The CARD Fund helps date a Norse site in Western Scotland

Hard at work on site © Argyll Archaeology
Fragments of the bone comb discovery © Argyll Archaeology
An overview of work underway © Argyll Archaeology

Since 2016, when the Community Archaeology Radiocarbon Dating (CARD) Fund was set up jointly by Archaeological Research Services Ltd and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, the Fund has enabled archaeological remains revealed during 49 projects run by community archaeology groups to be dated using the radiocarbon method. Of these, seven projects have investigated multi-phase sites where three or more dates have been produced. One of these sites is Lephin Chapel on the Isle of Mull, where the Lephin Community Archaeological Excavation was undertaken between 2018 and 2022.

Very few structures dating to the Norse have been identified in Scotland and those that have are largely confined to the Orkney Isles and the Outer Hebrides. That the west coast of Scotland was initially invaded by Scandinavian Vikings and then settled by Norse folk is not disputed but there is very little material evidence of these immigrants. Lephin Chapel comprises a rectangular structure set within a relatively small enclosure. It was originally recorded as part of the Baliscate project along with several other probable or possible chapel sites on the Isle of Mull which shared a similar layout. Excavations at Baliscate demonstrated the presence of an early Christian cemetery which lay within a possible large monastic enclosure. A Norse period structure was discovered within the enclosure. Further excavation at Baliscate was not practical as it is a scheduled monument and so another community research excavation focusing on the site at Lephin was then designed in order to investigate these sites further.

The excavation seasons in 2018 and 2019, with the assistance of two radiocarbon dates provided by the CARD Fund, demonstrated that the enclosure was part of a late 12th and early 13th century farmstead, not a chapel, and recovered a late 10th or 11th century decorated composite bone comb from a deposit beneath the medieval enclosure wall. The comb is similar to other examples found on Norse period sites on Orkney and throughout Scandinavia. The excavation in 2022 included excavating further trenches within the medieval enclosure, two of which revealed a buried soil within and below, in which were found numerous negative features including a hearth, a gully, two pits and postholes which suggested the presence of at least one, if not more, domestic structures. Hazel charcoal from the fill of one of the pits was radiocarbon dated to 1028-1158 cal AD by the CARD Fund indicating that earlier structural remains, presumably late Norse in date, survive below the medieval farmstead.

Interested in more from the Fund? The applications from the 2023 funding round are currently being processed and we’ll be revealing more about those later in the year. Meanwhile, the 2024 funding round is already open! The deadline is 30 November 2024 and you can find further details—including how to apply—at

Archaeological Research Services Ltd