ARCHAEOLOGY & HISTORY
by Martin Wildgoose
(Archaeological and Ancient Landscape Survey, Skye, 2003)
Around 10,000 years ago with North-west Europe’s climate slowly warming the ice sheets covering Scotland began a slow withdrawal northward. Gradually, pioneer trees such as Hazel and Birch invaded the area. They were followed by Oak and Pine. This diversifying natural habitat attracted animals and birds and there were plentiful fish in the sea. Soon after, Man arrived in Skye.
The first arrivals on Skye’s north-east coast were small bands of hunter-gatherers known as Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age peoples. Their presence here on Skye has recently been established by the shell midden at An Corran in Staffin dating to around 6500 BC. This is the earliest evidence for human activity so far found on Skye.
The introduction of arable cultivation around 5000 years ago encouraged more permanent settlement. This settled farming culture of Neolithic peoples spread throughout the region. The many Chambered Cairns and Stone Circles scattered about the landscape attest to the people’s dispersal.
Around 2000 BC the use of copper and bronze working spread throughout the area, rapidly replacing stone in both tool and weapon manufacture. The introduction of a Bronze Age technology coincided with profound changes in religious expression. In the place of the earlier multiple burials, single interments in small stone boxes or kists now appear. The deceased was often accompanied by a highly decorated pottery vessel known as a 'beaker' and containing drink ostensibly for use in the afterlife.
The Iron Age which began about 700 BC has left the area with a large number of remains, ranging from Brochs and Duns to numerous Hut Circles. In Staffin, as in Skye generally, Brochs and Duns are usually sited near the coast, often on the furthest edge of promontories where natural defences lend added strength to man-made walls.
Hut circles however, although found close to fortified sites, also occur as undefended open settlements, often some way from the coast. An interesting monument often found associated with hut circles is the underground passage better known as a Souterrain. These monuments were well-built and very obviously important structures but it is not clear what they were used for.
It is Christianity, first in its Celtic form and later directly from Rome, which provides the theme for much of the archaeological evidence for the succeeding thousand years. The monastic site of St Columba in nearby Kilmuir is traditionally regarded as one of the earliest foundations on the island. Many of Staffin’s settlements bearing the place-name element ‘Kil-’ or ‘Cille-’ (Kilmartin etc) date from this period.
The Medieval period from c.900 onwards was dominated by the coming of Norse invaders and the subsequent period of relative stability provided under the Lordship of the Isles. By the early tenth century few inhabitants can have remained untouched by the impact of Norse expansion. The high proportion of Norse place-name elements in Trotternish, such as stadt (stadir or dwelling-place/farm), bost (bolstadr or farm unit), shadder (setr/saetr or shieling/dwelling), indicate a particularly dense intrusion in the area. Not until 1263, with the defeat of Norway's king at the Battle of Largs, was Scandinavia to be deprived of its possession. Even then it was to take the Scottish crown a further two and a half centuries to exercise any control over the internecine squabbles between powerful clan chiefdoms.
Following the defeat of Prince Charles Edward Stuart at Culloden in April 1746 the clan system began to crumble. The clan chiefs were now forced to operate as businessmen in respect of their hereditary lands, leaving the clans without their traditional patriarch. Crippling rents and a succession of poor harvests meant destitution for many from the late 1760's onwards, and during the next twenty years, it is estimated that 2000 persons emigrated from Skye. These tragic conditions continued and were exacerbated by the man-made “Clearances” and the natural disaster of the Potato Famine of 1846. Abundant evidence of depopulation can be seen in the area’s many deserted settlements.
The people of Valtos, one of the area’s townships, were among those at the centre of the struggle for land in the late 19th century. Their collective efforts resulted in the Crofting Acts of 1886. This legislation and the security it provided have left a profound impact in the landscape of Staffin and other crofting communities. Around this period there was the beginning of extractive industry in the area, notably involving Diatomite.
A full inventory of the area’s archaeological resources and assets was made. As is evident from the summary of research findings that there is particular significance in Staffin of sites relating to the Mesolithic period, the Iron Age, the more recent “crofting” period and to Industrial Archaeology.
Inventory of the area’s archaeological resources and assets:
|Period||Name||Site description||OS grid ref.||OS SMR No.|
|Mesolithic circa 7000 – 3000 BC||An Corran||Shell Midden and lithics quarry.||NG 4910 6860||NG 46NE 17|
|Staffin Bay||Dispersed occupation||-||-|
|Staffin Island||Lithic Scatter (Stone tools)||-||-|
|Staffin Basin||Lithics raw materials source||-||-|
|Neolithic circa 3000 – 2000 BC||Carn Ban||Burial Cairn||NG 4870 6820||NG 46NE 02|
|No Name||Burial Cairn||NG 4955 6757||NG 46NE 12|
|Artefact||Stone Axe||NG 4880 6740||NG 46NE 14|
|Artefact||Stone Axe||NG 4900 6300||NG 46SE 02|
|Bronze Age circa 2000 – 700 BC||Balmeanach||Burial Cairn||NG 4618 6809||NG 46NE 13|
|Tobhta nan Druidhean||Burial Cairn||NG 5080 6450||NG 56SW 13|
|No name||Burial Cairn||NG 5186 5898||NG 55NW 05|
|Artefact||Bronze Spear||NG 5000 6300||NG 56SW 14|
|Artefact||Bronze Sword||NG 5100 5600||NG 55NW 02|
|Artefact||Flint Arrowheads||NG 4969 6554||NG 46NE 15|
|Iron Age circa 700 BC – c550 AD||Dun Grianan||Broch||NG 5055 6529||NG 56NW 01|
|Dun Raisaburgh||Broch||NG 5032 6427||NG 56SW 01|
|Dun Flodigarry||Broch||NG 4630 7190||NG 47SE 06|
|Druim nan Slochd||Dun (fort)||NG 4630 7210||NG 47SE 07|
|Dun Beag||Dun||NG 4607 6827||NG 46NE 03|
|Dun Connavern||Dun||NG 5085 6284||NG 56SW 03|
|Dun Dearg||Dun||NG 5137 6430||NG 56SW 02|
|Dun Grianan||Dun||NG 5222 5982||NG 55NW 01|
|Dun Hasan||Dun||NG 5262 6262||NG 56SW 05|
|Dun Smail||Dun||NG 4890 6670||NG 46NE 05|
|Dun Vallerain||Dun||NG 4647 6943||NG 46NE 01|
|Loch an Dunan||Dun||NG 4690 7070||NG 47SE 08|
|No name||Dun||NG 4474 6793||NG 46NW 11|
|No name||Dun||NG 4506 7390||NG 47SE 01|
|Rigg||Dun||NG 5239 5790||NG 55NW 06|
|Staffin Lodge||Hut Circle||NG 4858 6833||-|
|Breum Phort||Hut Circle||NG 4942 6800||-|
|Dun Beag||Hut Circle||NG 4607 6827||NG 46NE 03|
|Digg||Hut Circle||NG 4659 6957||NG 46NE 08|
|Balmaqueen||Hut Circle||NG 4506 7390||NG 47SE 01|
|Dun Grianan||Hut Circle||NG 5222 5982||NG 55NW 01|
|Rigg||Hut Circle||NG 5220 5630||NG 55NW 08|
|Storr||Souterrain (lost)||NG 5123 5524||NG 55NW 04|
|Artifact||Keg of Bog Butter||NG 500 630||NG 56SW 15|
|Artifacts||Craggans (Pottery Vessels)||NG 4990 6760||NG 46NE 16|
|Early Christian circa 500 – 900 AD||Kildorais||Early Cell or Church||NG 4645 6262||NG 56SW 13|
|Kilena||Early Cell or Church||NG 5162 6250||NG 56SW 04|
|Kilmartin||Early Cell or Church||NG 4872 6682||NG 46NE 06|
|Kilmary||Early Cell or Church||NG 4627 6793||NG 46NE 04|
|St. Turo’s Chapel||Early Cell||NG 4627 6793||NG 46NE 04|
|Rubha nam Brathairean||Early Monastic site?||NG 5262 6262||NG 56SW 05|
|Medieval - Post Medieval circa 900 – 1850 AD||Garafad||Deserted settlement||NG 4930 6780||NG 46NE 09|
|Sartle||Deserted Settlement||NG 4550 6760||NG 46NE 07|
|Rigg||Deserted Settlement||NG 5190 5630||NG 55NW 03|
|Interestingly there are no recorded sheilings, though the evidence of Norse places names locally (-shadder etc) would suggest that they were a feature of the landscape during their time at least.|
|Industrial circa 1750 to present||Lealt||Diatomite works||NG 520 605||-|
|Staffin Island||Salmon Fishery||NG 494 687||-|
|Inver Tote||Salmon Fishery||NG 520 605||-|
|Crofting and Farming circa 1850 – present||Sites are many and varied and spread all over the study area.|