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.
The appearance of domesticated camels in the Aravah Valley appears to coincide with dramatic changes in the local copper mining operation.
Then in the 1950s, a British archaeologist called Charles Thomas excavated the outcrop and found the burned remains of a wattle and daub hut under a layer of earth and pebbles.
He was convinced that it was Iona’s great founding abbot, Columba’s writing cell. It was felt that the evidence was not strong enough and that the hut probably dated from many centuries after St Columba’s time.
By the seventh century BCE, trade routes like the Incense Road stretched all the way from Africa through Israel to India.
Camels opened Israel up to the world beyond the vast deserts, researchers say, profoundly altering its economic and social history.
Located on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, the unprepossessing hut was probably the first administrative hub of the monastic community he founded – and whose monks, over succeeding centuries, went on to establish similar monasteries in mainland Scotland, in north-east England, in Belgium, in France and in Switzerland.
During much of the Dark Ages, Iona was of critical importance in spreading knowledge, literacy, philosophical ideas and artistic skills throughout large areas of western Europe.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.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).Finally, just before the pilgrims would have arrived at St Columba’s tomb, they would have passed three large sculpted stone crosses (each only around 5 m from the next), commemorating the lives of St Martin, St Matthew and St John.