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 Linnteann has worked with members of the

Staffin community to learn some of the buried secrets of Skye’s past.

Staffin volunteers digging in (photo by UHI Archaeological Institute)

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.

Staffin finds (photo by UHI Archaeological Institute)

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.

Bun Sgoil Stafainn visit the excavation ((photo by UHI Archaeological Institute)

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.