Ancient secrets submerged around Western Isles

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ANCIENT forests, lost landscapes and artefacts from life in the islands thousands of years ago could be found underwater.

Archaeologists Dr Jonathan Benjamin and Dr Andy Bicket were in Stornoway on Monday to give a talk on the potential for discoveries here in the Hebrides.

They want the public to help them identify possible sites of interest which could be explored.

Speaking in the Comhairle Chambers, the experts from Wessex Archaeology, who have worked on projects around the globe, are hoping to begin a community engagement.

Dr Benjamin said they were interested to hear from those with local knowledge.

“Really, what we are going to be doing now, is a community-engagement, initial phase of what will become a pilot study to help identify potential in the Western Isles for this topic.

“We have not yet identified sites underwater in the Western Isles, however we have reason to believe that there are areas that could be interesting for prospection.

“We think there may also be knowledge on the islands that could inform our research (ie. people who know of areas where cultural or natural features, such as submerged forests, may exist).

The team were invited to the islands by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and council archaeologist Deborah Anderson.

The islands are of particular interest to the team as they have some of the best potential due to the irregular shoreline and the potential for headlands and islands to form as a consequence of changing sea level.

For most of prehistory, the sea levels were much lower than they are today, in the last 10,000 years archaeologists have calculated that there may have been up to 10 km of land lost off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides.

“In areas where there has been little scouring of the seabed, such as in areas in the long sea lochs of the east and other sheltered locations,  there may still be evidence of the first people to colonise the Outer Hebrides in the Mesolithic some 9000 years ago.

Submerged sites can offer preservation conditions rarely encountered on land. With advances in underwater exploration technology, many submerged landscapes have become accessible to archaeologists and there is a growing awareness of the potential for underwater archaeology to transform our knowledge of the human past.