Day 16: Pins and People

As we’ve mentioned in the last few posts, this year we are only investigating modern deposits associated with the rebuilding of the Abbey. However, these works have disturbed earlier deposits, bringing some finds from earlier periods into these later layers. The most exciting of these finds is a small, beautifully modelled bronze pin. This dates to the 7th century, and is of a type known as a nail-headed pin.

The nail-headed pin found at Iona Abbey.

This type of pin was manufactured widely in early medieval Scotland at sites such as Dunadd, the royal inauguration site of the kings of Dál Riata. Most of these pins are fairly undistinguished, utilitarian items. The one we’ve found, however, is beautifully crafted with a hip shank, in which the shaft is slightly wider in the middle to help keep it securely fastened to hair or clothing. There is a very similar example from Buiston Crannog in Ayrshire, which dates to the 7th century AD, but ours on Iona is smaller.

We don’t know whether this pin was worn by a man, woman, or child. Christian burials from this period generally do not have any grave goods in them, so we do not know as much about typical styles of dress as in other areas of Britain.

From left to right: Adrián Maldonado, Judy Russell, Cecilia Russell, and Ewan Campbell.

We have met a large number of people over the last two weeks, but an especial treat on Saturday a visit by Judy and Cecilia Russell. The Russell family have been associated with Iona for over a century, and Judy and Cecilia’s grandfather gave generously to and was greatly supportive of the reconstruction of the Abbey in the early 20th century and particularly the renovations carried out by the Iona Community from 1938 onwards. Particularly relevant to our excavations, their father sponsored the series of excavations on Iona by both Charles Thomas and Richard Reece from the 1950s to 1980s, without which our own excavations would not have occurred. It was wonderful to hear Judy and Cecilia’s first-hand reminiscences of these groundbreaking excavations!

If you happen to be in the area, we are excavating until the end of this week. Feel free to stop by and say hello!

The 2017 excavations on Iona – now online!

Ewan Campbell drawing trench 2 on Iona, May 2017
Ewan Campbell drawing trench 2 on Iona, May 2017 (still frame from Digging for Britain, BBC4, 6 December 2017)

As you may have seen, our work on Iona was recently featured on the popular BBC documentary series Digging for Britain (360 Production), still available to view on BBC iPlayer for those within the UK. We couldn’t be happier to have been selected for inclusion this year. Still very strange to see yourself and your friends on television!

Adrián Maldonado with Dr Alice Roberts in the studio (still frame from Digging for Britain, BBC4, 6 December 2017)

But of course, our segment was just ten minutes long and could only act as a sort of snapshot of what we accomplished on three weeks of excavation this May. So we’re happy to announce that the data structure report, our interim statement of what we did and what we found, is now available to download here.

The project page includes a summary of some very significant new dating evidence among much else; we are still in the process of putting this together but will make all of our radiocarbon dates available through our project pages very soon and let you all know.

In the meantime, here’s a glorious photo of Team Iona 2017, and find out more about these characters here. Stay tuned for more news about our Iona work in 2018!

Team Iona 2017! Bottom row from left: Heather Christie, Adrián Maldonado and Megan Kasten. Top row from left: Ewan Campbell, Derek Alexander, Jamie Barnes, Aurime Bockute, Anouk Busset, Peter Yeoman, and Cathy MacIver. Not pictured: Joss Durnan, but catch him on the Digging for Britain segment!