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.


The past comes to life

Posted by Editor On February - 9 - 2009

Stornoway museum

WESTERN ISLES museums - Museum nan Eilean and the Comainn Eachdraidh are taking part in a project entitled 'Lewis at War, 1939-1960', a new oral history initiative which explores the theme of military service from World War II up to 1960. The project is part of the ‘Their Past Your Future (TPYF) Scotland initiative. Kildonan Museum in South Uist has also announced the launch of its TPYF programme - ‘Proiseact Beinn na Coraraidh’. Working with pupils from some local schools, the groundbreaking project will collect reminiscences from islanders focusing on island life during the Second World War and the longer lasting impact it had on the community. Themes range from the experience of war to reminiscences of what life was like on Uist and how the development of the airfield went on to impact on the island in later years. In Lewis students from the Nicolson Institute are receiving training in producing multimedia recordings of the personal histories of veterans. Combined with film footage, photographs and newspapers cuttings from the period, these recordings will be edited to create a series of fascinating on-line exhibitions, which will be available on the ‘Their Past Your Future’ Scotland website. Among the memories to be explored and recorded in both Gaelic and English will be service in India, Burma and Africa, bomb disposal on the front line, Lewis servicemen’s participation in major engagements in Europe, and of course the way the war was experienced in the islands. People with their own memories of the Second World War and conflicts up to 1960 are invited to become part of the project and share their living histories - for Lewis, contact Chrisella Ross, the project officer on: 01851 870400 or 07824 664 225 and for South Uist, contact Mairi MacLeod: 07747 092427. Their Past Your Future Scotland will culminate with the launch of a website in 2010 - www.tpyfscotland.org.uk , which will feature some 300 online mini-exhibitions or 'vignettes'. The vignettes and related historic objects will be available as a classroom teaching aid via Learning and Teaching Scotland’s new Scottish schools’ intranet, Glow.