Stornoway diver Chris Murray has produced extensive new evidence of Neolithic loch-side life, on his very first dive since lockdown on Friday (19 June).
The former Royal Navy diver was ready for a dip as soon as open water activities were out of lockdown and relished the opportunity to explore one of the sites of crannogs, possible waterbound dwelling places of ancient Lewis people.
Within just a short time he’d amassed a veritable hoard of evidence, including dozens of sherds of decorated pottery and an astonishingly complete undecorated pot, verified as Neolithic and about 5,500 years old.
The undecorated pot is a particularly exceptional find, the only other similar bowl coming from Loch Olabhat in North Uist some years ago. Chris said: “And yes, I did take a sip of water from it. To think the last person to hold this and put it to their lips was thousands of years ago!”
His finds have been verified as Neolithic by Professor Alison Sheridan, specialist in Neolithic material culture, research associate and former curator at National Museums of Scotland and archaeologist of the year 2020. She’s also director of Urras nan Tursachan at Calanais.
Also fascinated to see the discoveries was Professor Jonathan Benjamin of Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia. He’s a specialist in the archaeology of submerged landscapes and in maritime and underwater archaeology, and he also put a likely Neolithic date on the finds.
Chris’s dives have yielded much of the material which has brought archaeologists to the sites of the watery Neolithic landscape of the islands and his latest discoveries are creating a buzz among prehistorians.
Duncan Garrow of the University of Reading and Fraser Sturt of Southampton University published research using Chris’s finds in November 2019 after their own exploration of the islands in Hebridean lochs.
They questioned whether the distinctive islets so typical of lochs and lochans throughout the Western Isles were really built as defences, or whether the trove of pottery fragments demonstrated both occupation and religious activity more than 4,000 years ago.
But deeper research they had planned in Lewis this summer has been put on hold due to Coronavirus restrictions, with accommodation in short supply and travel logistics too uncertain to allow the planning of a ‘dig’ in the lochs of Lewis.
Chris, however, plans to continue his own investigations and to share any finds with the archaeologists who rely on his enthusiasm to yield up evidence of ancient ways of living in the middle of the islands’ lochs.
He said: “It was a single dive and it just goes to show the riches that there are, there to be found if we put our minds to it.”
Pictures show the undecorated Neolithic pot found on Friday and dozens of sherds of pottery picked up by Chris last week from the loch bed (Chris Murray).