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Iona is renowned for being an ecclesiastical centre founded in AD 563 by St. Columba. It is also renowned for the spread of Celtic Christianity, its artworks and one of the earliest laws ''the law of the innocents'' established to protect women and children in times of war. It is equally well known that the island was attached on numerous occasions in the late 8th-9th centuries AD, but there have been numerous debates amongst scholars regarding the impact on the monastic community.


We recently published and article in Environmental Archaeology entitled: ''Identifying Social Transformations and Crisis during the Pre-Monastic to Post-Viking era on Iona: New Insights from a Palynological and Palaeoentomological Perspective''.  However, the paper has also led to some unanswered questions: 1) What has caused the seesaw representation of birch trees? Has it been caused by a brief crisis? such as prolonged Viking attacks or could there be another explanation. 2) There appears to be a change in economy and intensification in pastoral farming from the 10th C onwards - likely linked to Norse settlement in the western Isles, but can we confirm this pattern of change at other sites on Iona and other islands such as Tiree which will be investigated as part of our new project.

St. John's Cross, Iona
The Benedictine Abbey
Results from our first core published in Environmental Archaeology
A reconstruction of what the early monastic site may have looked like

Renewed Investigation: Fieldwork 14th-16th May 2023

Digi map showing our site locations 2023.jpg
A view from Dun I Iona's tallest peak looking out towards Mull and the Benedictine monastery

Prior to our visit one core had already been extracted by Prof Martin Lee from the School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow and we have already sent a few samples off from this core for 14C dating. We  will conduct pollen analysis on it if the dates are good; Martin’s core is around  NM 264 231 - (see map for location). 

During our fieldwork we extracted 3 cores from different locations. Fieldwork was very much a team effort and included Ewan Campbell, Tim Mighall, Antonio Foddai and myself. The coring was exhausting but fun and we were lucky with the weather and I'm still trying to figure out how Antonio and me got sun burnt and Tim and Ewan didn't ;).

Machair a:  NM 26944 23113

Scaife & Dimbelby  NM 27738 24845

Vallum  NM 28469 24520.

Here are some more photos of the sites and core samples:



Iona a view from the ferry
A rainbow over the Benedictine Abbey Iona by Ewan Campbell

Right: A peat depression close to the vallum and the core we extracted from it.



Left: A rainbow over the Benedictine Abbey - Photo by Ewan

A small peat depression close to the Vallum
Sediment core extracted from the vallum
Bog bean from Scaife & Dimbleby's core location

Above: a bog bean flower from Scaife and Dimbleby's core location

A sediment core segment from the Machair

Above: Walking along the Machair on the west coast

Left: A core segment from the Machair a location

Scaife and Dimbleby core location-photos by Ewan Campbell.jpg

Left & right:

The  location of

Scaife and Dimbleby's  core - Photos by Ewan

Scaife and Dimbleby core location-photos by Ewan Campbell
Antonio, me, Tim by Ewan Campbell

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Left: Antonio, me & Tim's  behind ;)

Photo taken by Ewan

Results so far inconclusive.

  • The vallum dates came back too old -  so re-analysis of this one is a def no, no.          

  • The Machar did produce two 6th century AD dates but the dates so far are mixed and in a profile full of stones so likely erosional inwash has mixed the whole sequence, but is it worth while risking any more 14C dates or not is the question???   

  • The Scaife and Dimbleby core so far is too young: 66 cm dates to between the 16-1900's. No more dates have been sent off yet, but I would like to try another date further down depending on our budget left.

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