The Later Mesolithic archaeology of the Outer Hebrides has not been extensively explored, and a Mesolithic presence in these islands was only recognised at all fairly recently. It is difficult to establish whether the current patchy picture of occupation accurately reflects the past situation, or is a result simply of a lack of archaeological research. This situation is complicated by significant sea level changes since then, which have caused large coastal areas to be submerged. The pollen record suggests relatively sustained episodes of woodland clearance, which in turn possibly indicates sustained occupation.

In the Inner Hebrides, substantial archaeological investigation over the past twenty years has revealed a picture of routine ‘island-hopping’, although it is worth noting that there was probably considerable variability in the character and extent of inter-island mobility over time. It seems quite possible that on further investigation, the character of Late Mesolithic occupation and maritime connectivity in the Outer Hebrides will be revealed as similar to the picture of significant maritime activity proposed for the Inner Hebrides.

During the Early Neolithic, the settlement evidence is substantial by comparison. Several sites have been identified as potentially having been occupied within the first half of the 4th millennium BC. The best-known of these is Eilean Domhnuill (North Uist), an artificial islet with stone- and timber-built structures; comparable sites have also been found at Eilean Tighe (North Uist) and Alt Chrisal (Barra). A midden site, containing two Neolithic layers, is also known at Northton (Harris). All of these sites produced pottery assemblages which included Unstan bowls. The radiocarbon dates obtained from these sites range from 3720 to 2890 BC.

Our own excavations at An Doirlinn, South Uist in June-July 2012 revealed an impressive series of stone buildings, probably dating to both the Early and Late Neolithic. Ongoing analysis over the next year or two will reveal much more about this important new settlement site. Learn more about what we found at An Doirlinn via the ‘Our Excavations’ link on the left of this page.

Numerous chambered cairn burial monuments are also known from the islands. As with the occupation sites, the earliest of these appear to date to the middle centuries of the 4th millennium BC (c. 3800-3400 BC).