Palaeogeographic reconstruction and submerged prehistory

The recent Outer Hebrides Coastal Community Marine Archaeology Pilot Project (OHCCMAPP) combined the study of three themes: Marine Resource Exploitation, Maritime History & Transport and Submerged Prehistory Potential in preparation for major research projects. A strong focus on working with local people with deep and detailed knowledge of the marine environment has produced a rich cultural heritage background to this thematic work which has enabled greater results than would have been otherwise possible. This approach has culminated in the development of biotope-based palaeogeography models that bring together the marine resources, maritime transport and palaeogeography themes in the Sound of Harris. By integrating local Holocene relative sea-level (RSL) models (Jordan et al. 2010), existing regional RSL models and limiting points (Shennan et al. 2006; Ritchie 1985), publically-available LiDAR and multibeam bathymetry coverage and field data a number of prospection models have been developed for submerged prehistory particularly for the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods (Fig 1, Table 1).
Figure 1: Available marine bathymetry datasets for the study area. The -10m Mesolithic scenario highlights the limited overlay between the potential for submerged prehsitoric and nearshore geophyscial surveys.

Human colonisation, dispersal and sea crossings, seafaring,


Date Range BC/AD -7000 – 6000

Bathymetry MHWS Source MRSL mOD m OD -10 Shennan et al. (2006), Gregory et al. (2005), Bishop et al. (2010) Peltier et al. (2002), Gregory et al. (2005), Bishop et al. (2010) ‘high-stand scenario’, e.g. including contribution from Storegga tsunami < 6100 BC. Gregory et al. (2005), Bishop et al. (2010), Smith et al. (2006) ‘low-stand scenario’. Gregory et al. (2005), Bishop et al. (2010), Lambeck (1993), Peltier et al. (2002) Jordan et al. (2010) Jordan et al. (2010)

Mesolithic A

Mesolithic B

-7000 – 6000



Mesolithic C

-7000 – 6000



Mesolithic D

-7000 – 6000



Early Neolithic -3800 Late Neolithic -2500

-3.89 -2.39

-1.39 0.11

Table 1: Palaeogeography parameters for selected archaeological periods.




Sound of Harris

prospection from the Outer Hebrides, Scotland
island colonisation and exploitation of ice margins
Andrew Bicket 1, Genevieve Shaw 1, Kitty Foster 1, Karen Nichols 1, Jonathan Benjamin 1,2 1 Wessex Archaeology, Coastal & Marine, 2 University of Edinburgh


10 km

With regards to the Mesolithic, the enduring feature of the palaeogeography is a wide open seaway linking the Minch (the seaway between western Scotland and the Outer Hebrides) and western seaways of the British Isles to the Atlantic across the Sound of Harris (Fig 2). This provides critical context to maritime transport during the Mesolithic and the in situ remains of lithics and organic remains at Northton, Harris (c. 6-7000 BC) which lies on the Atlantic side of this palaeo-seaway. Other key findings include the implications for the entire submergence of the Neolithic coastline which include a bias against the preservation of evidence for marine resource exploitation in the Neolithic (Fig 3). Furthermore, the importance of faults as bathymetric deeps affording access to the interior by small vessels (such as logboats or currachs) is significant in the south of the study area (Fig 4). A number of high-potential locations have been identified for future survey (Fig 5).

Figure 2: Mesolithic period palaeogeography scenarios for the Sound of Harris c. 7000 – 6000 BC. Archaeological sites and submerged peats are highlighted.


10 km

Figure 3: Neolithic period palaeogeography scenarios for the Sound of Harris (c. 2500 and 3800 BC). Archaeological sites and submerged peats are highlighted.


5 km

Figure 4: Influence of fault lines upon maritime accessibility within the Sound of Harris, North Uist coast.

Figure 5: Areas of potential: preservation of shelf sediments and submarine topography of archaeological interest for submerged palaeolandscapes in the Sound of Harris.

References Jordan, J.T., Smith, D.E., Dawson, S., Dawson, A.G., 2010, Holocene relative sea-level changes in Harris , Outer Hebrides , Scotland , UK, Journal of Quaternary Science 25:115-134. Shennan, I., Bradley, S., Milne, G., Brooks, A., Bassett, S., Hamilton, S., 2006, Relative sealevel changes , glacial isostatic modelling and ice-sheet reconstructions from the British Isles since the Last Glacial Maximum, Journal of Quaternary Science, 21: 585–599. Ritchie, W., 1985, Inter-tidal and sub-tidal organic deposits and sea level changes in the Uists, Outer Hebrides, Scottish Journal of Geology, 21(2): 161–176. Bishop, R. R., Church, M. J., Rowley-Conwy, P. A., 2010, Excavations at Northton, Western Isles of Scotland, 2010; Data Structure Report, Department of Archaeology, Durham University. Peltier WR, Shennan I, Drummond R, Horton BP. 2002. On the postglacial isostatic adjustment of the British Isles and the shallow viscoelastic structure of the Earth. Geophysical Journal International 148: 443–475. Gregory, R. a., Murphy, E.M., Church, M.J., Edwards, K.J., Guttmann, E.B., and Simpson, D.D. a., 2005. Archaeological evidence for the first Mesolithic occupation of the Western Isles of Scotland. The Holocene, 15 (7), 944–950. Smith, D.E., Fretwell, P.T., Cullingford, R.A., Firth, C.R., 2006. Towards improved empirical isobase models of Holocene land uplift for mainland Scotland, UK. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 364 (1841), 949 –972. Lambeck K. 1993. Glacial rebound of the British Isles. II. A high- resolution, high-precision model. Geophysical Journal International 115: 960–990. Acknowledgements Full details can be found at: Contains OS Open Data Crown Copyright 2013. Bathymetry datasets sourced from Marine Scotland (©2013)and MCA (©2012). SRTM:

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