July sees the start of a new community archaeology project designed to explore the past landscape around the ancient stone circle at Calanais.
And a concentrated research phase next week (8-10 July) calls for volunteers to help complete extensive and varied fieldwork around the whole Calanais landscape.
Urras nan Tursachan (the Calanais Trust) has teamed up with Dr Richard Bates of the University of St Andrews for a fascinating exploration of what is on and under the land and waters where the stones, and their 18 companion sites, take pride of place.
The project is part of Historic Environment Scotland’s delayed Year of Coasts and Waters. (https://www.calanais.org/the-year-of-coasts-and-waters-project/)
Exploring the landscape of the Calanais stones (A ’sgrùdadh cruth-tìre nan tursachan) is designed to engage and train the local community in non-invasive ways of investigating and surveying the landscape of Calanais.
Volunteers and experts will share the work and the experience of investigating the wider landscape, using different techniques to probe beneath the earth and the water.
The project follows earlier research at Calanais by Dr Bates, who in 2018 used geophysics to discover a significant lightning strike at Airigh na Beinne Bige (Site XI). The discovery attracted widespread media attention as a theory for the origin of the stone circle itself.
Now the new, four-stage, survey will involve research of coastal areas, with volunteers trained by Jo Hambly of the SCAPE Trust (University of St Andrews) to recognise and record traces of archaeological sites along the coast.
This work is important, since each year’s storms erode the coast and can expose ancient sites and artefacts, leading to their eventual destruction.
In phase two a drone photographic survey of the inter-tidal zone will be carried out by a professional drone pilot from the University of St Andrews, so that volunteers can learn how to recognise and record archaeological sites using the images.
Next a geophysical survey of satellite circles will use techniques such as magnetics, resistivity and conductivity to investigate whether there are sub-surface features inside or around the circles. These could include fallen stones submerged by peat, or pits dug into the centre of the circles.
Finally, there’s to be an underwater geophysical survey of Loch Roag, looking for evidence of ancient buried land surfaces beneath the bed of the loch.
Dr Bates said: “What we hope to achieve is not only a better understanding of the prehistoric archaeology of the area, but the local community empowered to find and investigate the traces left by their distant ancestors.”
Jo Hambly said: “With ever-increasing pressure on coastal archaeology from climate change, it is more important than ever to work with local volunteers who know their coastlines best and who are in a position to monitor and report on changes all year round.”
The project starts this month with school groups encouraged to participate. Volunteers are invited to join a small team of archaeologist from the SCAPE Trust www.scapetrust.org (University of St Andrews) between Thursday 8 and Saturday 10 July, to help with the fieldwork and gain practical experience of rapid archaeological survey techniques.
Volunteer contributions will help to update records of coastal heritage sites around Calanais. No previous experience is required, and you will be provided with all the training and equipment you need. Each day will begin at the Calanais Visitor Centre at 10:30am with an introduction before going out onto the shore.
The results of the work will be displayed at the Calanais Visitor Centre, as well as being added to the local and national Historic Environment Records for the Outer Hebrides, and fully published.
Pictures show coastal survey and geophysical ground survey work under way during an earlier phase of the research.