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Early prehistoric settlement

The Neolithic settlement on the island in Loch a’Choire; test pits are just visible along the edge of the island

The Neolithic settlement on the island in Loch a’Choire; test pits are just visible along the edge of the island

The early prehistoric settlement has not been a major focus of research for the project. It is hoped that this area of research will be developed but financing new research has proved difficult. Nevertheless several important pieces of work have been undertaken and a picture of the nature of settlement is beginning to emerge.

Neolithic settlement has proved difficult to locate on South Uist, in contrast to the islands of Barra and North Uist. The known settlements of Late Neolithic date have been located on the blacklands and not on the machair and this might indicate that these shell sand deposits were still an unstable landform in the Neolithic period (78).

In 2000 a survey of inland lochs was undertaken by Cole Henley as part of his doctoral research at Cardiff (11). This resulted in the discovery of a scatter of flint and pottery of Neolithic date from Loch a’Choire on the south coast of South Uist. A limited series of test pits indicated only superficial evidence for settlement activity but further research needs to be undertaken (10).

Collecting flints from the exposed deposits at An Dorlinn in 2005

Collecting flints from the exposed deposits at An Dorlinn in 2005

In 1995 a large storm exposed another Neolithic settlement site at An Doirlinn on south west corner of the island. Stone walls indicative of structures were present and occupation deposits contained large quantities of flint, and isolated pieces of worked quartz, pumice, stone tools and pottery. A large carinated rim sherd, with characteristic diagonal line decoration, indicates a Neolithic date for the occupation.

Our understanding of the broader occupation of the island in the Neolithic is dependant on the location of the chambered tombs. Detailed analysis has revealed that most of the tombs were constructed on high ground overlooking the west coast of the island (8). However, they are not positioned to maximise the views of the coastal plain; instead they are located on the edges of valleys that lead into the interior or to the east coast of the island. The most likely explanation for this pattern is that the tombs overlook valleys that were important for the seasonal movement of animals, from the settlements on the west coast through to moorland and upland grazing in the centre of the island.

A view across the machair during the excavations at Sligeanach

A view across the machair during the excavations at Sligeanach

Several Beaker settlements indicate the colonisation of the machair plain around the period 2400-2200 cal BC and provide some of the best evidence for Beaker settlement in Europe. Erosion of the site of Cill Donnain I revealed a substantial structure similar to those excavated at Northton and Dalmore (9). Test excavation of the site at Sligeanach identified an extensive settlement area with traces of ard cultivation and structural remains of indeterminate significance (63). The excavation of the later Bronze Age settlement at Cladh Hallan also discovered an underlying Beaker settlement associated with cultivation traces (36).

Tomb images gallery

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