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Excavations at Northton, Isle of Harris

D. D. A. Simpson, E. M. Murphy and R. A. Gregory


This volume presents the site of Northton in the Western Isles of Scotland (at Toe Head on Harris).During excavations in 1965 and 1966 two early horizons were identified beneath and close to the base of the machair sands. With excavation the stratigraphically later of these horizons furnished evidence for a probable stone structure, funerary and faunal remains, and an abundance of artefacts, particularly pottery, which in turn dated the horizon to the Neolithic period. In contrast, the lower horizon lay directly above the natural boulder clay, was sealed by the machair sands, and contained a general paucity of faunal and artefactual remains. Due to the discovery of one small sherd of Neolithic pottery it was assumed, however, that this horizon might represent an earlier phase of Neolithic occupation. During a brief season of fieldwork in 2001 a seemingly comparable horizon, which also rested above the boulder clay, was identified in a section which had been exposed through coastal erosion. Following a limited investigation this basal horizon produced evidence for human activity in the form of possible stone settings, charred plant macrofossils, faunal remains and a small assemblage of chAped stone artefacts. Significantly, a series of dates obtained from the plant macrofossils indicate that this material is unambiguously of the Mesolithic period. Whilst these somewhat unexpected results have major implications for constructing the internal chronology of the site, as they appear to extend human activity at Northton back to the seventh millennium cal. BC, they are also of considerable interest at both a regional and national level, as they may represent the first direct evidence for Mesolithic activity in the Western Isles. The volume has chapters on the site’s early occupation, the Beaker period, Bronze, Iron, and later periods, and a history of the Northton Machair. There are six Appendices and Catalogues of finds and data.