St. Kilda Inhabited Scotland In The Bronze Age, New Discovery Reveals

By on February 14, 2021 0

New evidence has emerged that shows the Scottish archipelago of St Kilda was inhabited, or at least visited, around 2,000 years ago.

During World War I the British Royal Navy took control of Village Bay on Hirta on the Scottish archipelago of St. Kilda and they established a signal station which later became a rocket detection centre. In 2016, the Ministry of Defense announced that the site of their tracking station would be renovated, and before the planned works, a team of researchers from Guard Archeology conducted excavations at Hirta from 2017 to 2019. Archaeologists discovered pottery fragments which, when analyzed, indicated that “intensive habitation” existed at Village Bay between the 4 e in the 1st century BC. Additionally, a singular pottery fragment dating from the Bronze Age (c. 2500 to c. 800 BC) has been analyzed, suggesting an even earlier occupation of the island.

Location of the Hirta excavation site in the Scottish archipelago of St. Kilda. ( Guard Archeology )

Repel the first occupation of St. Kilda

This week the Daily mail announced “St. Kilda was inhabited 2,000 YEARS ago! The remote Scottish island of St. Kilda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, managed by the National Trust for Scotland . According to a report published in the Daily Express , evidence of an Iron Age (800 BC to 43 AD) settlement on this Scottish island has been uncovered after a team of researchers discovered “pottery shards dating back to the Iron Age which had been washed in a channel of stone”. The pottery samples were sent for examination and charred food residues were discovered, revealing that a settlement had flourished here between the early fourth century BC and the late first century BC.

The excavations took place to the southwest of the main island of Hirta overlooking Village Bay, which is part of Scotland. Although a wealth of Iron Age pottery has been discovered, what really interests researchers is a single fragment of an early “Bronze Age drinking goblet”. This fragment suggests that people had lived in St. Kilda since at least the Bronze Age. In the Daily Express Alan Hunter Blair of Guard Archeology said recent archaeological work has revealed that the eastern end of Village Bay in St. Kilda “was occupied quite intensively during the Iron Age period”. And although no houses have been found at the site, the presence of large quantities of Iron Age pottery suggests that a settlement must have existed nearby.

Overview of one of the canals after the Hirta excavations in the Scottish archipelago of St Kilda

Overview of one of the canals after the Hirta excavations in the Scottish archipelago of St. Kilda. ( Guard Archeology )

Mapping the ancient cultures of Scotland’s west coast

Susan Bain is the National Trust for Scotland’s manager for the Western Isles and she told the Evening Express that the new results were “very encouraging”. Bain pointed out that this find is contemporary with the remains of a underground, or underground granary, discovered on the island in the 19th century. These few clues tell us that people were well established in St. Kilda as part of the larger Western Isles settlement, says Bain.

Hunter Blair also told the Daily mail that “one of the most significant problems facing archaeologists working in St. Kilda is that old buildings have been dismantled and cleared away in order to construct new ones using the old stone as a building resource”. The stone was also cleared, “including that of the burial mounds” to have more extensive cultivation areas, making excavations and the discovery of evidence of the past very complicated.

The Western Isles Submerged Neolithic Project is led by Fraser Sturt of the University of Southampton and Duncan Garrow of the University of Reading. The project determined the location of many Neolithic (c. 4000 – 2000 BC) sites, in the form of “artificial and modified islands”, on the west coast of Scotland. By combining underwater, aerial and ground survey work, this project has confirmed that three more islets on the Isle of Lewis were created during the Neolithic period. You might be wondering “why then” was St. Kilda inhabited until the Bronze Age?

Archaeologists have discovered several potsherds during the Hirta excavations in the Scottish archipelago of St. Kilda.  This image shows decorated rim shards

Archaeologists have discovered several potsherds during the Hirta excavations in the Scottish archipelago of St. Kilda. This image shows decorated rim shards. ( Guard Archeology )

Quest for St. Kilda in prehistory

Although 64 km from the nearest land, St. Kilda is visible from as far away as the summit ridges of the Skye Cuillin, some 130 km distant. The remote island must have delighted people from the Neolithic west of Scotland. Located on the borders of Europe, it had to be sought many times.

However, getting to Hirta in particular, and St. Kilda as a whole, requires well-built seagoing vessels, and the leather and grass coracles of the Neolithic period simply had no chance of making that crossing. It was not until the Bronze Age that maritime technologies allowed safe passage to St. Kilda.

Top image: Could the Scottish archipelago of St. Kilda, pictured, really have been inhabited 2,000 years ago? The pottery discovered on Hirta proves it. Source: corlaffra /Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie