After a severe storm in 1993 the tops of a number of structures were exposed at Camas Bostadh (Bosta Beach) on the Isle of Great Bernera in the Outer Hebrides. Excavation of the site in 1996 proved that these structures dated from the Iron Age to Norse times.
A total of five buildings were discovered; three were excavated completely, one was partially excavated and the fifth was left covered. The main settlement was occupied from the 6th to 9th centuries AD, a period later described as Late Iron Age or Pictish-period. The outline of three can be seen in the sand on the top of the beach and a replica house has been built nearby, using the techniques that were available at the time the original structures were created.
The earliest levels underneath this phase of the village were not investigated, however a Viking house was built over the site, from which the name ‘bostadh’, meaning farm in Old Norse, is thought to have derived.
The structures have the figure of eight layout of Pictish dwellings. It is not known what the actual roof would have looked like, however the roof of the replica house follows the shape and strength of the walls and is covered with heather and turf. The ridged roof is a major departure from the circular roofs of the wheelhouses and brochs of the earlier Iron Age, and a precursor of the traditional blackhouse roof.
The entrance passage was curved to break the strength of any high winds and sloped from ground level to the interior floor level. Marks on the floor suggested wooden supports for an upper level within the building, which is likely to have been used for sleeping.
The dwellings had a large main room, around 6 meters (19.5 feet) wide, a smaller room on the north side and the entrance to the south. They were built in the sand, mainly underground, with double-skinned drystone walls. Their circular shape would have resisted the pressure of the sand and resulted in the excellent structural preservation; in many cases the walls were still standing to their original height when excavated. The smaller room is believed to have been used for storage or perhaps for the women to do their work. It is also thought that perhaps some livestock were kept in this room, allowing the people to benefit from the heat generated, as they did in the brochs from the earlier Iron Age.
In order to build up a detailed picture of the way of life of the village inhabitants, their local environment and the history of the settlement, the objects recovered during the excavations, soil samples collected by the archeologists and fish, plant and animal remains from the site are now being scientifically studied.
Bostadh’s location close to the sea with good quality machair farmland around the village would have made it an attractive place for settlement. The nearby moorland would have provided pasture for cattle and a supply of peat for fires. It is thought that deer may also have been kept in managed herds.
A number of artefacts, such as bone combs, were found and are now on display at the Local History Society’s exhibition at the Village Hall in Breacleit.
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- Information provided by guide at Bostadh Iron Age House
- Information sign at Bostadh Iron Age House
- The Outer Hebrides Guide Book Third Edition by Charles Tait