Cladh Hallan

The mummified body kept in a hut for 500 years*
The mummified body kept in a hut for 500 years

We just happened to notice the sign pointing off the main road that runs from the bottom of South Uist to the top, but when we followed it, we ended up at a dead end. Fortunately a farmer, ploughing in a nearby field, was able to point out where the final sign had fallen down. (I re-erected it and so far the Hebridean Tourist Board has not paid me a penny!)

A five minute brisk walk along a sandy track took us to the insignificant site - and again, the information panels were lying upside down on the other side of the track! I take it that tourists are not all that welcome in South Uist!

Despite the difficulty in finding the place and the lack of information on site, we wandered around the circular foundations of these 4,000 year old dwellings with interest, for one of the huts, when excavated, held the remains of two mummies - Britain's only native mummies.

Of course, when found the bodies were nothing more than skeletons, but demineralisation of the surface of the bones showed that they had been immersed in peaty water for at least a year, possibly 18 months. Other archaeological evidence showed that the people concerned had died 300-500 years before their bodies were finally buried! In other words, for half a millennium the male body had crouched in the gloom of a thatch-roofed hut while the inhabitants of the village came and went.

Did they worship their ancestors? Did they keep them for consulting the spirit world? Or were they redoubtable figures in Bronze Age society preserved as talismans to keep the village and its inhabitants safe?

Even more grisly was the fate of an 8-12 year old girl, buried beneath the foundations of a second hut as a human sacrifice - but that's paganism for you!