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Fishermen, beachcombers, divers and local people in the Western Isles are being urged to report anything unusual they’ve spotted at the shoreline or under the sea to a new archaeological project, launched this week.
The project – a partnership between RCAHMS, WA Coastal & Marine, Historic Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – is searching for the prehistoric and historic remains of the coastal and marine areas of the Outer Hebrides.
Rising sea levels and coastal erosion make the search for previously undiscovered archaeology in the Western Isles a priority, as there is always the real danger that it could be lost for good.
A key feature of the project is getting local people involved in sharing their knowledge of potential sites of archaeological remains and involving them in research work.
The team hopes to make some discoveries of previously unknown sites as a direct result of 'tip-offs' from the local community.
That’s why they’re inviting local people to a talk this week to find out more [Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre on North Uist at 7pm on 12 October 2011] and holding regular sessions in a local venue to encourage people to come forward with their stories.
By working with local people the project aims to explore the rich coastal and maritime history of the Outer Hebrides which spans thousands of years.
Evidence of the remains of ancient settlements, fish-traps , even tree stumps that may now lie submerged, and other finds and fragments from the inter-tidal zone, are all part of the puzzle that the project wants to hear about, in order to piece together stories of the past.
The sorts of things the team are looking for are often discovered by accident when landing a boat or walking along a shoreline when there’s a particularly low tide.
Speaking on behalf of the project partners, RCAHMS archaeological investigator Alex Hale said:
“The Outer Hebrides have been lived on for many thousands of years and they contain a rich prehistoric and historic legacy. Because of the islands’ importance to seafaring over the centuries, many of the remains of buildings and settlements are found around the coastal fringes - including under the sea and in lochs. Due to rising sea-levels and the power of the sea, these remains are now at risk of being lost.
We hope that local people who might live or work on the shore and the sea – and anyone with a good knowledge of the islands – will come forward with stories and information.”
Deborah Anderson from CNE-Siar’s Western Isles Archaeology Service said, “The archaeology of the Outer Hebrides is remarkable in the extent of its survival, however there is considerable pressure on sites from coastal erosion. Over the last 10,000 years a substantial area of land has been submerged by rising tides including areas of prehistoric land surfaces, which could hold early settlement remains.
Recent discoveries of prehistoric sites in the intertidal areas indicate that there are still pockets of preservation in some places. By integrating the land based coastal archaeological evidence and the information we acquire from locals through this project, we will better understand how people lived and worked on our islands over the last 9,000 years.
Dr Jonathan Benjamin of WA Coastal & Marine added “We have already received a warm welcome in Stornoway and we are looking forward to meeting people interested in the history and archaeology of Uist.
For more information about the project or to have a chat about getting involved, people can email marine@rcahms.gov.uk  or visit the Outer Hebrides Coastal Community Marine Archaeology Pilot Project website.