Highlands & Islands

Iron Age burial gives insights into ancient islanders

Excavation of Iron Age burial site on Lewis Image copyright Dr Mary Macleod Rivett
Image caption Dr Mary Macleod Rivett excavates a bracelet beside the Iron Age woman's skull

An Iron Age woman's unusual burial is helping an archaeologist to describe the "deep bond" between ancient islanders and the land they lived on.

Dr Mary Macleod Rivett was closely involved in the excavation of the grave at Barvas on Lewis in 2001.

The woman was buried facing downwards, described as highly unusual in any era, along with a worked iron bracelet.

In a new paper, Dr Macleod Rivett said the burial was used to make references to the past and the landscape.

Called Barabhas Machair: Surveys of an Eroding Sandscape and co-written with Trevor Cowie, the late Mark Elliott and Torben Ballin, the research examines the Barvas machair and its archaeology.

Machair is shell-rich dune grasslands found on the Hebrides and parts of Orkney, Shetland and the north west Highland coast.

Image copyright Alan Braby
Image caption An illustration showing the grave site with skeleton of the Iron Age woman

Dr Macleod Rivett, an archaeologist at the Stornoway Campus of the University of the Highlands and Islands, said there were many interesting aspects to the burial of the woman at least 1,600 years ago.

As well as being laid face down in the stone-lined grave, the bracelet placed next to her head was made of iron with bronze embellishments, the only such find in Scotland.

The archaeologist said: "She was a big strong woman, tall for her time at 5ft 6ins, well-muscled and quite young.

"Her burial has been carefully made.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Machair is found on the Hebrides, Northern Isles and parts of the north west Highlands

"As well as the beautiful bracelet which was buried with her, and the well-crafted grave itself, the burial was covered in a cairn of pretty, pale-coloured beach pebbles, each no bigger than could be carried in one hand, and each brought from up to a kilometre away, at the shore.

"I think she was an important person to her local community - they put a lot of effort into making this a nice grave close to an earlier house, which is evidence of the feelings and memories of the people, their own references back to their past."

The paper is being prepared for publication.

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