David Newman from the Access Archaeology group, Uist, writes…
During the autumn of 2014 Uist community members have continued to use their ACCORD training last summer to produce more 3D models and images of archaeological sites on Uist.
These included an aerial record of a Neolithic cairn on the northern shore of South Uist currently on the red list of sites threatened by rising sea levels and being monitored under the SCAPE SCHARP project. This site now floods regularly during spring high tides and the imaging will provide a valuable comparative record to establish if the site is being eroded or not.
A similar record was made of a remote but well known archaeological site on the east side of Benbecula which is recorded as both a farmstead settlement and a cup-marked slab. The imaging showed not only the possibility that the slab could be related to a former cairn, but that two possible roundhouses existed on the site, half of the walls of one being incorporated into an old byre!
In early November 2014 local ornithologist Roger Auger noticed an oddly shaped feature on a beach on the west side of North Uist in an area of mud and silt newly exposed after a recent storm. This turned out to be the remains of an oval basket containing bones and quartz blades which became known as the ‘Baleshare basket’ and caused some excitement in the Scottish archaeological community.
Following a visit by the Western Isles County Archaeologist a specialist recovery team from Edinburgh was commissioned to remove it a few days later and it is now in storage awaiting investigation. 3D imaging was used to record the basket and contents and the surrounding silt bank which included other pits and grooves, and animal and possibly human footprints. This find is likely to have an early date as it lay under Iron Age deposits that were washed away in the 2005 hurricane.
In late November during a field walking trip on the remote and uninhabited east side of North Uist, Roger Auger, David Newman and Simon Davies discovered a significant set of stone structures hidden in thick heather on a rocky knoll which had never been previously recorded. These included several small circular stone walled cells partly underground, one of which has around 1/3 of its corbelled stone roof intact and another a stone lined entrance passage which may have been up to 10m long originally. And, lying out on the ground surface amongst the remains, was a saddle quern complete with its rubbing stone in position. Using drone, kite and pole mounted cameras to produce 3D photo models the site layout was recorded to a very reasonable standard in just two visits.
The Uist Access Archaeology group has come to realise that in difficult or remote access situations or when time is short such as between tides, 3D photo imaging is an extremely useful tool in making relatively accurate preliminary site records of archaeological sites, in the minimum amount of time, with simple equipment that most people already have to hand. With an aerial component the imaging can also help reveal not only a wider site context, but also help identify other possible structures not immediately evident on the ground.