Stockholm university

Prehistoric storms and people in the Inner Hebrides

A small team of geologists and archaeologists from Stockholm University have just finished a field expedition to the Scottish island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides to look at the peat.

Curious highland cattle visiting the researchers working at the peat bog
Curious highland cattle visiting the researchers working at the peat bog. Photo: Anders Götherström

The island Islay is mainly known for its peaty whisky, but there are also other ways to use peat, not least in science.
“It preserves a good record of past climate, I can use it to reconstruct changes in storm frequency over the last 9.000 years,” says Malin Kylander, associate professor at the Department of Geology, Stockholm University.

Malin has sampled several peat bogs together with Sarah Greenwood, Anna Linderholm (all associate professors at the Department of Geological Sciences), and Anders Götherström (professor at the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies).

“Peat bogs are not easy to use for archaeogenetics, they provide a harsh environment for DNA, but it is worth looking for the needle in the haystack,” says Anna Linderholm, who will search for ancient DNA in the peatbog samples.


Archaeologically interesting area

While the genetic work is mainly methodological for this material, Islay remains an archaeologically interesting area.

“There have been Celts, Picts and Vikings here, and the MacDonalds used Islay as one of their power-bases, so if we can find and make use of the DNA there is much to explore,” says Anders Götherström.


Samples will be studied in Stockholm

Sample of peat
Sample of peat

Anna and Anders are bringing some 50 samples back with them for different parts of Islay for further analyses at Centre for Palaeogenetics (CPG) in Stockholm.

“Within the peat bogs we find mineral material blown in from different areas of the island. If we can make a kind of “fingerprint” for these areas, we can work out how winds and their direction have changed over time”, says Sarah who is working with Malin on the reconstructing past climate on Islay.

Malin has been working on Islay recurrently for several years. “It is always nice to come back here” she says, “not least since this is one of the few places that gathers all the elements I need to conduct my research: peat bogs that have been accumulating for thousands of years, sand that can be lifted up in the air during storms, and if you have ever visited here, plenty of storms”.

Read more about Centre for Palaeogenetics (CPG)