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The Bronze and Iron Ages

When metal working came in, about 3,500 years ago, the first metals that were used were those which melted easily, such as gold and copper. Copper could be made harder, for tools and weapons, by mixing it with tin or zinc, producing bronze or brass. The Bronze Age had arrived.

Technical changes were accompanied by social changes; individual burials were more common, some of them involving preservation of the remains, or the burial of parts of more than one body together, forming composite bodies.

 

A Bronze Age cemetery has been excavated over a number of years on the headland between Cnip and Traigh na Berie (see map). It has a lovely open view over the shore and beach, and an area that would have been rich farmland in the Bronze Age, but is now under water. A large burial cairn was dug by archaeologists in the 1970s, and many smaller burials have been found clustered around it. Some of these burials were accompanied by earthenware pots, and a bead made of jet imported from northern England was also found. One of the burials was of an older man, whose face had a healed sword injury which had given him trouble with chewing and eating. A sculpted reconstruction of his head can be seen in Museum nan Eilean, in Stornoway. (

Bronze Age Burial GroundWhen iron working started, about 2,800 years ago, society was changing. Individual families seem to have become more and more important, and built bigger and bigger homes. There was very little timber around on the islands; it had been cleared for firewood, and to provide grazing, and these houses were built of stone. Ultimately, about 2,000 years ago, people built 'brochs', like that at Dun Carlabhagh. These were huge, circular, multi-storey, stone towers, with staircases and passages between two concentric walls. The remains of one can be seen at Berie (see map) on an island in the midst of a loch that has silted up as the sea level has risen. Be very careful visiting this site, because the ruins have filled up with water, to the level of the first floor, and the stones on the top of the wall are loose, and could tip you off into the water.


Berie BrochA much smaller, and probably older, ruin can be found in a small loch, called Loch Bharabhat, in the hills above Berie, again on an island (see map). There is a causeway out to it, or you can look at it from the shore. This small, broch-like building was never very well-built; the island underneath it was partly man-made, and the heavy stone walls caused the man-made bit of the island to sink, so that the tower tumbled over after only a short time. Finds from these two sites can be seen on display at Museum nan Eilean, in Stornoway. (insert two photos, one of "Dun Bharabhat", one of museum pictures – the musem picture is still to be obtained)

Most Iron Age people would have lived in less dramatic houses, and the remains of one of these was found at Cnip, when coastal erosion exposed a stone round house. The roof of the building was supported on stone pillars, so that the plan looked like a wheel, which is why these Iron Age farms are called 'wheel houses'. The remains were too dangerous to leave open, so they have been re-buried. However, the unexcavated remains of a similar building can be seen on the steep slope of the hill above Clibhe, looking just like a mound of stone (see map), and the remains of another can sometimes be seen in the sand of the south end of the beach at Traigh na Berie, when the tide is very low, and the sand has been shifted by a storm.

In the centuries after 0 BC/AD, Christianity came to the islands, and the first churches were built. There is an old burial ground on the hills between Bhaltos and Clibhe (see map), which may contain the remains of a church from this time, and local traditions say that then the road here was built, the remains of Iron Age underground passages (called 'souterrains') were found. This suggests that, like at many other sites, the early chapel was built on the site of an Iron Age settlement.