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8 - Machair Bharabhais, Leòdhas: A Scandinavian Settlement in its Context

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Tom Horne
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Elizabeth Pierce
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Rachel Barrowman
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
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Summary

In 1978, a rapid survey was carried out under the direction of Trevor Cowie to assess the impact of marine and aeolian erosion on archaeological sites around the coastline of Lewis and Harris. On Lewis, the whole of the exposed Atlantic coastline was walked from Mealista in Uig on the west coast to the Butt of Lewis in the extreme north of the island. In the course of this work, which focused particularly on the machair landscapes of the island, numerous new archaeological sites were located, with most at that time undergoing at least some active erosion. Among these previously unrecorded sites was a weathered spread of eroding midden deposits and partially exposed walling on the floor of a deflation hollow in an area of high dunes on the northern part of the machair system at Barabhas (Barvas), the largest such area in Lewis (Ritchie and Mather 1970; Cowie and MacLeod Rivett 2015; this paper, Figure 8.1). Among the surface collection of pottery from the site were some diagnostic sherds of Norse pottery, particularly the distinctive Hebridean platter ware which had at that time recently been characterised as a result of Alan Lane’s doctoral research on the massive assemblages of Dark-Age and Viking-Age ceramics recovered during the late Iain Crawford’s long-running excavations at An Udail (The Udal) in North Uist (Lane 1983). As few Viking-Age or Norse sites were then known in the Outer Hebrides, and almost none in Lewis, the site at Barabhas was prioritised for evaluation. Accordingly, in 1979, limited excavation was undertaken (by Cowie) to assess the extent and survival of the settlement. Unfortunately, the suite of high dunes within which the site lay was subsequently quarried for sand without further intervention and the site is now presumed to have been lost.

The intention of the evaluation was to map the extent of the site and assess the quality of the survival of the structural remains. Surface finds collection and an auger survey were followed by the opening of a 6m x 15m area across the structures and the excavation of a series of four 1m2 test pits (Figure 8.2).

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The Viking Age in Scotland
Studies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
, pp. 112 - 120
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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