Hebrides Today

News from the Western Isles

North Uist's Iron Age wheelhouse

Posted by Editor On February - 25 - 2009

THE Western Isles have a plethora of archaeological sites from the famous Callanish  stones in Lewis to lesser known megaliths such as Macleods’s rock in Harris there is  a rich strata of culture just nestling under peatbanks and machair.


In recent times machair land has been particularly revealing, as storms eat away at this sandy land a treasure trove of archaeological finds are unearthed – at least for a short time – until the sea erodes these ‘time-capsules’ of ancient culture.


One such find is the Iron Age Wheelhouse in Lochmaddy, and along with Shetland the Western Isles seem to be unique in these constructions, boding well for attracting tourism.


It is believed that the wheelhouses would have been built between 500 BC and 500 AD, at around the same time as Lewis’s magnificent Carloway broch.


The wheelhouses are circular drystone structures, with a single entrance and central hearth. The interior is divided by a number of stone walls, arranged like the spokes of a wheel, opening into the central area.


It is thought that the segments formed by these 'wheel-spokes' would have had stone roofs, whilst the central space would have been roofed with timber, or perhaps whalebone and turf.


Archaeologists suggest that the wheelhouses were used not only as homes, but also for religious and ritual activity, as pits have been found containing animal remains, and in one, part of a human skull.


The Lochmaddy wheelhouse, which is the subject of a reconstruction project, is situated near the island’s Taigh-Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre.  The initiative should see a moorland wheelhouse created from what remains of this ancient construction.


It is also hoped a replica souterrain (underground chamber) could be joined to the reconstructed wheelhouse.


The project will use locally sourced materials, with timber from Langass forest, or perhaps utilising driftwood logs from nearby beaches – very much in tune with what ancient islanders would have used.


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