This Saturday 5 December sees the launch of two new books to publicise the results of one of the most extensive archaeological projects undertaken on a Clan stronghold in Scotland.

Dùn Èistean, Ness: The excavation of a clan stronghold and The Archaeology of Ness are the culmination of more than 15 years of archaeological excavation, survey work, and research.

Dùn Èistean is a small, tidal, cliff bound island in Ness at the northern tip of the Isle of Lewis, traditionally thought to be the stronghold of the Clan Morrison. It is separated from the Ness mainland by a 15 metre-wide gap, with sheer cliffs on either side; which presented the fieldwork teams with some challenging and unique logistical problems in the early years of the project. A steel footbridge was erected by the Clan Morrison Society in 2002, which means that the site can now more easily be accessed.

Rachel Barrowman, author of Dùn Èistean, Ness, said: “We began this project more than 15 years ago with the aim of illuminating a period of history in Lewis and Harris that is not well-documented and subject to little archaeological research. Through the combination of archaeological survey and excavation, together with detailed historical research, we have been able to tell the story of the development and use of the stronghold and gain an insight into its participation in the wider Gaelic world in the 1500s and early 1600s.

“It has taken many years, and a huge amount of dedication from a number of people, to get to this stage, and I would like to thank all of them for their contribution. I hope that these books will be both enjoyable and informative to anybody interested in this fascinating period of history”

During the excavation work the team uncovered a large assemblage of gun flints – the earliest ever discovered in Britain - which were manufactured on the island. This is the first excavated and dated evidence for armed skirmishes on a later medieval clan stronghold in the Hebrides. They also found a number of imported items such as pottery and coins, suggesting contact with maritime trade routes’.

An old coin, pictured with a small measure for scale.

Copyright: The University of Glasgow

The results of the project has led the team to challenge the view that this was a site on the edge of the world, unaffected by the political troubles of the time. Instead, the material evidence suggests that Dùn Èistean was an important stronghold, placed in a highly visible location and might have had an important role in policing, or at least monitoring, passing sea traffic. Its inhabitants displayed a high level of self-sufficiency and sense of identity, but with important evidence of much interaction with the outside world.

The project was the initiative of the Dùn Èistean Archaeology Project (DEAP), which was set up by the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar archaeologist Dr Mary MacLeod,  members of the Clan Morrison, prompted by the late Dr Iain Morrison, and the Ness Historical Society. It was funded by Historic Environment Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and Heritage Lottery Fund, with the work carried out by a team from Glasgow University.

Dr Lisa Brown, Archaeology Manager at Historic Environment Scotland said: “We are delighted that the results of this ambitious project are now published, which make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the Clan Morrison, Dùn Èistean, and the wider medieval Gaelic world.”

Cllr Alasdair Macleod, Chairman of Sustainable Development at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said: “I am very pleased to see the results of the project, documenting this period of history in Lewis and Harris. This work will, of course, be of particular interest to the Morrison Clan around the world and credit must go to those who have dedicated themselves to this valuable work over the last 15 years or so.”

The project was undertaken with the support of the Clan Morrison, both locally and from the Clan Morrison Society in North America.

Clan Chief Dr J. Ruairidh Morrison said: “I’m sure there will be much interest from Clan Morrison members across the globe to see the results of years of sterling work of all those involved in the project. The publication of these wonderful books presents a rare and fascinating opportunity to get an insight into the world of our ancestors, and I’m confident they will generate fresh interest in the Clan Morrison in Scotland and further afield.”

The books are being launched at a public event in Comunn Eachdraidh Nis at 3pm on 5 December and were published locally by Acair Ltd, based in Stornoway -available to buy at: www.acairbooks.com

About Historic Environment Scotland (HES)

  • As of the 1st October 2015, Historic Scotland and RCAHMS came together to form a new lead public body charged with caring for, protecting and promoting the historic environment. The new body Historic Environment Scotland (HES) will lead on delivering Scotland’s first strategy for the historic environment, Our Place in Time.
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