Ancient artefacts for Museum nan Eilean

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Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is delighted to announce that a request to the Scottish Archaeology Finds Allocations Panel (SAFAP) in October 2013 for the Udal Archive has been successful.

This means that all artefacts and remains from the Udal Archaeology site in Grenitote, North Uist, discovered during the thirty-five years of investigation by Ian Crawford, have been allocated to Museum nan Eilean.

The Udal Project is of international significance. ‘Arguably the most consequential site in Europe in terms of extent, depth and complexity of deposits and artefact retrieval, its importance to Scottish History in particular cannot be overstated.’ Ian Crawford

The post excavation research funded by Historic Scotland has been managed by the Comhairle Archaeologist, Deborah Anderson and the lead researcher, Dr Beverley Ballin Smith. The post excavation assessment has now been completed and once the analysis and the final reports have been completed, the assemblage will return to the islands. Further development of the project has been financed by the Esmée Fairbairn Trust for a two year project to develop the research with Universities and appraise funding sources for an Archaeology and Environment Centre on North Uist.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has ascertained the outstanding quality of the Udal archive in regards to the material culture and environmental samples. This indicates that there is an unbroken sequence of occupation at the site which spans 5000 years – from the Neolithic to the post medieval. This chronological depth had not been discovered before on a single site excavation in Scotland and provides a remarkable and unique sequence with which to date other sites on the Atlantic fringe. This is one of the largest post excavation research projects ever to be undertaken in the UK.

The Udal site has also produced a wealth of evidence and potential information in the form of artefacts and samples unparalleled in the UK. Most of the organic samples were very well-preserved in the alkaline shell sands of the machair and constitute outstanding assemblages. The pottery is also exceptional in the amount that was recovered, with over a quarter of a million sherds from one site alone. Ian Crawford excavated the equivalent of 40 acres worth of occupation levels, with 30,000+ special finds and 40m³ of material recoverd.

This is not just a research project for the Comhairle, but is a project driven by the interest and involvement of the local community. A community survey in 2011 commissioned by HIE and carried out by the North Uist Development Company revealed that 97% of respondents agreed that material from Udal should be returned to the islands.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said: “This development is great news. The Udal excavations provide a unique insight into the settlement of a single site over a period of 5000 years, and for that reason alone the finds from the site are worthy of research. I hope that this cooperation between different agencies is another further step towards being able to interpret and display some of the finds to a wider audience.”

Cllr Uisdean Robertson said: “Underpinning the development of this project is a partnership with the local community, including the Comhairle, Historic Scotland, The North Uist Development Company and other stakeholders. It demonstrates the power of archaeology to bring communities together through a positive view of archaeology and create a legacy for North Uist and the Outer Hebrides.”

Cllr Archie Campbell said: “The Comhairle continues to look at funding streams and opportunities to build on the potential the Udal Archive has to bring additional social and economic benefit to the Uists and the Outer Hebrides. The timeline gained from the Udal fills a gap in local knowledge, as well as regional and national understanding of the cultural heritage of the Outer Hebrides.”