Researching the question, I stayed at a guesthouse near the most likely spot, at Baile-na-Cille in Uig. "Baile-na-Cille" is Gaelic for "place of the church." "Uig" comes from the Norse word "vík," the root of "Viking," and the area does indeed have a Viking history.
One rainy day in June, Kevin Murphy, the assistant archaeologist at Museum Nan Eilean in Stornoway, met me there to give me a tour of the nearby Viking Age sites--or at least those that archaeologists have happened upon. Finding ancient sites is difficult here: the landscape can change dramatically in a very short time.
|Baile-na-cille, Isle of Lewis|
We drove a mile or so north to an arc of golden beach called “Borg Beach,” from the Norse for fort. Here, for example, Kevin said, "You’ve got a massive build-up of sand." He gestured toward one of the headlands. "That whole area of green behind the haze is all habitation of some description. It’s a bit conjectural. Nobody’s looked into it. Over there," he said, turning, "that telephone pole is stuck in an Iron Age wheelhouse."
|Borg, Isle of Lewis|
Mary Macleod Rivett, another archaeologist working in the Hebrides, Kevin said, "met an old woman who had been at that school then. When Mary was talking to this old lady, she said, 'Oh, there was another one as well, with a helmet and a spear.' What happened to it? 'They put it in someone's shed and it fell to pieces.'"
We drove on to Reef, the site of another ancient graveyard. "What you’re seeing as a dump is an Iron Age burial. It's been completely excavated. Viking Age graves were found here too. This was just a green hillside. The sheep rubbed, the grass eroded, there was this 'blow out'"--a wind storm that scoured sand away until people started seeing skeletons poking out of the dune. "The wind can be really powerful in the winter," Kevin said. "If it's in the right direction, it just starts taking things out. In aerial photos from the 1940s, this is just a grassy hill."
|Reef, Isle of Lewis|
|Archaeologist Kevin Murphy|
http://nancymariebrown.com, or check out these reviews:
"Briefly Noted," The New Yorker (November 2): http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/02/briefly-noted-the-blue-guitar (scroll down)
"Bones of Contention," The Economist (August 29): http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21662487-bones-contention
"Review: Ivory Vikings," Minneapolis Star Tribune (August 29): http://www.startribune.com/review-ivory-vikings-by-nancy-marie-brown-the-mystery-of-the-lewis-chessmen/323230441/