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Scottish Archaeologists To Uncover Ancient Clan Macdonald Castle

Michael East, Red Revolution

A team of archaeologists in Scotland Have begun working on uncovering new information at the ruins of an ancient castle, the former stronghold of Clan Macdonald.

Working on the isle of Islay, located in the Inner Hebridies, the 40 strong team of archaeologists and scientists yesterday began a three-week dig at the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle at Lagavulin Bay on the isle, the first ever dig at the site. The team will also include palaeo-enviromentalists and geophysicists who hope to reconstruct details of the medieval landscape on the island.

The castle was once the seat of the Lords of the Isles, chiefs of Clan Macdonald, and was the scene of several notable battles with their great rivals Clan Campbell. The fortress was demolished in 1677.

Most of the visible ruins of Dunyvaig can be dated to the 16th century, but the foundations are believed to date much earlier and experts believe that later construction may sit on top of an ancient hillfort or a dun. Duns arrived in the British isles with the Celts in the 7th century BC, with many such duns appearing in Irish myth and legend and peppering both Ireland’s west coat and the Outer Hebradies. The use of duns continued into the Middle Ages.

The team working at the site hope to uncover more details about the original construction of the fortress and occupants, beginning their dig with an examination of the foundations of the castle and any deposits and structures found below.

Professor Steve Mithen, Trustee of Islay Heritage, says that the current project will address key research questions about the castle and the history of Islay:

“The Dunyvaig excavation will be the flagship project of Islay Heritage, addressing key research questions, training the next generation of archaeologists for Scotland and making many contributions to the Islay Community. We are excited about finding what secrets remain hidden underground about this iconic monument.” – Professor Steve Mithen

John Raven, Deputy Head of Casework at Historic Environment Scotland (HES), says that the castle has a unique and important place in Gaelic culture:

“We warmly welcome this innovative project to raise money to support Islay Heritage and its aims of raising the profile and condition of, and increasing access to, Islay’s spectacular and unique archaeology, history and culture. It is a fantastic opportunity for heritage to make a greater contribution to the island’s economy. Dunyvaig Castle holds a deeply important place in Gaelic culture, and the excavations should help us better understand Medieval Gaelic culture and inform the castle’s conservation, so that it can be preserved and access opened up in the future. We can’t wait to see the results.” – John Raven

The project was organised by Islay Heritage following a donation as part of the Lagavulin 200th Legacy fund and the group is hopeful of raising funding for four more seasons at the site until 2023. Following a successful open evening on August 10 and public lecture on the 11th, the team will present their findings on Thursday 30 August at Ramsay Halls, Port Ellen. Site tours are also available every day (except Thursday) at the project between 11:00am and 3:00pm.


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