DALMORE by Gerald and Margaret Ponting
W HEN we arrived in the Outer Hebrides nine years ago to teach at local schools, we were immediately fascinated by the immense archaeological opportunities in the area. Initially we were drawn to the stone circle at Callanish, only a mile from our home, and our studies of this brought us into the finals of the BBC Chronicle Awards (see CA 64). Subsequently, however, we have become interested in finding the habitation sites which must have existed alongside the stone circles and the chambered tombs. There were two places to look for these, firstly beneath the peat, and secondly on the machair down to the beach, where the coastline is constantly being eroded.
At first we concentrated on the peat formed by the blanket bog across much of the island since the climatic deterioration of the second millennium BC. At Callanish (Leobag), a low lying peninsula less than 1 km from the stone circle, we studied a series of peat walls as these were exposed by the peat cutting. This stimulated an excavation in 1979, directed by Trevor Cowie of the Scottish Central Excavation Unit, but the walls proved to be Iron Age, too late to be contemporary with the megalithic sites. A few years later, about eight miles away, we found a complete, but overthrown stone circle at Achmore, which has gradually been revealed by peat cutting over the past 30 years (reported in CA 83). More recently, therefore, we have been concentrating on the sites on the machair. The machair is a feature of the Hebrides: white shell sands form beautiful beaches, while behind them are dunes and the flatter fertile land known as machair. Machair is grassy land on a calcareous soil whose natural richness produces a unique 230
flora and is much more suitable for agriculture and settlement than the acid peat land. All along the sea coasts of the Outer Hebrides therefore, middens can be found eroding out of the machair. These date from prehistory through the Viking and Medieval periods down to the times immediately before the Highland Clearances, but few have
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