Lismore dig unearths island’s early life

Early finds from Lismore's 2021 dig.

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Archaeologists and volunteers exploring Lismore’s sacred past unearthed hidden signs of the island’s early life just two days into a three-week dig.

Several pre-historic artefacts were discovered on day two, including a slate pot lid; flint scraper; worked flint fragment; worked slate and possible pendant.

A human tooth has also been found ‘indicating that we are on the right track to uncover early church burials’, said one of the dig organisers and island archivist Robert Hay.

Later in the dig,  a medieval silver penny and medieval fragments of pottery were unearthed too.

Professional archaeologists Dr Clare Ellis and Dr Angela Boyle have been joined by 12 volunteers from the island and other parts of Scotland as well as a helper from London getting hands-on with the latest stage of a project which began six years ago.

Early stages in the area round the Sanctuary Stone
Start of trowelling after the digger has removed the turf
Archaeologists Angela Boyle and Clare Ellis examining the first trace of bone


At the start of last week’s dig, work was restricted to clearing growth from the site and removing the top layer of soil which turned up some of the early-day finds.

A successful crowdfunding bid helped to fund the excavation of the island’s St Moluag’s Early Monastery.

Part of this dig is concentrating on the area of the cemetery next to the Sanctuary Stone.

A large part of  financial support was met by the generous bequest of the late Hugh MacPherson and a grant from the Society of Antiquarians of Scotland. The MacDougall McCallum Foundation (USA) also pledged to give match funding.

Since 2015 Lismore Historical Society (Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mor) and Lismore Parish Church have been working in partnership on community archaeological projects.

It started with them raising eight Medieval grave slabs, repairing them and displaying them in a shelter. Focus later turned to the cathedral nave. Last year there was no dig because of Covid.

Samples from bones found during this dig will  be sent off to the Crick Institute in London for DNA analysis as part of the 1000 Ancient British Genomes Project.

The Crick Institute offered £10,000-worth of analyses free of charge which will help the dig find out more about Lismore and its people at the time of the early church.

Tradition has it that Moluag brought Christianity from Ireland to the Isle of Lismore in the middle of the 6th century, as Columba was establishing his monastery on Iona.

An open day at the dig site is planned for Saturday September 18 from 10am to 4pm to reveal more about the finds so far. Everyone is welcome.

If you want to find out more now about sacred Lismore, you can watch a film here:


Caption: Early finds from Lismore’s 2021 dig.