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Alt Chrisal, multi-period settlement 750m ESE of Gortein, Barra

A Scheduled Monument in Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas, Na h-Eileanan Siar

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.9491 / 56°56'56"N

Longitude: -7.5252 / 7°31'30"W

OS Eastings: 64198

OS Northings: 797802

OS Grid: NL641978

Mapcode National: GBR 7BTC.1YW

Mapcode Global: WGV56.CLTK

Entry Name: Alt Chrisal, multi-period settlement 750m ESE of Gortein, Barra

Scheduled Date: 8 November 2005

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM11251

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: settlement; Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cairn (type uncerta

Location: Barra

County: Na h-Eileanan Siar

Electoral Ward: Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas

Traditional County: Inverness-shire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of a multi-period settlement site that also includes some evidence for prehistoric ritual activity. Survey and excavations between 1989 and 1994, by Sheffield University, found evidence for settlement dating from the Neolithic (about 3600 years BC) to the 18th and 19th centuries. The stone-built elements of the excavated structures are still largely visible on site today, where not destroyed by the road and sheep pen.

The site of Alt Chrisal, situated in rough grazings on the S slopes of Ben Tangaval, is named after the stream that dissects the valley in which the field remains are to be found. In Neolithic times a sub-rectangular artificial platform was constructed on which structures were built and a range of craft activities took place (flint and pottery working), as well as food processing. This provides evidence for occupation by a small group of people who followed a mixed farming economy, with some fishing. Artefacts from Rum, Arran and N Ireland provide evidence for long-distance marine contacts, as do pottery forms. Structures a little further up the valley appear to be houses of an expanded settlement of slightly later date (late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age), with use still being made of the platform below. The excavators found evidence for the use of timber in building, although this decreased with time. The date of use of a rock shelter high up the valley is not known. On the lower, W side of burn the remains can be seen of the lower levels of a substantial, free-standing later prehistoric wheelhouse. Excavation revealed a complex series of build on this site, including later Pictish and Norse occupation. The next most obvious features are a blackhouse and separate byre that probably date from the 18th century. On the E side of the burn, high on the hill, is the remains of a probable early prehistoric burial cairn.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, with maximum dimensions of 300m NNW-SSE by 270m NNE-SSW, to include the main focus of surviving above-ground structures at Alt Chrisal and an area in which evidence related to their construction and use may survive, as marked in red on the accompanying map extract. The fenceline along the roadside and around the sheep pen (which forms the S boundary of the site) is excluded from the scheduling, to allow for maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance because it comprises a complex and well-preserved multi-period settlement site with some of the earliest and best rare evidence for Neolithic settlement in the Western Isles (such remains tend only to be discovered by chance), a good example of a freestanding wheelhouse (elsewhere in the Western Isles and Shetland these tend to be largely subterranean) and a characteristic example of Barra blackhouse settlement (which is distinct from that found elsewhere in the Western Isles). The main structures have been excavated, but the key stone elements of the buildings survive and therefore convey a good impression of the nature and scale of the settlement in this area. Unexcavated parts of the site retain considerable potential to provide information about the long and complex use of this area and how this relates not just to contemporary activity elsewhere in the Western Isles, but also beyond. Finds from the excavated parts of the site have already provided important information for the extensive nature of martime contacts in this period.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

The monument is recorded by RCAHMS as NL69NW 7.37.

References:

Cole H, THE OUTER HEBRIDES AND THE HEBRIDEAN WORLD DURING THE NEOLITHIC: AN ISLAND HISTORY, PhD thesis.

Brannigan K and Foster P 2002, BARRA AND THE BISHOPS ISLES, LIVING ON THE MARGIN.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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