In August and September of last year, staff from GUARD Archaeology Ltd undertook an archaeological assessment of the Glebe Field, Iona, in advance of a proposed community housing development. The project was designed to involve volunteers both from the local area and from further afield, and recovered a large number of artefacts, including sherds of hand-made pottery, metal-working slag and a large number of flint and quartz tools. Of particular note, however, was the recovery of a medieval bronze pin, a small whetstone and the rim of a steatite bowl, all likely to date from the 9th to 12th centuries, and to be associated with Norse activity.
These artefacts have been analysed by Dr Colleen Batey, and subsequent paragraphs are based on her work. The pin, shown above, has several similarities with Viking age metal pieces. The stamped decoration on the upper part of the shank has similarities with the more precise stamping found on asilver annular neck-ring from the Skaill hoard, deposited c AD 950-970, and similar polyhedral forms of pin have been noted at Meols. Parallels have been identified in East Yorkshire and several similar pins have been recorded at Coppergate in York from contexts varying from the 8th-12th centuries.
A small perforated schist whetstone was also recovered. It was made of Norwegian dark grey schist, possibly from the Eidsborg quarries, and would have been suspended from a belt. Such short perforated whetstones could have served as sharpening hones for needles or shears, in comparison to the substantially longer and heavier examples which could have been more suited to larger and more substantial sharpening activities.
The excavation also found a single sherd from the rim of a hemispherical steatite bowl, of a size and form formerly used in the viking age. Steatite vessels are a commodity which are extensively distributed across the Viking World, and in many situations these are used instead of ceramic vessels. The outer face of this fragment was heavily sooted, while the inner face had considerable debris remaining, most likely to be food debris. This residue will be subject to further study during post-excavation analysis.
These Norse period artefacts are of particular importance and have already generated a great deal of interest amongst researchers, as they represent the first time these type of artefacts have been recorded on Iona. All of these finds have could be interpreted together as indicating contact with the wider Viking World, with material perhaps derived from as far afield as Norway, the Northern Earldom region of Caithness and either the Irish Sea region or the northern Danelaw area of England.