Archaeologists have discovered a 12th century Norse shipbuilding site on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
Investigations at Loch na h-Airde on Skye’s Rubh an Dunain peninsula have uncovered the remains of a possible medieval shipyard, including boat timbers dating from the 1100s, a stone-built quay, a man-made entrance canal, and a blockage system designed to keep a constant water level in the Loch.
Archaeologists now believe that the site has been a focus for maritime activity for many centuries, from the Vikings to the MacAskill and Macleod clans of Skye. The loch and canal would likely have been used for the secure wintering of boats, along with their construction and maintenance.
Colin Martin, a marine archaeologist specialising in ship wrecks who is investigating Loch na h-Airde said, “This site has enormous potential to tell us about how boats were built, serviced and sailed on Scotland’s western seaboard in the medieval period – and perhaps during the early historic and prehistoric eras as well. There is no other site quite like this in Scotland.”
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) aerial survey team have been assisting in the investigation with reconnaissance flights photographing the loch and the surrounding area. As well as providing a context for the site in the landscape – helping to explain where and how 12th century mariners lived and worked – the imagery will also be used at high resolution by ground surveyors to identify possible dive sites for ship and other remains.
RCAHMS Aerial Survey Manager Dave Cowley said, “We are now so used to thinking about travelling round Scotland by roads, that it is difficult to visualise how our ancestors might have used the sea as a highway, connecting communities across these maritime landscapes. The aerial perspective gives us an excellent sense of this, showing the inter-relations of land and sea, and helping us to understand how people may have travelled, traded – and fought – on the waters around Scotland’s western isles.”
The ongoing aim of the investigation is to build up the most accurate possible picture of the site’s historical significance to Scotland’s western seaboard, allowing landowners and other heritage bodies to map out a plan for its future conservation and preservation.
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