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Carbon dating proves prayer cell linked to famous saint dates back to 6th century

LONDON, July 11 (Xinhua) -- Carbon dating has been used to determine that a wooden hut dating back to the sixth century was almost certainly the cell used by a revered monk to pray and study in isolation, university archaeologists revealed Tuesday.

The hut has long been traditionally associated with the monk, Saint Columba, at a monastery on the Scottish Island of Iona.

Samples from the hut, excavated in 1957 by British archaeologist Professor Charles Thomas, were kept in his garage in Cornwall and preserved in matchboxes. In 2012 the samples were given to what is now the cultural agency Historic Environment Scotland.

A University of Glasgow team of archaeologists identified the significance of the finds and recently submitted the samples for carbon dating.

The archaeologists revealed conclusive evidence on Tuesday that the hut associated with St. Columba at the Iona monastery dates to his lifetime.

"Carbon dating has led to the significant breakthrough, which categorically proves samples of hazel charcoal, unearthed from an excavation of a simple wattle and timber structure on Iona 60 years ago, date back to the exact period Columba lived and worked at the Inner Hebridean monastery," said a university spokesman.

St. Columba is widely revered as a key figure who brought Christianity to Scotland from Ireland, landing on Iona in the year 563.

A biography of St. Columba written 100 years after his death described how Columba used to write in his cell on a rocky hillock within the monastery looking out his door towards the mountains of Mull.

When the site was excavated in 1957, carbonized remains of wattle walls of a small hut were unearthed below layers of loose beach pebbles, suggesting the wooden structure had burned down and the area deliberately filled over. The site was later marked with a cross.

Until recently, the finds from the site were believed to be missing, but a project led by University of Glasgow archaeologists Ewan Campbell and Adrian Maldonado located the samples.

Maldonado said: "This discovery is massive. St. Columba is a key figure in Western Christendom. He was the national patron saint of Scotland in the Middle Ages."

"This is as close as any archaeologist has come to excavating a structure built during the time of St. Columba, and it is a great vindication of the archaeological instincts of Thomas and his team. It is a remarkable lesson in the value of curating excavation archives for as long as it takes, to make sure the material is ready for the next wave of technology."

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