Staffin dig uncovers the secrets of Skye’s past

An archaeological excavation in Staffin on Skye has yielded a fragment of worked bone, and several hundred flints, which could provide further clues about life in the area 8,000 years ago.

The discoveries were made during the Fo f˜id na time (Under the layers of time) dig earlier this month as University of the Highlands and Islands archaeologists investigated a suspected Mesolithic building by Staffin Bay. While the structure is expected to be confirmed as post-medieval the discovery of other material, including a possible bead which was recovered from material below it, could offer a fuller picture of the area’s hunter-gatherer period.

Amongst the finds was a burnt, 12 millimetre long worked bone which experts say appears to have been deliberately shaped at one end and perhaps drilled at the other – although this could be a fracture break caused by burning. Archaeologists believe the bone may have been a toggle or bead, perhaps worn on an item of clothing or part of a necklace.

What could be a fragment of jewellery once belonging to a hunter-gatherer

What could be a fragment of jewellery once belonging to a hunter-gatherer

The recent community-centred excavation captured local imagination and more than 200 people visited the five-day dig which was a collaborative project between the Archaeology Institute UHI and the Staffin Community Trust. There were 10 local volunteers and pupils from Staffin and Kilmuir primary schools were involved.

Dan Lee, UHI lifelong learning and outreach archaeologist, said the site may have been one of several along Staffin Bay where hunter-gatherers congregated and worked stone, perhaps exploiting resources such as fish and mammals at the mouth of the Kilmartin River.
“Although the structure did not turn out to be prehistoric, it has protected significant evidence for Mesolithic activity below it,” said Mr Lee. “Hopefully we have enough material for radiocarbon dates and further excavation would be useful to better define the extent of the site.”

SCT director Dugald Ross, who had monitored the site for several years, added: “The excavation has given us the opportunity of adding to our knowledge of early habitation of Staffin and although the circular foundation now appears to be a later date than initially thought the lower levels have yielded material which is typical of the first groups of people to have arrived in Scotland after the last Ice Age.”

Local school children learn about the dig from Dugald Ross and Dan Lee

Local school children learn about the dig from Dugald Ross and Dan Lee