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Shiants history, archaeology and geology

"For most of their history, the Shiants were not, like some piece of Wagnerian stage scenery, lumps of rock in a hostile sea, beside which the solitary hero could exquisitely expire. They were profoundly related to the world in which they were set. Until 1901 they were almost continuously inhabited, perhaps for five thousand years."

Adam Nicolson, Sea Room

Archaeology of the Shiants

Download: Shiant Isles Archaeological Survey 2000 .pdf

Download: House Island - Archaeological 2000.pdf

Download: Mary Island - Archaeological 2000.pdf

Download: Rough Island - Archaeological 2000.pdf

Download: Shiant Isles - Excavation Report - June 2000.pdf

Photographic history of the Shiants

1930s photographs of the island

Written history of the Shiants

John Harvie-Brown visited the Shiant Isles by yacht in 1887. You can read his diary here:

Sea Room

Sea Room by Adam Nicolson describes - and relives - a love affair with three tiny islands in the Hebrides. The Shiants (the name means the holy or enchanted islands) are a wild and dramatic place, with 500 foot high cliffs of black columnar basalt, surround by tide rips, filled in the summer with hundreds of thousands of seabirds and with a long and haunting history of hermits, shipwreckers, famine and eviction. Adam Nicolson's father, Nigel, bought them as an Oxford undergraduate in 1937 for £1,400 and gave them to his son on his 21st birthday. They become the most important thing in his life, not only an escape but as the source of a deep engagement with the natural world in some of its most beautiful, alarming and all-encompassing forms.

You can find Sea Room here:

The first archaeological survey of the Shiant Isles was commissioned in 2000 - with the aim of reconstructing the full occupation history of the Shiants over the last five or six millennia. The late Pat Foster’s first report is included here, as well as his account of that year’s first excavation on the islands, concentrating on the biggest house and barn complex in the centre of Eilean an Taighe. This archaeological programme continued for several years, involving a dedicated team, and ended up examining many of the ruins on the islands.


Download: Shiant Isles - Index of Archaeological Sites.pdf

Download: Shiant Isles - Latest Archaeology News 2001.pdf

Download: Shiant Isles - Latest Archaeology News 2002.pdf

Download: Archaeological - SHIP - 2005 report.pdf

Download: Archaeological - SHIP - 2006 Report.pdf

Download: Archaeological - SHIP - 2007 Report.pdf

Download: Fieldwork report - 2009.pdf

Geology of the Shiants

The Shiants, or at least most of them, are about fifty eight and a half million years old. They were formed from a series of hot, intrusive magmas, giant plugs of molten rock rising from deep within the earth's mantle, which squeezed between much older fossil-bearing rocks above them. Although Frederick Walker's paper is now out of date (he has no understanding of the multiple intrusions which later geologists discovered) it is a fascinating description of the whole cooling mechanism. The SNH Geological Conservation Review presents the modern view in relatively non-technical language, and contains some excellent photographs of the islands and their rocks..


Map of the Shiant Isles 1929 - F. Walker MA PhD

Download: Geological Conservation Review .pdf

Download: Shiant Isles Geology Paper (Walker 1929) Page 1.pdf

Natural history of the Shiants

These islands are one of the great bird places of the world, with so many birds that counting them is nearly impossible. According to the best estimates of modern ornithologists, struggling with densely packed, mobile, teeming and pullulating masses of identical bodies, all of which come and go at variable rates and in undependable patterns, there are between fifteen and eighteen thousand guillemots here, eight to eleven thousand razorbills, between four and six thousand fulmars, two thousand kittiwakes, roughly fifteen hundred shags, a few hundred gulls of various kinds (whose numbers are rising), twenty-six great skuas, also on the increase, and two hundred and forty thousand puffins, about one in eight of the British total and two per cent of all the puffins in the world.

The Shiants Auk Ringing Group visits the Shiants annually, for two weeks, to help systematically record the seabirds population. Headed by Jim Lennon, they are instrumental in helping us understand the lives of these seabirds.

Bird reports go back to the 1970s - see here, and find out more about the Ringing Group:  For now., to learn more about the Shiants birds....

Download: Archaeological Topographic Survey - Janet Hooper (2005).pdf

Download: Excavations - Coarse Stone and Flaked Baked Mudstone - Ann Clark (2008).pdf

Download: Worked Stone Catalogue 2008.pdf

The Shiant Pillow-stone, discovered during excavation of the Eilean an Tighe blackhouseand thought to date from between the seventh and tenth centuries AD

Photo by Becca Taber

Download: Bird Report 1970 - 1976 (David Steventon).pdf

There were also the infamous black rats.... thought to have arrived on the Shiant Isles from an 18th century shipwreck. In April 2012 a survey estimated there were around 3,600 rats on the islands, more in summer months - threatening the vital seabird population (due to rats eating their eggs). In early 2018, the Shiants were officially declared rat free; enabling new species of birds to flourish on the islands.

You can read more about the conservation project with the RSBP and Scottish Natural Heritagehere:

Download: Rattus rattus on the Shiants - Scottish Natural Heritage.pdf

Download: Auk Ringing Group 2016 Report.pdf

Download: Shiant Seabird population trends 2000 - 15.pdf