Archaeology Outreach

Western Isles Submerged Forest Community Site Visit and Workshop.

meeting place Saturday 7th MayDr Scott Timpany of The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute will be conducting a community visit and workshop to the submerged forest at Eilean an Dunain, Berneray in the Western Isles on the 7th and 8th May 2016.

This is a community outreach project in collaboration with The SCAPE Trust and if you are in the area on the 7th and 8th May then you are most welcome to attend the visit and workshop.

The outline plan for the weekend:

Saturday 7th May 10am – visit to the submerged forest at Eilean an Dunain, Berneray with Dr Scott Timpany. Meet at the old cemetery at teh end of the road at 10am. We`ll spend a few hours on site and then examine further sites down the west coast. See map below….

5pm to 7pm – Identification and recording session with Scott at the University of the Highlands and Islands College Benbecula.

Sunday 8th May 10am – meet at the RSPB Balranald visitor centre where we`ll look at some sites there and then go on to Bailesear.

Background Information

The remains comprise a series of thin peat (or mud) matrix sections c. 300mm thick extending out from below the machair sand dunes into the inter-tidal zone between the dune face and nearby tidal island of Eilean an Dunain. Study of satellite imagery and mapping shows considerable changes in the coastline in this area since it was first surveyed by the OS in 1878, a process that appears to have accelerated in recent years. (See location/context plan). This suggests that whilst some sections of the matrix nearer the HWM may have been exposed for a while, those nearer the island have remained buried by sand until relatively recently.

These exposures, which cover an area c.20 X 8m, differ from those further NW in that they have embedded within them a significant quantity of timber remains including brushwood, twigs, thin branches and whole trunks with bark intact up to 150mm in diameter. The distribution of the timber remains is not even; the areas to the E and SE including large quantities of smaller sized material fully embedded within the matrix (see image 2). Further E is a higher concentration of whole tree trunk sections, around a dozen in total, all roughly 100-150mm in diameter and 1 – 1.5m long and embedded in the matrix surface. 6 of these are located in a line at roughly the same E-W orientation, the others scattered about nearby (see location plan and image 3). In two places similar size tree trunk sections can be seen lying underneath and at right angles to those on the surface.

Detailed study of the timber suggests the most likely species is Silver Birch and a cut through a recovered loose trunk section suggests an age of perhaps 15-20 years. One trunk section has a possible notch cut.

In general finds like this are believed to be the remains of submerged forests buried in peat which is believed to have happened around 4-5,000 years ago as sea levels rose and the climate cooled and became wetter. Despite that, at this location there is the possibility of a different explanation, in that perhaps these are the remains of a manmade timber track leading between an old lake shore and Eilean an Dunain where several cist burials were recorded in times past (SCHARP 9047), though now washed away.

(Thanks to SCAPE web page