Archaeological treasures on Lewis
Long time no blog. I’m better now. I had to take time out for exhaustion and am now getting back into the swing of things.
I’ve become chair of our local archaeology group, Access Archaeology. Please don’t misconstrue when I shorten it to AA.
We trooped off en masse last Saturday on a tour of just a few archaeological treasures on the island of Lewis.
Gales blew us all to Berneray for crossing to Leverburgh. Gales blew us all into the minbus. Gales and sheets of rain blew us northwest to Lewis’s Bernera peninsula- and then the sun came out and remained with us for the rest of the day.
Our first stop was a reconstructed Iron Age house in Bosta, at the tip of the peninsula. Check those views.
Once inside, none of us wanted to leave. Our guide Elizabeth had lit a peat fire in the hearth in the centre of the house. Fourteen us stood in the main chamber, plenty of room, and listened rapt to Elizabeth telling us the story of the house and what she had learned about Iron Age life by spending some much time in it as guide.
The house is in a style known as a jellybaby, one main chamber with a small chamber attached on the north side.
It has been exactly reconstructed from one that was found on the site some years ago in a group of at least five identical houses.
Archaeologists may theorise about this and that, but it takes someone to spend a lot of time there to gain insight into how the house was used.
One theory was that there was no central chimney in those days, and for the first two or three years, the reconstruction had no chimney. As Elizabeth found, the levels of smoke in the house were intolerable even with the door open and a few holes for light. As soon as a hole was put in the roof, the house became a pleasant, almost smoke-free zone. I’m sure our Iron Age counterparts would have worked that one out quickly.
A collection of pots of various shapes and sizes sat around the fire. Elizabeth told us she had gone about the local area looking for clay, and had fashioned the pots herself. We were enchanted.
She told us many things, jewels of insight into the life of our forebears. If anyone reading this can possibly get there next year, I recommend the effort. The house is now closed for the season.
We moved on to Calanais stones and visitor centre, where I took delivery of a dead sheep. A rather nice one, reared by the incomparable Sandy and Ali Granville of Tolsta Chulish, not far away. Crofting in the traditional way, they create exquisite, tender and tasty mutton from cast ewes set to graze for a peaceful, non-breeding year on the heather and grasslands in the area, including the little islands on the sea lochs around the Granville’s croft.
At this time of year, the Granvilles are busy delivering them around the country to discerning customers. Any guests to whom I’ve fed their mutton are in raptures- real meat, real taste, and so tender. And good for you, as science shows. Check the Granville’s site at www. HebrideanMutton.co.uk.
Back to the Calanais stones, which are supposed to have sunk down 1.5m under peat over about 1500 years. AA member George dismisses this theory. He points out: ‘The stones are on a piece of land which sticks up the way. How could peat grow on it? It’s more likely they sank.’
We move on to Carloway Broch, used in this way, people think:
It’s a stunning, impressive construction.
And quickly on to the Black House Village at Gearannan:
On the way back to the ferry we detour to have a look at this beehive cell – an ancient bothy perhaps, there is a fireplace and storage alcoves, and more mysteriously, two entrances. For agricultural use? Spiritual retreats? No-one really knows. And why the inside was speckled with bits of gaffer tape- well there’s the biggest mystery.
Tags: Bosta Iron Age house, Calanais Stones, Callanish stones, Carloway, Carloway broch, Dun Carloway, Gearannan black house village, Hebridean Mutton, Island of Lewis, jellybaby house, Sandy Granville