Unearthing Harris secrets


Local community members and visitors are invited to come to watch and learn from archaeologists this summer as they unearth the story of the many archaeological riches at Northton in Harris.

A team of professional archaeologists from Birmingham Archaeology at the University of Birmingham, working alongside our local archaeology group Linn gu Linn, will be on hand to provide tours of the site.The main focus of the fieldwork activity will be around the ruined medieval chapel on the headland of Rubh an Teampaill, carrying out excavation of a section of the Iron Age broch which partly underlies the chapel and investigating a range of other structures in the surrounding area.

Stonemasons will be working to consolidate the chapel at the same time, saving this much loved local monument from collapse. The building works will be cordoned off for health and safety purposes, but visitors will still get close enough to witness and learn about the specialist techniques being used in the consolidation and will hear the story behind the chapel as part of the tour.

This area is one of the key archaeological locations in the Outer Hebrides. The headland, Rubh an Teampaill, was enclosed or defended by a substantial stone-built wall, set within a landscape showing evidence of human activity over several millennia, including burials of the Viking or Pictish period.

Nearby Rubh’ an Teampaill there are middens and structures exposed by coastal erosion where prehistoric artefacts can be recovered from the shoreline. This location is one of the few places in the west of Scotland, and the only one in the Outer Hebrides, known to have been occupied in the Mesolithic period, about 9000 years ago.

Occupation here continued through the Neolithic, Beaker Period and Bronze Age, and the sequence is completed with the remains of houses and structures from a pre-clearance settlement. This represents the longest known sequence of human occupation anywhere in the Outer Hebrides.

The fieldwork to be carried out in the coming weeks will involve targeted rescue excavation, field survey, and selective small-scale research excavation to provide evidence and information for written and live interpretation. Combined with the educational activities and training for schools and local guides, the aim of the fieldwork is to ensure that Northton becomes established as an important heritage focus for its archaeological sites, complementing the stunning landscape and wildlife attractions which already draw people to this area.

The works on the chapel will begin on the 15th of June and the archaeological fieldwork will start on the 20th of June.

School groups and tour guides are already booked in for activities and a guided tour of the site and members of the public are invited to join in or be given a tour of their own over the three week period when archaeologists will be on site, up until the 8th of July.

Project Manager at Birmingham Archaeology, Kevin Colls commented:

“Despite the great historical and archaeological significance of Rudh’ an Teampaill, this area is largely un-interpreted and poorly understood. Whilst it is known that the area has been used and occupied for around 9,000 years, it is not known what kind of people lived there, how they made their living, and what the area was used for, whether there was an earlier religious site there before the chapel was built, and what the role of the area was in the larger Harris community through the millennia.

“Our team from the University of Birmingham will attempt to answer these questions and we are looking forward to working with members of the local archaeology group and volunteers on this exciting and important project.”

The Rubh’ an Teampaill Community Archaeology project is being delivered by Harris Development Limited through the Landscape Partnership Scheme and is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

For further details and information on the archaeological work and how to access the site, please contact Julia Lawrie, Community Participation Officer, on 01859 502373 or email julia@isleofharris.com.