IT is one of the best-known islands in Scotland, inspiration for artists, poets and musicians for centuries, but only now are we beginning to understand the human mysteries of Staffa.

A team of archaeologists working with conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland have been digging on the island, home to Fingal’s Cave and its extraordinary basalt rock formations.

The archaeologists announced yesterday that they had discovered the first clear evidence for human activity during the Bronze Age on Staffa.

The island lies six miles west of Mull in the Inner Hebrides and has been famous ever since its “discovery” by Joseph Banks in 1772. It quickly became established as an early tourist destination and has been an inspiration to some of Europe’s most important cultural figures, including William Wordsworth, Felix Mendelssohn, JMW Turner, Jules Verne and the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg.

There is also a wealth of folklore and oral tradition focussed on the island, including the tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill, a hunter-warrior in the mythologies of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

During trial investigations in 2016, a small pit feature was uncovered which contained a single sherd of decorated prehistoric pottery.

Last week, a larger trench was excavated which revealed the western side of a clear structure defined by a series of ditches and pits cut into a distinctive underlying yellow clay subsoil.

A radiocarbon date for a burnt grain of hulled barley from the 2016 feature – provided by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in East Kilbride – indicated that it came from between 1880-1700 BC, which demonstrates that people were visiting, and probably living, on the island in the Middle Bronze Age.

Further quantities of distinctive decorated prehistoric pottery were recovered from the feature with this newly discovered Bronze Age date.

This work was undertaken as part of the Historic Archaeology Research Project, Staffa, a partnership between the National Trust for Scotland, the Glasgow School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualisation, the University of Glasgow and the University of Stirling, with funding support from the trust’s London Members’ Centre and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Derek Alexander, the National Trust for Scotland’s head of archaeological services said: “This is our fifth season out at the island to investigate its past. Each time we go there we add another little piece of the jigsaw.

“This is a really significant find. It seems likely that people in the past were just as curious about their surroundings as we are. We can only imagine what Bronze Age people may have thought of the geological marvel that is Fingal’s Cave.

“Our next objective is to understand whether this evidence represents domestic occupation on the island or something a bit more ritualistic.”