Sònraichte Project Open Days at the Museum

Thank you!

To all the people that came to the Open Days at the museum, where we had interesting chats about the project, archaeology, and the many objects we have at the museum storage.

Not everything we keep at the museum is on display, this is just a tiny percentage of what’s preserved in the storage. However, most of our material is available for research and educational purposes. Knowing exactly what we have it’s the main objective for the Sònraichte Project. As the Project Collections Officer, I’m working with the archaeology collections to resolve legacy issues and bring our collections up to modern archaeology and museum standards, making the collections more accessible and increasing the knowledge that can be gained from them.


Me holding and explaining the use of spindle whorls for textile activities during the Iron Age at Grimsay Wheelhouse

Many of you asked why it’s important?

This is where good methods in archaeological practice are important. By recording the layers during excavation and where the finds are located within them, we can gain an understanding of our past and how people engaged with each other and their environment. This is what makes us what we are today.

I like to say that archaeology is 3-dimensional – sorry, I’m turning geeky here! – X and Y define space, and Z define time. We need to understand where objects are in place and in time. Archaeology it’s a discipline of identifying through contexts or layers and how they relate to each other in space and in time: which event comes first, and which event comes last, or what events are happening at the same time. Check the diagram below, it’s made of natural deposits created through time, layers are formed and within those layers, there might be buried objects. Additionally, some events may occur through everyday activity: such as digging a hole to dump rubbish, or to build a wall, or even creating a burial. These events can be identified on the soil.

The process of excavation naturally means the destruction of the site and the archaeologist needs to record the layer sequence while digging. A context can be a deposit, a cut, or a structural feature. Each contains information about the nature of the site, its formation and decline, and it helps us reconstruct the site’s human occupation. Here’s an example of contexts and an associated matrix, from most recent to oldest.

Didn’t know that! What do you have in the museum store?

Well, we brought you a glimpse of the archaeology collections, things ranging from the Mesolithic – when humans when hunter and gatherers before society had sedentary farming activities – up to the 20th century. The prehistory and history of the Western Isles.

One of the assemblages we brought for you came from an Iron Age Wheelhouse at Grimsay, North Uist, with a great selection of tools used during the first millennium. Objects ranging from bone awls, pottery spindle whorls, metal crucibles, bronze moulds, whalebone ‘chopping’ board, and many fragments of pottery!

The wheelhouse also comprised some later objects like spindle whorls made from steatite, a type of rock that you won’t find in the isles, and the next place where they might come from it’s from Shetlands and Norway, so it’s telling us about Norse presence at the site! There are also later objects like a cast iron cauldron, which dates to the 18th/19th century. This site it’s telling us how the place is being used from Iron Age almost until today.

The Grimsay Wheelhouse, and assemblage from the Iron Age of North Uist

That’s fantastic! How can I play an active part?

We were able to show you how some of the finds we have at the museum were casual finds from members of the public. These finds were reported to Treasure Trove and allocated to the museum collections. We had some examples of Hebridean Ware, a type of Neolithic pottery typical from the Hebrides which dates to when people started farming around 5000 years ago. The pottery was found by chance and will help inform current research projects into this period. All thanks to regular people like you!

If you want to know more about how you can report your finds via Treasure Trove, I have the right post for you here: Think you’ve found some archaeology? And thank you as well to everyone who brought in interesting objects to show us!

The Comhairle Archaeologist; explaining how casual finds need to be reported to Treasure Trove

Thank you so much! Didn’t know how archaeology works

Thank you for taking the time to come and visit us and to everyone else reading this online. There will be two further Open Days at the Museum Nan Eilean Lews Castle: Wednesday 29th September between 11:00 – 3:00 pm then 16th October between 1:00 – 4:00 pm. Come and visit and celebrate archaeology with us!

Thank you to Museums Galleries Scotland for funding this project.
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