Highlands & Islands

Britain's earliest gun flints found on tiny island

Gun flints Image copyright University of Glasgow
Image caption Gun flints found on Dùn Èistean

The earliest gun flints discovered in Britain were among finds made during 15 years of archaeological excavations on a small Hebridean island.

The flints were manufactured on Dùn Èistean, an island stronghold of Clan Morrison at Ness on the northern tip of Lewis in the Western Isles.

Archaeologists said the flints were evidence of skirmishes with flintlock weapons in later medieval times.

Dùn Èistean was a clan stronghold in the 1500s and 1600s.

The flints, which were examined by Stirlingshire-based lithic researcher Torben Bjarke Ballin, have been dated to the 16th and early 17th centuries.

Gun flints found previously were from the mid to late 17th Century.

Image copyright RCAHMS
Image caption Dùn Èistean is separated from the Ness mainland by a 49ft gap

Dùn Èistean is separated from the Ness mainland by a 49ft (15m) wide gap, with sheer cliffs on either side.

Archaeologists believe the island may have been laid siege to. The smaller gun flints suggest the stone was shaped again and again to reuse it because the defenders were denied access to fresh supplies of flint.

'Fascinating period'

The 49ft gap also made research of Dùn Èistean in modern times challenging.

A steel footbridge was erected by the Clan Morrison Society in 2002, which gave archaeologists easier access to the isle.

Rachel Barrowman, author of Dùn Èistean, Ness, one of two new books about the archaeological work, said: "We began this project more than 15 years ago with the aim of illuminating a period of history in Lewis and Harris that is not well-documented and subject to little archaeological research.

"Through the combination of archaeological survey and excavation, together with detailed historical research, we have been able to tell the story of the development and use of the stronghold and gain an insight into its participation in the wider Gaelic world in the 1500s and early 1600s."

She added: "It has taken many years, and a huge amount of dedication from a number of people, to get to this stage, and I would like to thank all of them for their contribution. I hope that these books will be both enjoyable and informative to anybody interested in this fascinating period of history."

Image copyright University of Glasgow
Image caption The flints were among archaeological finds made during 15 years of excavations

The Clan Morrison Society, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Historic Environment Scotland have been involved in the 15-year archaeological project.

Clan Chief Dr J Ruairidh Morrison said: "I'm sure there will be much interest from Clan Morrison members across the globe to see the results of years of sterling work of all those involved in the project.

"The publication of these wonderful books presents a rare and fascinating opportunity to get an insight into the world of our ancestors, and I'm confident they will generate fresh interest in the Clan Morrison in Scotland and further afield."

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