Past & Present

The Changing Landscape

Archaeologists use a variety of sources to enable an understanding of past landscapes. Old books and maps can be particularly useful when studying the past 300 years. It is known that there was a small loch in Gleann Horgaboist because it was drawn on the 1804/5 estate map of Harris. By the time the Ordnance Survey mapped the area in 1878 the fresh water had disappeared and the loch had become a marsh. Today it has almost dried out.

Over the last 12,000 years the sea has gradually come further and further inland along the shallow west coast of the Outer Hebrides. Organic deposits in inter-tidal and underwater areas off the west coast of the Western Isles have been sampled at various locations. The pollen and other organic remains that have been retrieved have been studied. The results indicate that the sea level was lower than it is today. Radiocarbon dates obtained in the 1980s from the organic remains show that between 8,800 and 5,200 years ago, during the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, the sea was between 3m and 5m lower than it is today.

By Jill Harden

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