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MIDDEN (Undated)
Wheelhouse, souterrain and midden


NB 09779 36587

Full description:

NB03NE 17 098 366.

Stonework and midden material in the face of sand dunes on Kneep beach was eroded by winter gales. Consequently the eroded section was cleaned, drawn and photographed, revealing a deposit some 26m in length comprising a midden, 1m in depth, of dark sandy material containing many intrusions and with copious quantities of bone, pottery, marine shell and burnt material. Adjacent to this midden, and sealed by a thick layer of dark sand, is a drystone structure, provisionally interpreted as a wheelhouse, its curved wall being dug into and revetted against sand on the pattern of many Hebridean wheelhouse sites. At present the structure appears to be virtually intact and the fallen stonework represents only the wall backing. Unfortunately the rate of erosion is such that in the past two years at least 2.5m of these dunes has been lost and the structure is therefore in imminent danger of destruction.
Pottery of characteristically Iron Age type as well as bone, marine shell, and a bone bobbin were all found in the section.
I Armit 1986.

In 1987, a trench was laid out 10m by 6m in an area immediately behind the high dunes containing the structure, noted in 1986. Excavation quickly revealed midden across the entire trench under windblown sand, in places only a few cm below the surface. The midden, as well as being very rich in shell and bone, included quantities of later prehistoric pottery decorated with applied cordons, and in forms common to the early Iron Age of the area. Revetted into this midden was a structure closely similar in plan to souterrains or earth houses reported from early excavations in the Western Isles, ie, a long curving passage built of sand revetted drystone masonry. The structure is infilled with windblown sand and contains characteristic later prehistoric pottery in these upper levels. Several rebates in the walling hint at a structural complexity unrecorded on other sites of this particularly poorly known type.
The most promising structure on the site is a substantial and well preserved drystone roundhouse sealed beneath midden containing cordoned pottery. Only one part of the arc of this structure was within the area of the trench and this revealed several courses of drystone walling, corbelling towards the top. Voids in the rubble infill made visible two stone built 'aumbries' or 'boles' in the wall. The area exposed was not enough to confirm the existence of radial piers but the location, visible structure and apparent date of the structure would all seem to point to the conclusion that is a wheelhouse or related structure.
D W Harding and I Armit 1987.

Rescue excavations in the area of a proposed sewerage trench and sea-wall were carried out from March-April of 1988 on this machair site on the croft at No. 11 Kneep. The site yielded a complex structural sequence relating to the building, development and final abandonment of a wheelhouse settlement of sand-revetted structures. The exceptional degree of preservation of the structures enables the detailed reconstruction of building techniques employed.
The earliest structures on the site were two wheelhouses, linked by a connecting entrance. They conformed to the typical floor plan and building style of the type, although both were relatively small at c8m in diameter. Two of the cells of Wheelhouse 1 survived intact with corbelled roofs rising from the piers. Wheelhouse 2 had been bisected by tidal erosion and was much less well preserved, although still exceeding 2m in height. This wheelhouse had never been completed and had been modified to form an annexe cell for Wheelhouse 1.
The imminent total destruction of this structure enabled its controlled dismantling during the excavation to give information on construction techniques complementary to that derived from Wheelhouse 1. The wall section showed that the enclosing wall of the structure was only one stone in thickness and backed directly into the natural sand dune. No foundation material had been laid for either walls or piers. Behind the wall, deposits of an apparently votive nature had been carefully placed, including a small intact everted rim jar decorated with an applied cordon. The structural development of the complex almost from its construction onwards shows a history of modification and ad hoc stabilisation of the increasingly unstable Wheelhouse 1. Piers were buttressed, aisles blocked, posts inserted etc. Throughout the occupation the basic spatial arrangements remained remarkably regular with the replacement of cells and outbuildings directly over their predecessors. The final phase of occupation consisted of the insertion of a long revetted passage-like structure or 'souterrain' into the wheelhouse, reusing two wheelhouse cells and much of the walling. After abandonment this structure was apparently de-roofed and filled quickly with sterile windblown sand. No further occupation or cultivation occurred in the excavated area after this time.
The entire sequence lacks any evidence of abandonment phases and appears to represent the continuous occupation over a lengthy period of a single farming unit. The material culture shows no obvious changes over the period and the pottery from each phase contains similar motifs characteristic of the Hebridean Iron Age. Aside from decorated pottery, finds comprised a typical range of the types expected from a wheelhouse site in the Hebrides; bone preservation was good and copious quantities of worked bone and antler were recovered including a fine cetacean bone comb. A number of rotary querns were found incorporated into walling and evidence of iron and bronze-working was present despite few artefacts of these materials.
I Armit 1988.

The site of two adjoining wheelhouses and later cellular and linear structures was excavated here in 1988. The lower wheelhouse levels of Wheelhouse 1 were not excavated and these, along with the superstructure of Wheelhouse 1 remain intact below the present ground surface. No trace of this site was visible from the surface and its discovery was possible due to the appearance of stonework in the eroding dune face. This part of Cnip beach has since been stabilised by the construction of a sea wall.
Armit 1992, 43


1986. 'Kneep (Uig p) probable wheelhouse & midden', Discovery and Excavation, Scotland. 47
1987-8. 'Cnip, Isle of Lewis', University of Edinburgh, Department of Archaeology, Annual Report. Part No 34. 21-2, No. 95
1987. 'Cnip No. 11', 'Cnip No. 11'. 14, No. 1
1987. 'Cnip (Uig p) souterrain & probable wheelhouse', Discovery and Excavation, Scotland. 60
1988. 'Lewis, Kneep (Uig parish) wheelhouse complex and later structures', Discovery and Excavation, Scotland. 31
Ian Armit. 1992. CFA, University of Edinburgh Archaeological Field Survey of the Bhaltos (Valtos) Peninsula, Lewis.
1994. 'Archaeological field survey of the Bhaltos (Valtos) peninsula, Lewis', Proc Soc Antiq Scot. Part No 124. No.9, 80; No.13, 80


Information provided by Western Isles Council Sites & Monuments Record, January 2006.


Title: KNEEP, LEWIS - WHEEL HOUSE (Undated), MIDDEN (Undated), SOUTERRAIN (Undated)
Record Type: Historical/ Archaeological Sites
Type: Midden
SMR Record ID: MWE4009
Grid Ref Northing: 936587
Grid Ref Easting: 109779
Record Maintained By: CEU
Subject Id: 32975