A new book aims to overturn the popular perception of St Kilda as a community isolated from the rest of the world.
St Kilda: The Last and Outmost Isle combines the results of the most detailed archaeological survey of the islands ever undertaken, complete with rare and previously unpublished images of the archipelago and its people.
Authors George Geddes and Angela Gannon spent over nine months living and working on the islands as part of an eight year project to research its rich and diverse history.
Found 100 miles off the west coast of mainland Scotland and often referred to as the ‘islands at the edge of the world’, St Kilda is one of only 27 locations in the world to have been awarded dual World Heritage Status by UNESCO in recognition of both its natural and cultural significance.
In 1930 the last remaining inhabitants of St Kilda were evacuated from the islands – at their own request.
The publication includes a unique collection of rare and never before seen images, including black and white photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a series of new contemporary aerial and field images.
These photographs cover subjects including the dramatic landscape, candid imagery of the St Kildan people going about their daily lives, the arrival and growth of tourism in the late 19th century, the evacuation of the islands, the military re-occupation in 1957 as well as survey expeditions by naturalists, conservationists and archaeologists, including rare imagery taken by the Scottish climber and broadcaster Tom Weir.
George Geddes, the book’s co-author and Archaeologist at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “St Kilda is one of the most mythologised and misunderstood places on earth. Most of us view the islands with the romantic notion of the people as a lost tribe, removed from civilisation. What we have discovered is that this was never really the case.
“Throughout its human history, St Kilda has always been connected to a network of communities scattered across the north western seaboard and Highlands of Scotland. For a long time, for instance, St Kilda was effectively part of a farm, along with another island, Pabbay, owned by the Macleod chiefs – just like any other Highland community.
“What makes these islands so remarkable is not their distance from ‘civilisation’, but rather their enduring capacity to remain a living part of Scotland over the course of some 3,000 years.”
People have lived on St Kilda for thousands of years and made use of almost every corner of the archipelago.
Growing crops, and raising cattle and sheep, they famously harvested seabirds from the cliffs and towering sea stacks. As part of the survey, archaeologists were able to make a rare visit to Boreray, one of the archipelago’s outlying islands, there they discovered evidence for agriculture and the growth of crops – suggesting that part of the St Kildan medieval community lived and worked on a steep land mass less than two square kilometres in size.
Research work also indicated that there could have been as many as six small stone constructed chapels, situated throughout the chain of islands, with evidence suggesting that the islands may have been a place of Christian pilgrimage as late as the 17th and 18th centuries.
Geddes, continued: “It’s exciting that we’re still discovering different aspects belonging to this unique place and its associated way of life through research and survey work. St Kilda still offers an opportunity for adventure that is unparalleled in the United Kingdom.”
St Kilda: The Last and Outmost Isle is priced at £25.00 and is available to purchase at all major book stockists.