Classification Settlement (Neolithic)

Alternative Name(s) Orosay

Canmore ID 9797

Site Number NF71NW 5

NGR NF 7302 1734

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Western Isles
  • Parish South Uist
  • Former Region Western Isles Islands Area
  • Former District Western Isles
  • Former County Inverness-shire

Archaeology Notes

NF71NW 5 7302 1734.

(NF 7302 1734) Between the Island of Orosay, about 3/4 mile west of South Boisdale, South Uist, and the shore there is a smaller tidal islet, about 50 yards long and 20 yards broad, which seems to have been surrounded by a slight wall. A massive causeway 120 yards long and 9 to 12ft wide, formed of large blocks of stone, connects it with the mainland.

RCAHMS 1965.

There is no trace of a dun on the islet. The causeway still exists but whether it is modern or formerly part of a dun, now destroyed, is impossible to say.

Visited by OS (R D) 16 May 1965.

NF 733 336-NF 758 140 Almost half of the South Uist machair has been surveyed between 1993 and 1995, in a single stretch from West Kilbride in the extreme S of the island to the N of the Ard Michael promontory, a distance of 20km with the width of the machair averaging about 1km (see unpublished reports, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield). Existing RCAHMS records for prehistoric and early historic settlement sites number some 20 locations within this zone. The machair project has now increased this number to 81. Two of the RCAHMS sites, the broch/dun at Orosay (NF 730 173) and the broch of Dun Ruaidh (NF72SW 7), are misidentifications.

The area most responsive to field survey on the machair is the section between Kildonan and Stoneybridge, the N 5km portion of the survey area. Here, where most of the surviving machair plain has not been covered by dunes, some 44 sites have been recognised. Along with a grouping of Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age settlement mounds in the Kildonan area, the main settlement pattern is a set of clusters of Iron Age to Viking Age settlement mounds for each of the five townships. These Iron Age-Viking Age clusters may be viewed as predecessors to the township system first mapped in 1805 and still in use today.

A second concentration of sites has been found further S in the machair of Daliburgh and Kilpheder, where a total of 19 sites have been discovered in an area of 3 square kilometres. This density is all the more remarkable given the large extent of dune incursion on to the machair plain in this area. Within this zone two key house sites, both well preserved, have been excavated. One is Kilpheder wheelhouse (NF72SW 1) of Middle Iron Age date and the other is the Cladh Hallan double roundhouse (NF 72SW 17) of Late Bronze Age date. The most remarkable feature of prehistoric settlement in this area is the 500m long string of Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age settlement W of the modern cemetery. However, there is considerable potential for good preservation, as indicated by the 1994-95 excavations.

The results of the recent survey are by no means exhaustive but they do indicate a remarkable density of later prehistoric and early historic settlements on the machair. The pattern of proto-townships throughout the survey area holds reasonably well but there are gaps for the townships of Garrynamonie and Garryheillie.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland.

M Parker Pearson 1995.

Neolithic settlement

NF 730 173 The site is recorded as a dun (NF71NW 5), but until this summer repeated visits had failed to reveal any features or finds that would confirm this identification or provide a date for the activity. During a brief visit in September 2005 large quantities of flint were noted at the site. The exposed location, on the causeway that connects Orosay to South Uist, meant that the site was severely eroded in the January storms. Vertical sections had been cut through

stratified deposits and large areas had the turf removed to expose, for several months, in situ deposits containing large quantities of artefactual material. This was mostly flint but included pumice, worked quartz, stone tools and pottery. The latter included a large carinated rim sherd with characteristic diagonal line decoration that would indicate a Neolithic date. Stone lines were observed which suggest structures are present. The deposits are very vulnerable to future storms and are not likely to survive for many years.

Archive to be deposited in Museum nan Eilean.

Sponsor: University of Cardiff.

N Sharples 2005

Survey - A coastal zone assessment survey was carried out over the islands of Grimsay, Benbecula and the W coast of South Uist. A total of 200 sites of all dates and types were recorded, 175 of which were recorded for the first time. Some of the more significant findings include:

NF 73020 17340 An Doirlinn, Orosay. Extensive early prehistoric settlement remains found eroding from a small eroding islet. Walling, quartz, flint and decorated pottery observed over an area 15m in diameter. Previously recorded as the site of a possible broch or dun site (NNF71NW 5).

Full report available online at

Sponsor: SCAPE Trust.

H Moore, G Wilson 2005


Excavation (23 June 2013 - 20 July 2013)

NF 7300 1733 An Doirlinn is a small islet exposed on the causeway that leads from the mainland of South Uist to the tidal island of Orosay. As a result of its exposed coastal location, storms had been eroding this potentially important Neolithic site for decades. A small investigation led by Niall Sharples in 2005 revealed potentially Early Neolithic pottery and flint within an apparent occupation layer, and a possible wall which appeared to be part of a stone structure. As a result of its possibly early fourth millennium date, and because of the continuing loss of this important site through coastal erosion, An Doirlinn was selected as one of three key sites to be excavated within the broader Stepping Stones research project, which aims to understand early Neolithic settlement around the ‘western seaways’ of Britain:

The work, 23 June – 20 July 2013, excavated c80% of the surviving total surface area of the site down to bedrock. The main aims were to characterise the archaeology in more detail, to investigate whether there are any stone buildings preserved, and to recover vital dating evidence (in the form of pottery and organic materials which could be radiocarbon dated). An Doirlinn turned out to be a deeply stratified settlement, dating to the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. The settlement consisted of partially stone-built buildings, postholes, pits, hearths and midden-like occupation deposits. The earliest phases of the site produced very substantial quantities of Early Neolithic Hebridean wares, the later phases of Grooved Ware and Beaker pottery; a very large assemblage of flint and quartz was also recovered. These assemblages have been analysed by Mike Copper (University of Bradford, pottery) and Anne Pirie (University of Reading, chipped stone); radiocarbon results are pending, and monograph publication is underway.

It is important to bear in mind that, due to erosion by the sea over many centuries, what remained to be excavated in 2012 was almost certainly a small portion of the original site which stood in the Neolithic. The site adds significantly to our knowledge of Neolithic settlement in the Outer Hebrides, not least because it produced such large material assemblages (including the first Grooved Ware pottery to be associated with a settlement site in the islands).

Archive and report: University of Southampton (currently). CNES HER, RCAHMS and Museum nan Eilean (intended)

Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council; the Universities of Liverpool and Southampton

Duncan Garrow and Fraser Stuart, University of Reading and University of Southampton, 2013

(Source: DES)


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