ST Columba would have remained a fairly obscure historical figure were it not for Adomnan, the ninth Abbot of Iona, who, 100 years after Columba’s death, wrote a book about the monk. But nearly 1500 years later, it is the latest advances in science and technology that are revealing more details about the saint’s life.

Thanks to carbon dating, we now know that the wood recovered from Iona in the 1950s by the archaeologist Charles Thomas was part of a prayer hut used by Columba. Professor Thomas believed this to be the case when he found the fragments but the technology did not exist at the time to prove him right.

Sixty years on, it has now been established that the wood does date to the lifetime of Columba, which makes it the latest historical breakthrough attributed to carbon dating – the technique has led to the identification of a Viking parliament on Bute and a house in South Queensferry thought to be the oldest in Scotland.

It also means that, just as Adomnan did with his book in the 6th century, the science of the 21st century could increase pilgrimage to Iona, although the reasons the pilgrims come has not changed much. Technology is telling us more and more, with greater and greater accuracy, about the past, but it is reassuring that modern pilgrims are still visiting the island for the reasons they always have: the search for answers.