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From here, he oversaw the day-to-day activities of his monastery”.

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For centuries, local Gaelic folk tradition seems to have held that a natural grass-covered rock outcrop (known as the Tòrr an Aba) was specifically associated with an important abbot.What’s more that rocky knoll fitted a late 7th century account describing the location of St Columba’s hut.In 1957, when Thomas found the hut’s burned wood remains, radiocarbon dating had only just been developed the previous year and was in its infancy and very expensive.The crucial charcoal was therefore not dated and remained for the next 55 years in a series of matchboxes, first in a succession of storerooms and finally in his garage – but in 2012, he donated them to Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland).The archaeologists are currently investigating the possibility that Iona’s pilgrimage route (known for centuries as the Street of the Dead) may have been loosely based on Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa (the Street of Pain) along which Jesus is said to have walked to his crucifixion.

Significantly, around a century after Columba’s death, his biographer (a monk at Iona called Adomnan) also wrote an account and description of the Christian holy places and pilgrimage destinations of Jerusalem – so we know that Iona’s monks would have been well aware of the concept of pilgrimage.Additional new evidence shows that, at some stage after his death, a monument (a large cross) was erected on the site of the hut, presumably to commemorate the life and work of the monastery’s famous first abbot.What’s more, new radiocarbon investigations by the two Glasgow archaeologists are revealing that, potentially at around the time that monument was built, the Iona monks created what may well be Britain’s very earliest pilgrims road, pre-dating the famous pilgrims route to Thomas Becket’s tomb in Canterbury (made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) by up to four centuries.Archaeologists have located one of the most important buildings in the history of Western European Christianity – but it’s not a vast cathedral or an impressive tomb, but merely a humble wattle and daub hut on a remote windswept island.Using radiocarbon dating techniques and other evidence, the scholars – from the University of Glasgow – believe they have demonstrated that the tiny five-metre square building was almost certainly the daytime home of early medieval Scotland’s most important saint, St Columba.Luckily Thomas kept hold of them, as he knew they were important, and because they were kept dry, they were still in a good condition.