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Papar place-names in the Northern and Western Isles of Scotland: a preliminary assessment of their association with agricultural land potential

Papar place-names in the Northern and Western Isles of
Scotland: a preliminary assessment of their association with
agricultural land potential.
Ian A. Simpson
, Barbara Crawford
and Beverley Ballin-Smith
School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling
Department of Medieval History, University of St. Andrews
Department of Archaeology, University of Glasgow
The twenty-eight papar place names (Old Norse: ‘priest’ or ‘monk’) of the Northern and
Western Isles, thought to have been given by Viking and Norse settlers because of
association with Celtic priests, have emerged as an important body of evidence from which
to consider early ecclesiastical activity across the north Atlantic region. Attempts to
understand the cultural and geographical contexts of these place names has, however,
resulted in a diversity of opinion that includes eremitic, evangelical and retrospective place
name interpretations.
Suggestions that most of these place names are located on islands and in marginal areas
has been used to support an eremitic interpretation of the papar in the Northern and
Western Isles (MacDonald, 1977). Such an interpretation is also suggested by
archaeological evidence identifying early monastic settlements on isolated stacks of the
Northern Isles (Brady et al., 2000; Brady 2002; Lamb 1974) and by early Irish
documentary sources. These indicate the specialised use of the term papar to mean
hermit, a view emphasised by the Irish scholar Dicuil writing in the 820s AD who noted
solitude seeking papar in what was most likely to have been Iceland and Faeroe
(MacDonald, 2002; Dumville, 2002; Tierney, 1967). Their subsequent, possibly hurried,
departure on the arrival of Viking settlers, leaving no archaeological or palaeo-
environmental trace in Iceland (Buckland et al., 1995; Vésteinsson, 2000; Íslendingabók,
Landnámabók) and contested palynological evidence of cereal cultivation in Faeroe
(Jóhansen, 1978; Hannon et al., 2001; Arge, 1991), further reinforces eremitic and
ephemeral perceptions.
Its has, however, been pointed out that at least some of the papar place names are
located in areas of high quality agricultural land which had long been occupied prior to the
arrival of the papar or the Norse (Lamb, 1974; Rendall, 2002). This has led to the
suggestion that the papar may have been an evangelical group, possibly originating from
Iona, and working and living amongst the local population in their missionary areas of
settlement (Radford, 1983). In doing so, it has also been suggested they may have
introduced new, improved, techniques of agricultural land management, including arable
land manuring strategies giving rise to anthropogenic raised soils (Barber, 1981; Simpson
and Gutmann, 2002). Further support for this hypothesis is suggested by evidence of a
distinct increase in agricultural activity around the sixth century AD in western Ireland
(Mitchell and Ryan, 1997; O’Connell et al., 1988; Moloy and O’Connell, 1991; 1993), the
Hebrides (Fossitt, 1996) and Shetland (Bennett et al., 1992). However, convincing and
unequivocal evidence of agricultural improvement associated with the papar is yet to be
Both eremitic and evangelical interpretations of the papar place-name evidence assume
that they were given at or shortly after Viking and Norse settlement of the Northern and
Western Isles to a resident papar population. Some authorities have found this an unlikely
scenario, given the disruption that Viking activity brought to ecclesiastical settlement, and
have postulated an alternative, radical, view that these place names were applied
retrospectively sometime after Norse conversion to Christianity. Such naming may have
taken place early after Norse conversion in the second half of the ninth century and the
tenth (MacDonald, 2002), or may have been as late as the twelfth century, with the Church
of this time seeking to relate itself to an older Christian tradition (Lowe, 2002). However,
recent onomastic and linguistic perspectives on the papar names have led to a reassertion
of an early naming by incoming Vikings and Norse due to the actual presence of papar
(Gammeltoft, 2004).
It is evident that there is considerable debate over the meaning and significance of the
papar place names based on different approaches, but as yet there has been no
comparative analyses of the places associated with these names. By undertaking such
analyses, deeper understanding of why such areas were given papar place names
together with their cultural significance may emerge. This paper focuses on soils and
agricultural land qualities associated with the localities of the twenty-eight papar place
names in the Northern and Western Isles and in Caithness, by undertaking a desk-based
assessment of arable land potential. If the papar were practical agriculturalists, as well as
spiritual leaders, then we might expect to find papar place name elements associated with
areas of land that were suitable for agricultural, including arable, activity; conversely
eremitic papar would not have had such requirements. Further refinements of this
hypothesis may also be possible by considering whether differences in land suitabilities for
agriculture are evident between types of papar place names evident in the Northern and
Western Isles and in Caithness, or between the different island groups. This desk-based
exercise is followed by a preliminary field investigation that sets out to identify areas of
agriculturally-improved soils, and the occurrence of anthropogenic raised soils in
particular, associated with papar place name locations. The two areas selected for this
field-based consideration are Pabbay (Harris) and Paible - Taransay, (Harris), both in the
Western Isles. In undertaking this desk-based survey and by making preliminary field
observations, new insights may be gained into the role and contribution of the enigmatic
papar to north Atlantic cultural landscape history.
Data-bases for agricultural land assessment
Documented sources
Based on MacDonald (1977; 2002) twenty-eight papar place name localities, often with
supplementary papar names, in the Northern and Western Isles and in Caithness were
identified and mapped (Figure 1) Subdivision of papar place names was undertaken on
etymological grounds giving four types as follows:
Papil, Paible, Bayble - (Old Norse: settlement of papar; from papar-býli);
Papay - (Old Norse: island of papar, Orkney and Shetland);
Pabbay - (Old Norse: island of papar, Western Isles);
Papar names with a topographical element, eg. Papdale, Papigeo, Papanish
A qualitative data-base for papar place name localities was developed from published and
unpublished sources. Place name localities were defined as whole islands or as parishes
for the collection of data. Information was collected as part of the The Papar Project and is
reported as Reports on the Sites Associated with the Papar (this web site for the Northern
Isles and Caithness, and forthcoming for the Western Isles) and included -
Place names and marine feature names;
Historical (including early maps) and archaeological indicators of ecclesiastical activity,
including early chapel sites;
Historical (including early maps) and archaeological indicators of cultivation practice.
Soil survey information derived from the Macaulay Institute for Soil Research 1:250,000
and 1:50,000 sheets for Orkney, 1:250,000 and 1:63,360 sheets for north-east
Caithness, and 1:250,000 sheets for Shetland and the Outer Hebrides (Soil Survey of
Scotland, 1982a; 1982b; 1979; 1970). This data included soil series (at 1:50,000 and
1:63,360 scales), soil associations, component soils, topography and land capability for
agriculture. Where the location of an early chapel site was known from the
archaeological and historical review, note was made of the topography, soils and land
capability class on which it was located.
Assessment of early agricultural land quality from soil evidence is grounded on the
observation that early arable agriculturists in cool temperate north European environments
had preferences for moderately light-textured, well-drained, fertile soils rather than heavy
textured, poorly drained and peaty soils. In Soil Survey of Scotland terminology this
First preference for brown forest soils and machair brown calcareous soils (although
with possible erosion limitations); Table 1, preference category 1. These soil types
would give maximum flexibility allowing both arable and livestock based activities.
Second preference for podzols, humus-iron podzols (nutrient limitations); Table 1,
preference category 2. These soil types would allow both arable and livestock based
agricultural activities, but with less flexibility and requiring management of manures to
maintain fertility of arable systems.
Third preference for gley soils (wetness limitations); Table 1, preference category 3.
These soil types would allow both arable and livestock based agricultural activities, but
with less workability and requiring a degree of drainage to maintain arable activity.
Fourth preference for peaty gleys (major wetness limitations) and peats (major wetness
limitations); Table 1, preference category 4. These soil types would have supported
limited agricultural activity, restricted to domestic livestock grazing.
The identified preferences are based on early agricultural requirements, rather those of the
present day that have advantages of extensive drainage systems, inorganic fertiliser and
mechanisation. For this reason, while modern land use capability maps have been used
to guide understanding of early land preferences they cannot be regarded as a definitive
assessment of early agriculture land requirements.
Figure 1: The Papar islands, and related place names.
To provide a greater security of historic interpretation for the soils-based agricultural
assessment, the historic and archaeological survey of cultivation practice indicators was
reviewed to assess the feasibility and practice of early agricultural activity in the place
name localities. It must be emphasised that the data used in this analysis have a number
of limitations. It is entirely likely that the papar occupied more localities than those that
carry their name – there are islands in the Hebrides where early monastic communities are
known to have existed, such as Eigg. Furthermore, use of the 1:250,000 scale soil maps
is limited by soil mapping units comprising component soils rather than individual soil
series. More precision in soil classification is needed to examine the relationship between
soils and papar localities in greater detail, and although Orkney and Caithness is mapped
as soil series at 1:50,000 and 1:63,360 scales respectively, this scale of soils mapping is
not available for the Western Isles or for Shetland. Similarly, the archaeological and
historical data base of evidence for agricultural practices is derived from desk-based
review, and where evidence of cultivation practice is found it does not necessarily relate
directly to the activities of the papar, only indicating that agriculture was feasible and
practiced in the locality.
Preliminary soil survey
To give some support to the desk-surveys, preliminary field survey of soils by hand auger
was systematically undertaken in two papar place name localities - on Pabbay and
Taransay in the Western Isles (Figure 1). On Pabbay, the occurrence of two chapel sites,
Teampull Moluag and Teampull Mhoire with a graveyard and early Christian sculpture at
Bailenacille implies a community and ecclesiastical farm and so soil survey focused on this
area. On Taransay two chapel sites with possible Celtic personal names, St Keith’s and St
Taran’s and associated graveyards are located at Paible, which from its name was
associated by Norse with the papar – again soil survey focussed in this area. At each of
the localities a free soil survey approach was adopted and soils described in the field using
conventional soil science terminology (Munsell colour, texture).
Results and Discussion
Desk-based survey
Table 1 provides a summary of relationships between papar place names, soils and
archaeological and historical evidence of cultivation practices across the Northern and
Western Isles, and Caithness. Of the twenty-eight papar place name localities, seven
(25%) are associated with first preference soils for agriculture, with five of this group also
having associated archaeological or historical evidence of arable cultivation in the area.
Seven papar place name localities (25%) are associated with second preference soils for
agriculture, all of which also have archaeological or historical evidence of arable cultivation
practice. Similarly seven papar place name localities (25%) are associated with third
preference soils for agriculture, again all of which have supporting archaeological or
historical evidence of arable cultivation. There are five localities associated with fourth
preference sites (18%), with historical evidence indicating these areas are dominantly
pastoral. Two localities (7%) are clearly associated with a stack or rock site and are not
considered to be associated with agricultural activity.
Consideration of the different types of papar place names (Table 2a) indicates a clustering
of the twelve Papil / Paible / Bayble place name localities (settlement names) locations
associated with second and third preference soils. However, even on the poorest quality
soil (Papil, Fetlar, Shetland) there is evidence of arable cultivation activity. The ten Papay
and Pabbay names (island names) occupy the full range of soil preference categories, with
small clusters at the extremes (preferences 1 and 4) of the distribution. The six
topographical papar names also occupy the full range of the distribution; there is however
no evidence of clustering within this distribution.
Examining each of the three island groups (Table 2b) demonstrates that the ten papar
place names in the Western Isles are dominantly associated with localities that are first
preference soils for agriculture, with a full range of preferences also evident. In contrast,
five of the Orcadian papar place names are clustered within the third soil preference
category with two in the second soil reference category. Further marked contrasts are
evident in Shetland where four of the nine papar place names are associated with the
second soil preference category with a further four in the fourth soil preference category;
one papar place name is associated with the third soil preference category. The number
of papar place name locations in Caithness are only two; little can be concluded from this
limited size of population.
Name - location Archaeological & historical information Soil information Preference category
Western Isles
Settlement names
Pabail, Stornoway Dykes & clearance cairns Non-calcareous gleys; some humic gleys 3
Pabaible, Taransay Manured, delved; corn cultivation; 'very fruitful' Brown calcareous soils; some peaty gleys 1
Paible, North Uist an 'ounceland' Humus iron podzols; some non-calcareous gleys 2
Island names
Pabay, Uig corn cultivation; 'fertile' Brown calcareous soils; calcareous regosols 1
Pabay, Harris corn cultivation; 16 pennylands; 'fertile' Brown calcareous soils; calcareous regosols 1
Pabbay, South Uist No record (rock site) Peaty gleys 4
Pabbay, Barra 'Mainly under pasture' Brown calcareous soils; calcareous regosols 1
Pabay, Skye Pasture Brown forest soils; humus iron podzols 1
Topographical names
Pababish, Uig Manured & delved; field system; 'fertile' Brown calcareous soils; calcareous regosols 1
Papadil, Rum Cultivation remains; 'coast arable and fruitful' Brown forest soils 1
Settlement names
Papley, S. Ronaldsay Corn teind; small farm district; 'fertile' Poorly drained non-calcareous gleys, brown calcareous soils 3
Papley, Eday Teind (corn?); 'least fertile of northern isles' Poorly drained non-calcareous gleys and peaty podzols 3
Paplay, Holm Teinds (corn?); 'fertile'
Freely and imperfectly drained
Island names
Papa Stronsay Corn teind; 'fertlile' Non-calcareous gleys 3
Papa Westray Corn cultivation; 'fertile'
Freely and imperfectly drained
Topographical names
Papdale, Kirkwall Teind (butter); corn mills; 'good' soils Poorly drained non-calcareous gleys 3
Steeven o' Papay No record (rock site) Rock site na
Settlement names
Papil, Canisbay No record (rock site) Rock site? (poorly drained peaty gleys onshore) 3
Topographical names
Papigeo, Wick 10 pennylands (includes Wick) Poorly drained non-calcareous gleys 3
Settlement names
Papil, Burra Corn teinds; sheltered and fertile Peaty and humus iron podzols 2
Papil, Bressay Corn teinds Peaty gleys; non-calcareous gleys 3
Papil, Fetlar Corn teinds (poorest in Shetland) Peat; peaty gleys 4
Papil, North Yell Corn teinds Peaty and Humus iron podzols 2
Papil, Unst Fertile ground, corn teinds Magnesian gleys; brown magnesian soils 2
Island names
Papa Burra Pasture only Peaty gley; peat 4
Papa Stour Corn teinds; 'rich crops' Calcareous regosols and gleys; peaty and non-calcareous gleys 2
Papa Little Pasture only Peat gleys; peat 4
Topographical names
PapaGeo, Aithsting Pasture only Peats 4
Table 1: Summary of relationships between papar place names, archaeological / historical evidence of cultivation practice and soils information.
a) Papar places name types
‘Island’ names ‘Topographical’
1 4 2
5 2 -
5 1 2
1 3 1
- - 1
b) Papar names in island groups
Orkney Caithness Shetland
7 - - -
1 2 - 4
1 4 2 1
1 - - 4
- 1 - -
Table 2: Association of soil preference categories (1-4) with a) number of papar
place name types and b) number of papar names in island group.
In general the results suggest a slight trend towards the association of papar place
name locations with better quality soils, or at least soils that, with appropriate and
careful management of nutrients and water, could be used productively for early
agriculture. These observations suggest that if agriculture was practiced, land
management and land organisation techniques were robust enough to overcome
inherently poor agricultural land in the Northern and Western Isles and Caithness.
The more detailed breakdown of data indicates marked and potentially important
contrasts when integrating the relationships between island group and soil
preferences and between place name type and soil preferences allowing different
patterns of organisation to be suggested. The dominant occurrence of papar place
names with the best land in the Western Isles perhaps indicates that the papar were
seeking out the best land and that such land was available for occupation on
remoter, or more secluded, island (Pabbay) locations with or without a small secular
community. It is of interest that, although the sample size is small, the settlement
(Papil) names are associated with a range of soil preference categories, perhaps
implying a group for whom living alongside larger secular communities was more
important than good quality agricultural land in secluded locations. Some support for
this view comes from the preliminary field based observations at Taransay (see
below). A similar pattern is evident in Orkney with a suggested contrast between a
papar group occupying remoter small island areas with high quality agricultural land,
and a group more associated with the settlement names locating themselves where
secular population levels were probably greater, but generally on marginally poorer
land. In Shetland a different pattern emerges where land of relatively poor quality –
but suitable for the grazing of domestic livestock - is incorporated into papar place
name locations. Here we suggest an addition to land management organisation
associated with papar communities, with grazing livestock separated from the main
settlement area in order to conserve environmentally limited levels of rangeland
Preliminary soil survey: evidence of anthropogenic soils and sediments
Free soil survey of Bailenacille, Pabbay established the occurrence of a deep top soil
buried beneath wind blown calcareous sands. The fossil deep top soils are typically
dark brown sandy silt loams with occasional small charcoals and between 40 and
60cm in thickness overlying imperfectly drained mottled soils (Table 3a). They are
located immediately adjacent to the Teampull Mhoire site (Figure 2) and extend at
least 150 metres to the north and east of the chapel site on south and south-east
facing slopes (Figure 3). These soils are similar to the anthropogenic deep top soils
of West Mainland Orkney (Simpson, 1997) and to the buried anthropogenic soils at
Old Scatness, Shetland (Simpson et al., 1998). Such soils have been demonstrated
to contain a soil record of past land management practices associated with their
formation; they imply specific manuring strategies requiring the integration of animal
manures, turf and, almost certainly, seaweed, as well as intensive cereal production.
Their close association with the chapel sites on Pabbay, within the Bailenacille
locality, opens the prospect of considering the role that the Papar may have had in
introducing soil management techniques to Pabbay, and possibly other areas of the
Western Isles. It is also possible to speculate that there may have been an early
church-farm complex in this locality.
a) Teampull Mhoire, Pabbay: Grid reference: NA 8890 8705
0-21 cm 10YR3/2; calcareous sandy loam; clear boundary to -
21-65cm 7.5YR 3/2; sandy silt loam; occassional small 10YR2.5/1 charcoals;
clear boundary to –
65-75cm 7.5YR 5/4 with rare small 7.5YR 7/8 mottles; sandy silt loam; clear
boundary to bedrock.
b) St. Keith’s Chapel, Taransay: Grid reference: NG 0314 9915
0-24cm 10YR 2/2; calcareous sandy peat; clear boundary to –
24-42cm 10YR3/2; sandy silt loam; frequent shell (Cardium ssp.); rare small
bone (mammal) fragments; rare small 10YR2.5/1 charcoals; clear
boundary to –
42-88cm 7.5YR3/2; silt loam; frequent shell (Cardium ssp.); rare small bone
(mammal) fragments; common small 10YR2.5/1 charcoals; clear
boundary to –
88-95cm 2.5Y4/2; sandy loam; rare small bone (mammal) fragments; rare small
10YR2.5/1 charcoals; clear boundary to –
95-105cm 2.5Y 5/3 with occasional small 7.5YR 7/8 mottles; sand; clear
boundary to -
105-110+cm 5YR 5/3; occasional medium 7.5YR 7/8 mottles; sandy clay
Table 3: Field descriptions of cultural soils and sediments: a) anthropogenic raised
soils associated with Teampull Mhoire, Pabbay; b) midden deposits associated with
St. Keith’s Chapel, Taransay.
Figure 2: Teampull Mhoire, Pabbay. Anthropogenic, raised soils are located
immediately adjacent the site, buried beneath calcareous wind blown sands.
Figure 3: Teampull Mhoire, Pabbay. Anthropogenic raised soils extend at least 150
metres to the north and east of the chapel site, on south and south-east facing
slopes. These soils do not extend in front of the croft.
In contrast, extensive survey in Paible, Taransay, revealed no significant evidence of
anthropogenic raised soils; soils in the locality are characterised as wind blown
calcareous sands with gleyed soils beneath the sands, and peaty gleys. It may be,
however, that evidence of earlier arable and raised soils is buried at depth beneath
sand, or that arable areas have been lost to coastal erosion. Evidence of midden
deposits up to a metre in thickness were however identified immediately beneath and
adjacent to St. Keith’s chapel (Figure 4). This midden material is characterised as
dark brown and dark grey brown sandy silt loam and silt loam with the occurrence of
shell, small charcoals and small domestic mammal bone fragments (Table 3b).
These observations imply that the chapel site was founded on earlier site occupation,
suggesting that the papar may have settled in an already full landscape. This
discovery opens up the prospect of examining relationships between incoming Celtic
ecclesiastical settlement and earlier occupants of the landscape – were the papar
given these locations; did the existing residents stay or did they move?
Figure 4: St. Keith’s Chapel, Taransay. Midden deposits up to a metre in thickness
are identified immediately adjacent the chapel site.
While recognising the limitations of desk-based data and the preliminary nature of
soil survey observations, a picture of the papar and their relationship with the land
they occupied in the Northern and Western Isles and in Caithness begins to emerge
from this study. We would suggest that if incoming Vikings and Norse were applying
the papar name, then it was being applied to at least two distinctive but perhaps
integrated ecclesiastical communities. One community was associated with
secluded and more remote island areas very often with some of the best agricultural
land, with this pattern arguably more evident, but not exclusively, in the Western
Isles. Whether this group deliberately sought out these locations, one step away
from the eremitic community occupying isolated stacks but with whom they could
have been integrated, or whether a resident secular population offered secluded
areas is as yet uncertain. A second group, perhaps more evident in Orkney and
Shetland, but again not exclusively, is more associated with the settlement names
and appear to be located in more central and important locations and often on
slightly poorer quality agricultural land. We suggest that these communities were
part of a more densely populated cultural landscape. A variant of this is evident in
Shetland where we suggest a papar located in areas of poorer quality land providing
a domestic livestock element to the economy of a larger, more central, ecclesiastical
Irrespective of the interpretations given above, it is clear that the majority of papar
names in the Northern and Western Isles are associated with areas of very good to
medium quality agricultural land which, with the agricultural land management of the
period, would allow good yields. It follows that as well as the eremitic solitude
seeking papar finding their way to the Northern and Western Isles, there is emerging
evidence of agriculturally based early ecclesiastical communities, some occupying
more secluded areas while others possibly living adjacent to or within the secular
community. A key task is now is to determine the nature of land management
practices associated with these agriculturally-based papar and to determine their
contribution, over and above the places that bear their name, to the development of
the cultural landscape in the Northern and Western Isles.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of
Scotland. We are also grateful for the research assistance of Lorna Johnstone,
University of Glasgow, Kristján Ahronson, University of Edinburgh, Janet Hooper and
Anke-Beate Stahl. Thanks are also due to Mr Campbell and Mr Plunkett for access
to their land.
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This paper is a critical evaluation of the traditional use of sparse written sources which have formed the basis for prevailing concepts of the first settlement of the Faroe Islands. Strong reservations are stated regarding radiocarbon data settlement horizons revealed by recent pollen botanical studies, which are thought to indicate a pre-Viking settlement of Irish hermits. In an attempt to establish a more exact dating of the Norse settlement, the archaeological evidence is reviewed. Traditional archaeological materials allow only broad dates, and the representativity of the available finds is discussed. -Author
Summary (1) Radiocarbon-dated pollen diagrams, spanning most of the postglacial, from two Jakes and a bog in Connemara, Co. Galway are presented. (2) The course of woodland development is outlined. Pinus sylvestris was important from ca. 9200 B.P., maintained a dominant role in the earlier post-glacial and remained an important woodland species in western Connemara until as late as ca. 3500 B.P. Widespread extinction occurred between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. At Lough Sheeauns, Quercus dominated on the more favourable soils, and Pinus and Ulmus were minor components. At L. Namackanbeg, a major expansion of Taxus is recorded at 4300 B.P. · (3) Fire was important throughout most of the post-glacial. The earlier changes in woodland composition, including those associated with the elm-decline, are ascribed to factors other than human impact. The main period of blanket-bog growth took place between 4000 and 3000 B.P., in the context of extensive woodland clearance by fire. ( 4) All diagrams show an upsurge in human activity in the later Bronze Age, i.e. post-3500 B.P. A lull at the end of the Iron Age is followed by widespread woodland clearance at the beginning of the Christian Period (ca. 300 A.D.).
Pollen, charcoal, chemical, physical, magnetic and tephra analyses of 14C-dated Holocene lake sediments from Dallican Water, Catta Ness, north-east Shetland, are presented and interpreted in the light of models of Holocene climatic change, the Shetland archaeological record, and local documentary evidence. The sequence was subdivided and analysed using principal components analysis, a numerical zonation of the pollen data using optimal and binary divisive techniques, and measures of palynological richness and rates of change between samples. This is the first complete Holocene tephra record to be obtained from the British Isles. -from Authors
Results of palaeoecological investigations at Lough Sheeauns, a small lake in Connemara, western Ireland, are presented. The main pollen profile spans the period c. 9500 to 1500 B.P. and provides a detailed record of woodland and land-use history. The percentage, concentration and influx pollen diagrams are interpreted in the light of the results from a peat profile taken from near the lake margin and pollen analytical investigations of the recent lake sediment and of peat and peat-covered soils in the region. The rise of Pinus immediately prior to the expansion of Alnus (6700 B.P.) and its subsequent decline are interpreted in terms of low, followed by rising, lake levels. There is evidence for pre-Elm Decline Neolithic activity and, in the immediately post-Elm Decline, an intensive early Neolithic Landnam phase is recorded. It is argued that the Elm Decline is not ascribable to Neolithic activity; an explanation involving disease is favoured. On the basis of results of radiocarbon dating, the early Neolithic Landnam phase is estimated to have lasted 340 calendar years, with intensive pastoral-based farming lasting only c. 150 calendar years. For much of the mid and later Neolithic, palynological evidence for farming is lacking. In the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age (post 4100 B.P.) anthropogenic activity is again registered, at first weakly and then strongly towards the end of the Bronze Age (2900 B.P.). The characteristic lull in human activity known from elsewhere in Ireland is recorded in the late Iron Age (c. 2160 to 1810 B.P.). It is followed by an upsurge in anthropogenic indicators and a reversal in a 14C date. These changes reflect widespread woodland clearance and intensive farming activity in the catchment which are probably linked with early Christian settlement.
Palacoecoiocical investigations of two lake sediment sequences are used to reconstruct the vegetation history of the Western Isles. Pollen records begin in the late glacial and show a clear progression From herb-rich grassland with abundant Salix, Rumex and Poly-podium to widespread Empetrum nigrum heath. Woodland developed widely in the early Holocene, and regional vegetation patterns emerged. Western Lewis supported extensive areas of birch woodland with Corylus avellana, Salix, Populus and Sorbus aucuparia. Open birch-hazel woodland dominated other lowland regions. Regional variation was accentuated when woodland underwent a sudden decline in western Lewis at about 7900 BP. Trees were replaced by blanket peat and woodland failed to recover on a regional scale after the decline- Woodland continued to diversify in central and eastern regions and, by 6000 BP, Quercus, Ulmus, Pinus sylvestris, Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior had become established. Open mixed woodland persisted until the second major decline began between 5200 and 4000 UP. Woodland contracted gradually as blanket peat expanded. The Western Isles were predominantly treeless at 2500 BP. Blanket peat started to form in localized areas on the Western Isles between 9000 and 8000 BP; two main expansion phases are associated with periods of woodland decline. Sublossil wood or macrofossils are reported from a total of 40 sites. Radiocarbon ages are presented for 13 samples of these.