Islands of Stone


The Islands of Stone project, with Fraser Sturt (University of Southampton), Duncan Garrow (University of Reading), Angela Gannon (Historic Environment Scotland), and Stephanie Blankshein (University of Southampton) and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, was created to further investigate artificial islets (often known as crannogs) in the Outer Hebrides. Crannogs are an evocative category of archaeological site and are widely dispersed geographically and chronologically. They are located across Scotland and Ireland and are generally considered to date anywhere between the Late Bronze Age and post-medieval periods. Over 550 crannogs (and related site types) are recorded in Scotland, with the Outer Hebrides representing a particular hotspot in their distribution. There are currently 170 known sites in the Outer Hebrides, and the vast majority of these remain completely undated.

Distribution of ‘island dwellings’ in Scotland
(data from Lenfert 2012)

Following on from excavations conducted by archaeologist Ian Armit at a single site in North Uist, the Submerged Neolithic of the Western Isles project (led by Fraser Sturt and Duncan Garrow) combined underwater, aerial and ground based survey at a further three islets on the Isle of Lewis, confirming that these sites were also constructed during the Neolithic. Thus we now have compelling evidence for a much earlier conception of artificial islet construction and use in the Outer Hebrides, belonging to the first farming communities.

Eilean Domhnuill, North Uist. Excavated by Ian Armit in the 1980s.

The recognition of these sites poses fundamental questions about the earliest construction of crannogs, and the nature and extent of Neolithic waterside settlement and ceremony. Neolithic crannogs represent a new site type for the European Neolithic. They appear to blur the characteristics of both settlements and monuments and to have been the location for unusual acts of deposition. Given the key role that all of these elements play in current narratives of that period, and the newness of the site type’s recognition, it is vital that a sustained effort is made to understand them.

This project was created to establish whether – as now expected – Neolithic crannogs are widespread in the Outer Hebrides (and potentially beyond); to further understand their character through excavations and survey of one ‘showcase’ site on the Isles of Lewis; to reveal their potential to produce preserved organics and high-resolution environmental sequences; and to assess the significance of this site type within broader narratives of the British and European Neolithic.