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‘This period of history in Lewis and Harris is not well documented and had been subject to little archaeological research.’

The dramatic setting of the small island of Dùn Èistean atop rocky cliffs and the north end of the Western Isles of Scotland is the scene for the archaeological fieldwork presented here. This introductory extract provides background to the story of a defended local stronghold that was caught up in the conflict and political turmoil, between the islands and the mainland governmental authorities in Scotland, in the medieval period.

Extract from Dùn Èistean: Ness
By Rachel C Barrowman
Published by Acair

This book describes the results of six seasons of archaeological work managed by Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) on Dùn Èistean between 2000 and 2007. GUARD was first commissioned by the Dùn Èistean Committee at the Comunn Eachdraidh Nis to undertake an archaeological survey in 2000, with geophysical survey and small-scale trial excavations following in 2001 and 2002. From the results of these investigations it was obvious that Dùn Èistean was an exceptional site both in its fine state of preservation and its medieval date. This period of history in Lewis and Harris is not well documented and had been subject to little archaeological research.

In 2004 Comhairle nan Eilean Siar archaeologist, Mary MacLeod, and the Dùn Èistean committee moved the project to a new phase of extensive survey, excavations and research in Ness, with the aim of promoting the scholarly investigation and public interpretation of Dùn Èistean and the surrounding Ness landscape. The site became the heart of a multi-disciplinary project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and Comunn na Gàidhlig, with help in kind from project partners Comunn Eachdraidh Nis, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Glasgow University. From the start one of the fundamental principles of the project was to integrate archaeological and historical research, and to work through the medium of Gaelic where possible in Ness, which is still a strong Gaelic-speaking area. As well as three seasons of extensive excavations on Dùn Èistean, directed by the author and managed by GUARD, the project included research and recording of the place-names, history and oral traditions of the Ness area through the medium of Gaelic (the Dùn Èistean History Project; see Stiùbhart 2006a; 2006b; chapter 3, below), and a survey of the Ness district (the Ness Archaeological Landscape Survey, see Barrowman, C S 2015).

The book is split into four sections: The first (Background) consists of two chapters that give the archaeological and historical background to the site, and provide an overview of what was known about Dùn Èistean before the excavations began, including research into the history and oral traditions of Ness. The second section (Groundwork) contains six chapters that describe, with excavation plans, the evidence for buildings and other features found in each excavation ‘area’ on the site. The third section (Analyses) gives the results of the specialist analyses of the material found in the excavations, including the artefacts, environmental material, soils analysis and radiocarbon dating, and what they can tell us about the daily life of the inhabitants of Dùn Èistean. Finally, an overview is provided in the last section of the book (Conclusions), which attempts to pull together and discuss all the different strands of evidence, provide a story of the development and use of the stronghold, and explore the wider implications for the archaeology of the late medieval period in Ness and further afield.

As this book is an excavation report it by necessity contains a lot of detailed evidence and analyses. However it has been designed so that the reader can choose how much detail to plunge into. For those wishing to get an overall view of the main findings, summaries in larger type are provided at the beginning of each chapter, with interpretative plans and illustrations. If more detail is required the remainder of each chapter describes the findings in full, with accompanying data on a CD in the back of the book.

Gaelic conventions used in this publication

Throughout this book the English form of the main village names in Ness is used, for example Knockaird, Habost. Gaelic forms are used where there is no established English usage, for example Dun Othail or Dùn Èistean. As far as possible the recommendations of Ainmean Aitean Alba (AAA) are adhered to.


Dùn Èistean: Ness by Rachel C Barrowman is out now published by Acair priced £29.99.

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