| 2 September 2006
Iron Age chamber found on North Uist
An underground chamber undisturbed since the Iron Age was revealed on North Uist (Western Isles, Scotland) when a 10ft hole opened beneath the wheel of a tractor. Archaeologists assessed the find at Port nan Long at the north of the island, which has been sealed off from the public.
Dr Mary MacLeod, Western Isles Council's archaeologist, was delighted to declare the hole an Iron Age souterrain, or underground chamber. She said: "It is particularly exciting because it is so well preserved. I think there has been a very large pre-historic settlement on this site, possibly over thousands of years." The souterrain is an oval structure over three metres in diameter, the top of it lying just under a metre below the surface. The passage leading off it is less than a metre high.
Dr Chris Barrowman, Historic Scotland's monument warden, said the configuration was typical of Iron Age souterrains. The archaeologists agreed that the passage was likely to lead to a house, possibly a wheelhouse – a circular drystone building with a single entrance divided by a number of stone piers arranged like the spokes of a wheel leading to a central room.
Kate MacDonald, a Sheffield University archaeologist based at South Uist, climbed inside the souterrain and entered the passage leading off it. She found cattle bones showing butcher marks, some inserted into cavities in the wall. An intact lamb's skull was discovered at the back of the chamber. "Bones held a lot of significance for Iron Age people, but it's impossible to guess at this stage why the bones were placed like that. The souterrain itself is still a mystery. If it was a food store, why the tiny passage leading to it? Did some kind of ritual go on here?"
Souterrains are normally found along the Atlantic seaboard of Scotland, Brittany, Cornwall, and Ireland. Most of the 57 known in the Western Isles were uncovered in the 19th century. The most recent was found in the 1970s during road-building near Gress in Lewis.
Source: The Herald (1 September 2006)
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