Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Day 3: 05 August 09
Over in the Pictish cemetery trench, we played hide and seek with our features all day yesterday as the sun dried them out. We knew they were there and sure enough, this morning they emerged again: so far we have one definite circular barrow with a central grave and some possible postholes associated with it, a cluster of probable dug graves, a few other postholes, some remains of rig and furrow and the ditch of the ‘big enclosure.’ The site has given us a few surprises including deeper soil than we might have expected in places and some great finds. Today’s star find is a commemorative political medallion from 1881!
Yesterday and today we’ve had the team cleaning back to help define our features and we’ve also dug a few sondages to see the enclosure ditch in more detail. Everyone’s been putting in a mammoth effort and there will most definitely be some sore muscles tomorrow morning. We have a little more cleaning to do tomorrow in our ‘trench across the fence,’ but having finished our pre-excavation plan, we should be ready to look a bit deeper tomorrow.
Today we started to try to make sense of the range of features uncovered in the Neolithic trench. Because this is a site that was discovered as cropmarks, nothing is visible above the surface and so all the archaeology is negative – postholes, pits, ditches and so on. Because of natural processes, over millennia these holes in the ground have gradually filled in. Our job is to recognise where these negative features are in the trench and then empty them out, to get an idea of what they may have looked like in prehistory. The job is made more difficult because often the holes have filled with the gravels that they sit within, making it difficult to recognise features. So as with most gravel sites, troweling is the key way of trying to make sense of the chaos of soils and gravels in the trench. It may be tedious and hard work, but in fact it has an effect similar to polishing something – colour changes become more distinct and everything becomes a little clearer. This process is also helped by drying and weathering – the longer the floor of the trench is exposed, the more features will become apparent, looking a little darker than the surrounding natural gravels. Pits and postholes can magically appear overnight one or two weeks into the excavation. This makes digging in gravels a frustrating, but also exciting, experience, and many of the team are working on such a site for the first time.
Thanks to a lot of hard work, the whole site had been troweled once, twice in some places by the end of the day. This has made things a lot clearer, and allowed us to move onto the next stages of recording, including photography and planning (drawing the surface of the trench). The trench is pretty complicated, with a dozen different targets for excavation which we’ll cover in the blog in the coming weeks, clustered around a Neolithic henge monument (c2500BC). Today a main focus was re-opening a part of the trench we worked on last year. We uncovered a huge sandstone block buried in a large pit full of rubble, and we are cleaning around this again to allow some heavy lifting equipment to come in and move it on Friday. We’re pretty excited about this, with the possibility that the stone may be covering a grave pit or cist (or there might be nothing underneath it except more gravel!) Planning also started across much of the trench, and Gordy started to excavate one of the postholes of a possible timber circle which surrounds the henge. Quite a lot of burnt bone was found during troweling of the henge interior, suggesting one or more cremation burials may be lurking in there somewhere. We should make some serious progress tomorrow with more good weather, so there may be some more dramatic news tomorrow (or I’ll just ramble on about gravels archaeology again…).