The Year of Coasts & Waters Project 2021

Exploring the landscape of the Calanais stones

A ’sgrùdadh cruth-tìre nan tursachan

  • Urras nan Tursachan (the Calanais Trust) are delighted to announce the launch of a community archaeology project designed to explore the past landscape around the Neolithic and later stone monument at Calanais. Led by geophysics expert Dr Richard Bates of the University of St Andrews, and after a year’s delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is part of Historic Environment Scotland’s 2020/21 Year of Coasts and Waters initiative. It is designed to engage and train the local community in non-invasive ways of investigating and surveying the landscape of Calanais.

The project follows on from previous research at Calanais by Dr Bates, including his 2018 geophysical survey at one of the so-called ‘satellite’ stone circles, Airigh na Beinne Bige (Site XI, shown above), where he discovered traces of a lightning strike at the center of the circle.

The project will take place over the summer and has four parts:

1. Coastal survey: volunteers will be trained by Jo Hambly of the SCAPE Trust (University of St Andrews) to recognise and record traces of archaeological sites along the coast. This work is important, since each year’s storms erode the coast and can expose ancient sites and artefacts leading to their eventual destruction.

2. Drone photographic survey of the inter-tidal zone: this will be undertaken by a qualified professional drone pilot from the University of St Andrews. Volunteers will learn how to recognise and record archaeological sites spotted from the images taken by the drone.

3. Geophysical survey of ‘satellite’ circles: a variety of geophysical techniques such as magnetics, resistivity and conductivity will be used to investigate whether there are sub-surface features inside or around the circles, such as fallen stones submerged by peat or pits dug into the centre of the circles. Volunteers will be able to participate in the surveys and learn about the remote sensing techniques.

4. Underwater geophysical survey of Loch Roag: this will investigate the ancient buried land surfaces beneath the bed of the loch. The results can help to improve our knowledge of past sea level change in the area when the monuments were first erected.

This project will take place over July and August. And the results will be displayed in the Calanais Visitor Centre, as well as being added to the local and national Historic Environment Records for the Outer Hebrides, and fully published.

Calanais Coastal Archaeology Survey

Walking the coast and learning how to identify and document the remains of the past is one of the most enjoyable ways of discovering the history of an area and is an ideal introduction to archaeological survey. We will be using this as one of the key fieldwork methods to explore the landscape of the Calanais stones.

We invited volunteers to join a small team of archaeologist from the SCAPE Trust (University of St Andrews) on Thursday 8th, Friday 9th and Saturday 10th July. Gaining practical experience of rapid archaeological survey techniques and help to update records of coastal heritage sites around Calanais, using the SCAPE coastal archaeology recording app.