Find is linked to St Columba
EVIDENCE kept in a matchbox has been used to prove that a wooden hut traditionally associated with St Columba on the island of Iona dates to his lifetime in the late sixth century.
Carbon dating has led to the breakthrough, which proves samples of hazel charcoal unearthed in an excavation of a wattle and timber structure on Iona 60 years ago are from the exact period Columba lived in the Inner Hebridean monastery.
The samples were excavated in 1957 by archaeologist Professor Charles Thomas but, with radio carbon dating only just emerging at the time, they were not tested and instead kept in matchboxes in his garage in Cornwall.
Altogether, 10 radio carbon dates were returned from samples from Prof Thomas’s excavations, all dating to the early medieval period (AD 500-1100).
The ‘hut’ is believed to be the monk’s ‘cell’ where he prayed and studied in isolation. Results show the hut dated back to between AD540 and AD650, while Columba died in 597. Prof Thomas died last year.
Dr Adrian Maldonado, from the University of Glasgow, described the carbon dating as vindication of his foresight in storing the samples.