Archaeologists may have discovered the remains of a wooden hut off the coast of Scotland decades ago — but only now have scientists accurately dated the burned remains back to a central time during the spread of Christianity.
In a thrilling development, experts say they can connect the hut to the time of St. Columba, a missionary who arrived on the Scottish island of Iona in 563 A.D. from Ireland. The saint is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland.
"Located on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, the unprepossessing hut was probably the first administrative hub of the monastic community he founded — and whose monks, over succeeding centuries, went on to establish similar monasteries in mainland Scotland, in northeast England, in Belgium, in France and in Switzerland," noted David Keys, an archeology correspondent for The Independent.
The sacred Iona Abbey — a popular Christian pilgrimage site — marks the location of Columba's monastery. It's one of the oldest Christian religious centers in all of Western Europe — which is why University of Glasgow researchers call the discovery "massive."
"Within the margin of error." When archaeologists excavated the hut back in 1957, the technology to date the remains was not readily available. The original team of excavators thought the wood remains were part of Columba's hut but could not prove it.
"So for us, 60 years later, to be able to send the original samples off to the radiocarbon-dating labs and have them come back showing, within the margin of error, as something which may have been built in the lifetime of St. Columba, is very exciting," Glasgow University archaeologist Dr. Adrián Maldonado said in a media statement.
Samples of hazel charcoal trace back to the time Columba worked and lived in Iona. Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre analysis shows the hut remains date back to A.D. 540-650. Columba lived until A.D. 597.
"The samples, excavated in 1957 by British archaeologist Professor Charles Thomas, were kept in his garage in Cornwall, preserved in matchboxes, until 2012 when they were given to Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland)," according to the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
"Even more exciting, we may even have a manuscript written in Columba's 'little house.' The 'Cathach,' a manuscript of the psalms, was long been reputed to be Columba's own writing ... One of our earliest manuscripts from this part of the world, dating to Columba's time, was certainly written on Iona," said Professor Thomas Clancy, a Celtic and Gaelic historian at the University of Glasgow, in a statement.
"If Columba indeed wrote it, and I see no good reason why he shouldn't have, it was likely in the 'little house,'" he added.