Medieval treasures unearthed during Scottish pipe project

The dig site at Gress on the Isle of Lewis.

A Scottish Water project on the Isle of Lewis has led to the discovery of a rare medieval site and a trove of archeological treasure.

The site was discovered close to the hamlet of Gress in the parish of Stornoway. On excavation, the team found over 100 shards of pottery, an unidentified coin, as well as fish and animal bones.

Following analysis of the finds, the site has been tentatively dated to between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries and is thought to have been an area for processing and managing sheep.

Initially the pottery, which was later identified as Craggan ware, indicated the site dated to the prehistoric period. However, as more pottery was discovered in the same location as the badly corroded small coin, the dating was brought forward to medieval times.

Craggan ware is a type of rough, handmade pottery from Lewis and the Hebrides that was made in some instances up to the early twentieth century.

"This discovery was not only very interesting but helps greatly with our knowledge of this time period in the Western Isles."

Alastair Rees, Archas

Alastair Rees of Archas, who worked with Scottish Water and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Archaeology Service at the site, said, “We have very little evidence from the medieval period in the Western Isles. This discovery was not only very interesting, but helps greatly with our knowledge of this time period."

The site was discovered during a £9.3 million project to renew around 21km of water mains between Marybank and Tolsta, as well as install a new pumping station and water storage tank, which is being carried out on Scottish Water’s behalf by alliance partner Caledonia Water Alliance (CWA).

CWA project manager Lee Biddulph said, “We take our responsibility to protect the historic environment seriously and are pleased to have worked alongside Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and ARCHAS to ensure this important discovery was conserved and properly recorded. Work on the project has now entered the final stages before the new infrastructure comes into service later this year.”

Early engagement between Scottish Water and the Comhairle Archaeology Service identified several areas along the pipeline route as having a heightened archaeological potential, prior to works commencing. This ensured that when unexpected archaeological deposits were encountered, there was no delay to the overall project.