Community Excavation at An Corran
Physical remains of the past are visible all across Staffin. They can be seen in ruinous croft houses
which now stand empty, slowly returning to the earth stone by stone. There are Iron Age duns and
brochs, reminders of the numerous communities that inhabited this area more than 2000 years ago.
There are stone cairns, built by the first farmers who started growing and herding here, almost 5000
years ago. But much of Staffin’s archaeology remains unseen – hidden under the ground, protected
by layers of soil built up over the millennia. Druim Nan Linteann has worked with members of the
Staffin community to learn some of the buried secrets of Skye’s past.
A site at Staffin Bay holds evidence of the first settlers to arrive on the Isle of Skye – hunter gatherers
from the Mesolithic period (mid-Stone Age) around 8000 years ago. It was a gathering place for this
ancient community, along with places like the nearby An Corran Rockshelter, where tools (worked
stone and bone) were founded. In 2015, it became a meeting place for the modern-day community
of Staffin, when residents came together to excavate the site and uncover the secrets of Mesolithic
This was undertaken in collaboration with Staffin Community Trust (SCT) and the Archaeology
Institute at the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI). Local experts joined with professional
community archaeologists to launch the 5-day excavation.
The excavators learnt that there were two phases of activity at the site – one Mesolithic, and one
from a later period of settlement. The Mesolithic phase included stone tools (lithics) and the waste
created in their manufacture, suggesting that they were made here. There were also charred
hazelnut shells, a common sign of Mesolithic activity, and burnt bone. Radiocarbon dating was used
to date these ecofacts as belonging to c.6800-6600 cal BC.
Many of the people onsite hadn’t excavated before – everyone from the community was welcome
to get involved, visit, or watch. School children from local primary schools came for some hands-on
learning: geophysical survey and soil sieving as well as excavating the test pits. These visits included
Kilmuir’s Gaelic medium class, who were invited to learn about the area in their own language. From
the off, bilingual press releases were posted for residents, and the project was named Fo fòid na
time, welcoming people to look under the “turfs of time”.
In Staffin, the past is alive – an important part of life in the community here. It’s alive because
people continue to practice traditional skills, live in historic buildings (like croft houses) and to speak
the local language (Gàidhlig). It’s also alive because archaeology – the physical remains of past
peoples – continues to tell new stories about life for prehistoric people on Skye. These stories
connect today’s community back to the groups of women, men and bairns who first settled here on
the beautiful Misty Isle.
In the coming years there will be more research into Staffin’s amazing archaeology – through
community-led survey and recording, archive work and maybe even further excavation. Whether
you’ve always lived here or you’re visiting for the first time, you’re welcome to join us to uncover
the stories of Staffin’s past.