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The St Kilda archipelago

19 June 2011

BBC News (see www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-13753643?print=true ) on June 17th reported on archaeologists discovering an extensive field system and terraces cut for cultivation on Boreray, a small island in the archipelago. The evidence was covered in turf and soil but is unmistakable – at some point in the past farmers lived on this small outcrop in the Atlantic which today is home just to seabirds. The St Kilda group lie some 41 miles from the Hebrides – and there is deep water between them. It is a fairly remote spot, but as yet no date has been afixed to the era of farming. On the larger island of St Kilda there is well known evidence of human activity – over a long period of time. Indeed, it was inhabited until the early 20th century and bronze tools have been found so we can imagine settlement goes back a long way. It now lies stranded in the Atlantic, subject to its moods. It is not a particularly pleasant place to choose to live – so why did people inhabit these rocks in the ocean? The large number of seabirds may be one reason, representing a reliable food resource. However, perhaps we should think in terms of climate change – when was St Kilda an agreeable place to set down roots and have a family? In a warmer world Atlantic storms would have been less frequent – but did farmers reach St Kilda as early as the Neolithic? It is known that in the Neolithic the Western Isles were much more agreeable, and somewhat warmer than they are today – but what was the topography of St Kilda? Might it have been a somewhat larger landmass – comprising all the islands into one, somewhat like the Scilly Isles. In addition, looking at 'World Atlas of the Oceans' that shows the continental shelf system in detail it seems that the Isle of Lewis was possibly much larger at one time. Basil Cracknell, in his book Outrageous Waves: Global Warming and the Coastal Change over the last two thousand years, Philimore of Chichester: 2005 mentions folklore in the Hebrides that claims St Kilda was once joined to Lewis – but deep water intervenes (clearly seen in the above Atlas). Now, the big question is did the geoid of the earth change during the Neolithic period – between the Middle and Late Neolithic periods, perhaps, as at this time there were big changes in sea level around the Orkneys (as mentioned in previous posts). 

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