We’re used to seeing stunning photos and paintings of Scilly. But now an archaeologist has created views of our islands that haven’t been seen for thousands of years.
Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, from the University of Southampton, has used environmental data and evidence from archaeological digs to produce an accurate 3-D model of how the islands looked in 500 years steps through the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
The work, funded by the Mexican Government as part of his Ph.D. thesis, even includes the types of plants and trees found here at the time, based on pollen samples.
Rodrigo says this was a time of huge change across the globe as the ice sheets melted and sea levels rose.
That led to a shift in Britain away from gathering food from the sea and towards more agriculture.
But Rodrigo says the opposite happened in Scilly. As the single land mass incorporating modern-day St Mary’s, Tresco, Bryher and St Martin’s was slowly consumed by the sea, and the individual islands created, Iron Age residents moved towards exploiting the ocean for their food.
Rodrigo has based his theory on the material uncovered at digs around Halangy and Nornour, which show increasing remains of sea crustaceans and grey seals from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.
And he says you only have to look at areas like the submerged field system between Tresco and Bryher to see how much of the agricultural land was lost here.
Previous models have only been able to show this alteration in the landscape in large steps of 2,000 to 3,000 years. But Rodrigo’s models show the finer changes over 500 year intervals.
He says it challenges the widely accepted view that the Iron Age marked a huge shift towards agriculture. Some areas moved in the opposite direction.
Rodrigo says, “every time you turn around the sea is there” in modern-day Scilly so it makes sense that residents would look there for food.
He says his 3-D models are an attempt to make the data more ‘real’ for the general public, rather than showing graphs and charts, which don’t bring the information to life.
And Rodrigo says he’d like to do more excavations in Scilly to understand the islands’ pivotal role in the trade routes between Britain and Europe that exploded during the Iron Age.
“Scilly was right at the centre of that,” he says, but added that there’s still very little known about this period in our history, even though the archaeology here is so well preserved.