- Research Associate (Archaeology)
Prior to 2000 I was fortunate to be involved in research projects that concentrated on the early medieval/late Iron Age and Norse periods in Scotland and further afield, with particular reference to Tintagel in Cornwall, and St Ninian’s Isle in Shetland. Since moving to the Isle of Lewis my research interests have concentrated on the archaeology of medieval Lewis, specifically excavations on the small tidal sea stack of Dùn Èistean in Ness, and research and survey of the coastal chapel-sites of Lewis. These projects are firmly rooted in the local area where I live and aim to work with colleagues to integrate archaeological and historical research, to work with the medium of Gaelic where possible and to support and enrich local heritage and tourist initiatives locally.
Current research projects
- St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland
This project re-assessed the unpublished excavations on St Ninian’s Isle which led to the discovery of the magnificent hoard of 28 pieces of Pictish silverware in 1958. As well as a reassessment of the original (unpublished) archives and finds, including an ogham stone found on the site in 1876 and a fantastic collection of glass beads, several new small-scale excavations were undertaken on the site of the chapel and its burial ground. These confirmed a long sequence of settlement, beginning in the Iron Age. The first church was then built on the site in the 8th century, and accompanied by a long cist cemetery with cross-incised stones and shrine sculpture. The church may have continued in use into the 9th or 10th centuries, and the recent work has confirmed that the famous hoard was buried into its floor. There was a degree of continuity between the pre-Christian and Christian burials, native and Norse, with evidence that the site was a special place for burial before the advent of Christianity. Thereafter the site was inundated with wind-blown sand and a new chapel with an accompanying long cist cemetery was then built above the earlier church, and a chancel was added later.
- The Lewis Coastal Chapel-sites Survey (LCCS)
This project was set up in 2004 to record the archaeology of the coastal chapel-sites in Lewis. Due to a scarcity of surviving contemporary historical documentation relating to Lewis in the medieval period, archaeology has great potential to further investigate these fascinating and diverse sites. Initial research linked together previous antiquarian and local historical research, local guidebooks and research by local history societies and other groups. Walkover and targeted topographic surveys were then undertaken, and each site described on the ground. At the end of the first phase of work it was possible to assess the cultural and research potential of this remarkable group of sites, and to identify gaps where further work was needed. Over forty sites were identified and the remains recorded at each site were varied, some associated with old settlements, or traditionally linked with other chapel sites nearby, others alone and isolated. The chapels themselves ranged from upstanding buildings still used for worship, to low grassy banks only just discernable beneath the turf or un-located and kept alive only in oral tradition. The third and final year of fieldwork targeted topographic and geophysical survey on two sites, Teampall Eoin in Bragar, and Teampall Pheadair in Siadar, both on the west coast of Lewis. The project has now moved to the publication stage, and the results have been used to inform local guides on the early Christianity of Ness.