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Photographing the Hidden Cleit landscape.

13 August 2015

As most of you will know we have an amazing number of Cleitean, dry stone storage huts, on the islands - over 1200 in total. These range significantly in size, form, and date. We know, for example, that many of the Cleitean within the Village are very late, most having been built after 1886 and many in the early part of the 20th century. Outside of Village Bay they are harder to date due to a lack of historic photographs but it’s reasonable to assume that the dates of their use and construction vary significantly.

As well as the 1200 cleitean we know about, a detailed survey in 2009 revealed the remains of many ‘ex-cleits’ across the islands. Recently I’ve been photographing these further to add to our thirty-thousand strong set of recording images. Most of these are comprised simply of deeply boring grassy mounds, where occasionally the outline of the base of a cleit can be seen. The sites are boring but the views are often nice!ex cleit near the top of the hillEx-cleit above Glen Mor

These collapsed cleitean frequently appear right next to upstanding ones, and it seems likely that the St Kildans didn’t tent to repair cleitean – they probably just allowed them to collapse and then, if necessary, built a new one immediately adjacent using largely the same stone. Much easier than our method of stone-for-stone repairs.

ex cleit by the S bendEx cleit near the quarry

Some areas of Hirta, particularly An Lag Bho’n Tuath, are covered in these old cleit foundations. In the 1970s and later, some of these were identified as ‘boat-shaped settings’ or possible Bronze age burial monuments. More recently, further excavation and re-appraisal of the carbon dating and landscape evidence has confirmed that these structures are indeed robbed out cleits, with some others being peat stands – a common feature in parts of the Western Isles and Shetland.


Àrsair Hiort/ St Kilda Archaeologist


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