Lismore dig finds signs of island’s early life ….. and death

Volunteer 'diggers' on Lismore searching for signs of the island's early life NO_T39_Lismoredig02 Photo: Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre

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Buried secrets from Lismore’s past were revealed to almost 100 visitors at an archaeological dig open day.

A fortnight into the three-week dig next to the island’s  St Moluag’s Church and excavation organisers say the expert team with help of volunteers have already achieved the main aim of the dig and that was to secure bone samples for analysis.

Uncovering the past by searching one of the excavation’s trenches near to St Moluag’s on Lismore
Lismore diggers bailing in time for Saturday’s open day visitors

Island archivist Robert Hay said it has always been assumed that the Sanctuary Stone had stood in its spot since around the time of the Early Church but digging near it has showed that whoever placed it there disturbed several human burials, scattering the remains, and showing little respect for the occupants of the old cemetery which suggests the stone was placed there in more recent times.

Careful digging has continued in the search of undisturbed Early Church burials and the diggers have uncovered relatively undisturbed in situ burials – including a surprising number of children.

‘These will be excavated very carefully. A primary aim will be to secure the Petrous Bone in the inner ear from which a tiny bone sample will be removed for DNA analysis,’ said Mr Hay. Any bones discovered are treated with the utmost respect.

Bone samples will  be sent 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.

Trowelling at the site is also revealing a medieval dwelling – a hearth and post hole for supporting the roof.

‘It looks as if people lived in the area after it had ceased to be a place of burial,’ Mr Hay added in an update.

From other finds and evidence of a series of cooking hearths, there are indications this area was a hive of various activities after the cemetery stopped being used for burials.

Although there is no obvious sign of past activity in the wet peaty area to the east of the manse yet, a long trench has confirmed the signs of buildings shown by geophysics.

‘It is too early to be sure but it looks as if there is a Bronze Age roundhouse emerging from the peat.

‘For a long time, we have been aware of the many Bronze Age monuments on the island and it will be gratifying to find out where some of the population actually lived.

‘Houses like this are common elsewhere in Argyll but this is a first for Lismore,’ said Mr Hay.

Other finds so have have ranged from flint, slag, pottery, silver coins, copper alloy strip and a stone carved with early Medieval keypattern decoration.

Diggers have also uncovered a medieval knife, a small musical instrument, nails and a quernstone.

After a run of good weather, heavy rain before Saturday’s open day saw volunteers having to bail out one of the trenches before visitors arrived – including Argyll and Bute MSP Jenni Minto – although the water continued to seep out of the peat all day.

In the final week of the dig, supported by a crowdfunding appeal and other grant givers, more visitors were expected on site including pupils for Lismore Primary School.


Caption: Volunteer ‘diggers’ on Lismore searching for signs of the island’s early life