Search for Columba's monastery

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ARCHAEOLOGISTS are hoping to find the exact location of the original monastery built by St Columba when he arrived in Scotland in AD563.

The National Trust for Scotland is conducting a survey on the island of Iona, off Mull, this week to try to locate the remains of the early Christian monastery built by the sixth-century missionary.

A team from Orkney College is carrying out a series of geophysical tests in the fields around Iona Abbey, searching for evidence of a monastery built by the Irish monk. The last geophysical survey of the area was carried out in the 1970s, with relatively primitive equipment.

A spokeswoman said the results of the old search had given the archaeologists an idea where the wall might be. They hope the current survey, which is using far superior equipment, will reveal the real shape of the structures. They might even be able to create a 3D reconstruction.

Derek Alexander, an archaeologist with the National Trust for Scotland, said: "There's some debate about the exact location of Columba's monastery, but we're hoping that the project will enable us to locate not only the monastery, but other structures, such as dwelling houses and workshops that would have formed part of the religious settlement.

"The last survey was carried out in the 1970s, and while this has shown us where to start looking, the the equipment available now will enable us to explore the site in much greater detail."

Ground-penetrating radar and other equipment will be used to map underground features.

The survey has been joint-funded by Historic Scotland, which cares for Iona Abbey – the restored 13th-century building on the site of St Columba's original church.

Results from the survey will be published this spring.

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