Sunday 23 August 2009

DAY 20: 22/08/09

Saturday 22, and another great day at the cemetery site at least for me personally.

I started on my feature four days ago and have trowelled down to a depth of about a metre on my Pictish burial. The contexts have varied from soft earth to shingle to gravel and back to earth until 2 days ago. Spotting a small deposit of charcoal, I followed it westwards to reveal a thin linear shape around 8 inches long and an inch wide, thinking it was a burned stick of some sort, I called Ewan to have a look. He recommended that I trowel the opposite east side to see if there was an opposite linear feature which there appeared to be also. To cut a long tale short the last two days have revealed a coffin shape of charred wood remarkably preserved in the acid soil which to me resembles a small burnt out boat. As the feature deepened and my arms shortened, a plank was needed to lay across the cut so that I could work in a more comfortable position which really helped, a good tip for the future would be to place a good flat stone under each end to stop the edges of the cut breaking and falling in like it did with me yesterday. Yesterday, I came across tooth enamel at the west end of the cut which I first mistook for small pieces of straw stalk which I thought had blown in to the feature but on closer examination appeared to be teeth. I laid the first piece on my trowel and found that it had only one side and was fragile and shell like. Around 7 or 8 were discovered and bagged carefully and for a while Archaeology was more like delicate dentistry. Today revealed more of the charred wood remains of what seems to be a coffin but the jury is still out with Ewan suggesting a log burial and a monastic burial as possible candidates of interpretation. In the last 15 mins of the day as I cleared the base of the burial to the pea gravel, I spotted more wood remains at the west end and a greyish-white sticky soil above where I found the enamel and so tonight the area is protected most skilfully with plastic bags, stones and a wheelbarrow on top, and awaits our return on the last morning of field school; and I have not even started my plan yet!


Friday 21 August 2009

DAY 19: 21/08/09

Another eventful day at the henge…

We were pleased to welcome two groups of children and their teachers from Forgandenny and Forteviot primary schools, who all seemed to enjoy their tour of the site…perhaps some budding archaeologists in the making?

Bones..bones..bones were the order of the day with the now termed cremation cemetery area of the trench producing more burnt bone than you could shake a trowel at. The intrepid ditch diggers finally made it to the bottom of their ‘beautiful’ section in the henge ditch, despite the weather threatening to turn nasty at points (which did give Jamie a chance to show of his rather fetching plastic poncho ensemble!). The weather cleared up towards the end of a very successful day, let’s hope it lasts for the last dash tomorrow…


And an update from the cemetery...

With two days to go it was all action in the cemetery trench. We’ve made good progress and I think we should be finished without too much panic by Sunday!

There’s lots of action happening in the round barrow area. The central grave was excavated completely by Anne-Marie today. Although we didn’t have any remaining traces of the body, we can tell by the size of the grave cut that this was for an adult, probably not much taller than 5’5’’. Alex’s grave became more complicated today as it is cut by one of our line of stony post-holes. We’ve got to excavate that out first before we can complete the excavation of the grave. Our other stony post holes were tackled by Eilidh, Robert & Lauren and are all either under excavation or we’ve finished half-sectioning them. Some of them are really clear and you can see where the post would have been from all the stone packing materials. Others look like the post must have been pulled out and the packing and other stones were dumped inside them. We aren’t exactly sure what this line of 6 postholes is. It might be one side of a building or structure. I am pretty sure that they are cutting the round barrow and so must be later, especially as they cut Alex’s grave, which is likely to be from the same time. We did quite a bit of drawing today to move on with recording and Haileigh drew most of them!

The big excitement is Clark’s grave. Clark would be writing this blog today, but he fell ill in the afternoon so we’ve given him some time off. Must be all that hanging off a plank with his head in a grave! Yesterday we realised we had degraded wood remains representing the coffin. It is very unusual to have any organic remains so we are really lucky! Today, we also found a few fragments of tooth enamel in this grave, which is probably all that remains of the person that was buried here. It is very fragile.

Over in the enclosure area, we’ve finished half-sectioning a large but shallow pit and Ewan and Gordon also uncovered a new feature, which Rachael will finish excavating tomorrow. The new feature has lots of charcoal including some twig sized pieces. We also have some burnt bone coming from here. Two ditch sections have been valiantly dug by Natalia over the past two days, which means we’ve finished our explorations of this feature.

Tomorrow we finish up the final pieces, continue to excavate our graves and do lots of recording.


Thursday 20 August 2009

Day 18: 20/08/09

It was a busy day today - gearing up for the final two days and all hands were on deck to excavate in the trenches. At the cemetery they covered a lot of ground - excavating more of the round barrow and exposing a corner of the large square enclosure. The star find of the day was the stain of a wooden coffin in one of the graves - more of this, hopefully, tomorrow - when it will be excavated. At the henge site they put a lot of effort into digging the henge ditch - which seems to have worked well and they are nearly finished - hooray. Elsewhere a range of other features: pits, post-holes and 'smudges' were dug and recorded.

Marta tells us about her experience at the henge trench...

It was an interesting day at the henge today where I continued to dig the Huge Mysterious Bottomless Hole that I have now been working on for what seems like ages. Fortunately, I’m now sharing this joy with Anna and together we’ re digging down to the natural gravel and finding a lot of burnt bone in the fill that we’re taking out (Anna, who seems to attract the more spectacular stuff, has also found a ‘wooden object’ which is still awaiting more serious investigation).

A lot of people at the site are now excavating their own features, which is to say that we’re all digging holes in the ground. Poor Dene is running from one to the other trying to answer all our questions and keep everything under control.

As this day was adorned by a few ‘showers’ there were several moments when we thought we were going to get rained off, but fortunately we managed to last to the end of the day. Hopefully, tomorrow the weather won’t stop us from working as we still have a lot to do and only 3 days left to go.


Wednesday 19 August 2009

Day 16: 19/08/09

An update from the henge trench with Gordy (who has been there from the start)...

Yipee! – after 10 days in a large hole I finally got a gravelly bottom, and Dene relented and moved me onto something else. Sixteen days in and life on the dig is starting to resemble Groundhog Day; wake up in the morning, speak to the same people, go to the same place, do the same thing… Agggghhhh! But one thing has changed – our shiny new dining hall where everyone can spread out and try to sit as far away from each other as physical possible; it is funny how people separate into their wee cliques and seem reluctant to move out of their comfort zones – maybe we should play musical chairs.

The hot chocolate machine is not working, which does seem to be the one thing dominating my mind right now, and the ‘hot chocolate flavour’ drink from the coffee machine is like drinking a cup of mud with a hint of foam.

The Henge was a buzz of activity as usual today with the Funk Brothers enjoying a day of destruction in the area around the cist – they even managed a late duet of “clean up your spoil”, though they seem to have forgotten the lyrics after that. It was noted that Dr B is not happy about the lengthy commute from the trench to the toilet area, and has promised to have them located nearer next year. It was also pointed out that perhaps the distance is not a bad thing after all, as the smell has real possibilities of reaching the gods – perhaps it is an authentic Neolithic smell to add to the phenomenological experience.

The ladle is in demand today as multiple deep holes appear across the site – maybe the budget will stretch to 2 next year?


And at the cemetery site...

I had a good day at the Pictish cemetery today where I continued to excavate a section through the central burial of the round barrow. At one point I thought we were going to get rained off as some ominous rain clouds were coming our way but luckily they were only teasing. However if the wind continues I don’t think the tent is going to last much longer as two big holes have appeared in it. At least it’s still standing as opposed to the henge tent. Anyway back to the burial. It’s been pretty difficult to work out the different contexts as animals have had their fun burrowing through it. In fact they’ve had their fun through out the whole barrow. There were two nice rectangular shaped charcoal deposits approx 5cm by 10cm, one in a corner of the burial and one along the side (possible remnants of burning stakes? who knows). By the end of the day I reached a large stony/pebbly layer, don’t think it’s the bottom yet so I look forward to digging that tomorrow.


Tuesday 18 August 2009

Day 15: 18/08/09

After a relaxing day off yesterday we were all back to work. It was a good day all around - although it did drizzle for a bit in the afternoon.

At Green of Invermay we continued cleaning the N end on the trench and the stone-packed post-hole that Kenny found a few days ago seems to be part of a wall - a palisade. At the S end of the trench the ditch still seems to go deeper - we are now at a context with ash and occasional burnt bone - lovely.

Until today we had only been excavating a 1m slot through the ditch and it was becoming necessary to excavate the other half. Ben helped me mattock to the top of the ditch, which was hard work. At the end of the day Matt uncovered a possible pit/large posthole between the ditch and the wall - another hooray! This trench is now producing lots of lovely features...

When we came back to the school I got to see the star find from the henge trench, which was a really nice lithic arrowhead. It is tiny, but has been worked finely at the edges. This arrowhead was found by Anna within the henge - brilliant!


Andy will fill us in on his experiences at the cemetery site...

Today I was at the Pictish cemetery site. I’ve been working on a posthole for my portfolio, its more relaxing than mattocking/shovelling. The features on the site are a lot clearer and more easily identifiable this week especially the barrow. With the change in conditions my posthole appears larger than when I left it last week and so I had to expand upon my original excavation. I planned the stony fill of the posthole and photographed it. Personal finds today consisted entirely of charcoal. Need to finish off drawing the profile tomorrow. Alex stole Gordons hot sauce. Went to the toilet and felt uncomfortable with Dene watching. Took a soil sample from the posthole. Lost my phone and found it in the bottom of my trousers. Emmm I can’t think of anything else to write so thanks for taking the time to read my boring blog!

Love Andy

Monday 17 August 2009

Day 14: OPEN DAY 16/08/09

The Open Day was a success - we had so many visitors! We would like to thank everyone who came along and took an interest in what we are doing. Below are some updates from the main sites...

The henge...

SERF open day today, so a very busy day for us all. The day started a little grey and overcast, but brightened up later into a lovely sunny (if very windy) afternoon. I’m working on the mini-henge to the south of the main henge, planning a feature that appeared as I trowelled down through the henge ditch. However, we were so inundated with visitors today that none of us got much done. Instead, most of our time was spent giving guided tours or answering questions. In total we had over 600 visitors to the site – far more, I think, than anyone had expected. Many of the visitors had come because they had heard about the cist burial and wanted to see it for themselves. I think everyone was pleased to see that there are so many people interested in our site.

We left site today pleased that they day had gone so well. I think most of us would agree that it lived up to Leaf’s expectation yesterday that it would be the best open day ever.



The cemetery

Well the tent survived the wind last night and the wind today! Busy and blustery day at the cemetery today, started off by finally being given a feature to dig, was quite fun even if it was only a posthole, especially as I found some burnt bone and charcoal. Dug part of the way down before I hit a layer of stones, I then took some pictures and did a section drawing before starting to dig the other half of the posthole to figure out if there was any pattern to the stones. Unfortunately I didn’t get much done as I was soon distracted by the hordes of people visiting the site for the open day, although we got significantly less people at the henge site got. Giving tours was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be and was actually quite enjoyable, though I did feel like I was starting to sound like a broken record and I never did get back to my posthole, which will now have to wait until Tuesday.

Those at the other end of the site started excavating more of the barrow ditch as well as cleaning around it revealing what may be some more graves.


Saturday 15 August 2009

Day 13: 15/08/09

At Green of Invermay...
After being rained off after lunch yesterday, Tessa and I braved the drizzle at the hillfort this morning to inspect the potential swimming pool situation. Thankfully our well draining soil and sturdy trench edges had preserved all the important archaeological discoveries we had made.

While Tessa started the excavation of the upper ditch fill I mattocked away to bring the whole trench down to the sondage level. While doing this, I quickly discovered that I am turning into my gran. Muttering almost constantly about my aching back and sore knees, I persevered, in a context almost devoid of finds - except the discovery of a nice little flint with bifacial retouch on one edge.

Meanwhile Tessa was churning out the finds – 910 being a veritable treasure trove of pottery; mainly white gritty ware and a few token pieces of green glaze. Lorraine and Jeremy came over to tell us that there was too much laughter coming from our trench (in between muttering about aches and pains) and were quickly roped in to recording all of Tessa’s finds.

The interpretation of all this Medieval pottery? There have been some serious medieval shenanigans going on in our ditch – more on that later….

Before lunch we received a visit from the students on their tour of the sites and after lunch Sara joined our ‘cool digging gang’.

The weather cleared up nicely in the afternoon and after a successful day we packed up and cleared off. A nice end to my last day at the hill-fort, tomorrow, much to Tessa’s disgust, I am off to do survey.

And finally…..we learnt a valuable lesson today; image files cannot be turned into musicals.

Goodbye and Goodnight!


Meanwhile at the henge ditch...

After losing this morning to torrential rain, a few intrepid diggers made our way to site early (mainly due to not being bothered going to see the Dupplin Cross again). Rebecca and I in the henge ditch section worked like dogs, updating the day-book with all our wonderful contexts (we have no idea what is going on with them, but they’re pretty), and finding our beautiful ditch re-cut along the whole 5m length of the section. Our wonderful directors had a lovely time getting to dig for the first time this year, but soon abandoned any attempt when a second context appeared, and it all became a bit complicated.

Once we got Alex and Lauren back after lunch the work really picked up.

We have now planned the burnt layer in the ditch we were excavating to and will ‘whack it out’ (KB, pers. Comm.) tomorrow. While sampling this layer, there was a reappearance of Arnold (regular blog followers will know who I mean); hardcore as ever, we had to move him from our trench for the sake of our tools.

The rest of the trench could have disappeared today, and to be honest the four of us in the henge ditch probably wouldn’t have noticed. I hear all was well, however…

Now we are off for a wee relax before the hoards descend tomorrow for the best open day ever*….


*our lawyers inform me we cannot guarantee best open day ever...

And at the cemetery trench...

The torrential rain continued for most of last night and into the morning hours. We normally leave for site at just before 9am, but it isn’t a good idea to be traipsing around in the slippy mud on an archaeological site. So, we held off for a few hours before starting work. We headed to the workroom where Ewan debriefed the students on our current finds. Then there was a tour to see the Dupplin Cross (one of my favourites – you can see King David’s fingers as he plays the harp! An amazing sculpture of the 9th century), which currently resides in St Serf’s in Dunning. The students were also given a tour of all the dig sites in preparation for tomorrow’s Open Day when they will be providing site tours. I didn’t go on the trip, however. The rain was light enough and I needed some ‘alone time’ with my trench and the round barrow area. The minibus dropped me off and I spent the morning planning and photographing the new features emerging around the Pictish round barrow grave.

The students and Ewan arrived at about lunchtime and the rain was gone, so we went to work cleaning off areas J&K to help us define the barrow ditch more clearly. In the process of cleaning the barrow area over the past few days, we’ve revealed at least two dug graves with either stony fills or possibly stone packing for some sort of marker. One of these, the possible ‘post hole’ Clark was digging yesterday, looks like it cuts the barrow ditch, which means it is later than the round barrow. A few more postholes have also emerged in the round barrow area both inside and outside the barrow. Things are starting to look really interesting!

Over in the interior of the square enclosure ditch, more revelations have occurred. It looks like our postholes here are actually part of a building. The building looks like a roundhouse, which works well the suspected later Iron Age date of the square enclosure. We still need to find some good secure dating evidence in our enclosure ditch and the post-holes, though. We have quite a few pieces of nice pottery of probably Roman Iron Age date, now, coming from areas disturbed by medieval and later ploughing.

The team today worked very hard – braving some extremely gusty winds. There was some good banter today and even some singing (thankfully not by me) and some rapping (of a sort) provided by Jamie. We do have one tragedy to report – our trusty site tent is on its last legs and we are not sure if it will last the night.


Friday 14 August 2009

DAY 12: 14/08/09

Today we have reports from the cemetery and henge excavations and the walkover survey high in the hills...


Day 12 at FC09, the cemetery site. The morning light looked promising but reports that heavy rain was to be expected had all attired in their finest waterproofery.

I was quite looking forward to working in the rain as I had remembered my rain resistant trousers for the first time and was dying to try them out. I started where I left off yesterday and set upon my little feature with my trowel, bucket and shovel, ready to un-cover more of what Meggen thought might be a possible post hole. The second swish of my trowel revealed yet another sherd of medieval pottery nice and pinky orange coloured and blackened on the interior, this makes three finds since yesterday and made me well happy having resigned myself just days ago, that charcoal was actually a great find, I’ll be finding Centurian helmets by the afternoon, then it came.

The heavens opened and never let up until it was agreed that it was foolhardy to continue and we gave in to the famously reliable Scottish weather. Meanwhile at the Neolithic site, reports were coming in that Matt had found the first piece of Neolithic pottery undoubtedly worked loose by me the last time I was up there, but all credit to the B team for finding it. Roll on tomorrow.



Although we stepped out of the minibus into mizzling rain, our enthusiasm didn’t seem to be too dampened down…not least because we knew there were pies for lunch.

The team of us digging the henge (Leaf, Lauren, Alex and me) made a lot of progress in the ditch section today; although the more we dig, the more confused I get about exactly what was going on there! The ditch of the henge seems to have been filled in and opened up several times across a long time period, but so far it is a bit of a challenge to try to untangle exactly what order it all happened in. As we worked away, we even came across the action-hero of the worm world, Arnold Wormenegger, who did not flinch even as we mattock away the soil round about him!

Things seem to be going well elsewhere in the trench too – Kirsty has started work on the lovely little ‘baby-henge’ to the south of the main henge; and several sherds of possibly Neolithic pottery have turned up in various places. There is even some from the henge ditch, as well as some worked quartz. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I feel that this more than makes up for spending hours in a soggy field dripping with rain.

The rain is persistent though, and gets heavier as the day goes on. By lunchtime we are all wet through, and filling in any kind of records is a lost cause, so we decide to call it a day (after eating the pies and cakes), to avoid damaging the archaeology. And so we clean off all the tools and troop back down to the minibus.

But, as if the excitement of the prehistoric pottery isn’t enough (and believe it or not, there are actually some people who do not seem impressed with the little crumbly black sherds (I do not understand these people!)), there is more drama as we get onto the minibus. Try as we may, it will not start…so we all get out into the rain again. After a quick game of ‘I spy’, we get fed up waiting for the RAC, and manage to get the bus going with a push start.

Hopefully our waterproofs will have time to dry out before tomorrow.



I was doing my second round of walkover survey today. Of course, it was bucketing down. Reckon last week’s rain dance went a bit too well!

Basically, we were going back to an area which had been surveyed in 2007, this time mapping out the features, which were mostly the old field boundaries. First of all, we took a walk around the area, getting a proper look at the features and trying to work out where they all went and how they all relate to each other. I’m finding this landscape archaeology really interesting. Excavation’s great, but there’s only so much you can see in a hole in the ground on the valley floor. This really gives you a broader impression of how people are using and re-using their landscape.

We also tried to get some sketches done and notes taken, but by this point the rain was making it impossible to do anything, so we retreated back to the van for lunch.

The afternoon was more successful, despite all of us being soaked. We took it in turns to go exploring the features and learning how to use the GPS – which looks pretty daunting at first with its satellite signals and up to 60cm accuracy and I was pretty sure I was going to break it – but actually, it was pretty simple… as long as you remember to hold it the right way. So we managed to get a lot of the boundaries mapped out on that all right, except for one bit where the signal went haywire and we ended up with a weird zig-zag halfway along one of them. Hopefully we can get that sorted with the rest of the correction process. And hopefully the weather gods of Forteviot will be a bit kinder to us when we go back up tomorrow!


Thursday 13 August 2009

Day 11: 13/08/09

It was a successful day all 'round today and much was accomplished.

It was Craig's turn to tell about his day on the cemetery site:

Today I laboured at the Forteviot cemetery site. T’was a beautiful day, with lovely sunshine throughout. There was no rain as I don’t think there was any rain dance. Brilliant! This was my first time at the cemetery, and so the day began with a tour guide around all four corners of the site. Very interesting.

My day was occupied with shovelling, hoeing, and more shovelling. So I wont bore you with any more of that. But the day was raised out of the ordinary with a reconstruction of Woodstock. Well, not really. We just had a stereo with Lawrence’s Woodstock c.d.s blazing the dig. Really retro. Although I did miss Ben and Jamie’s famous rendition of the Jungle Book song: “I wana be like you”.

During the day I did however have a revelation or two. First of all I am really, really, really un-fit. I mean five minutes of troweling and I’m flipping knackered. Secondly, that archaeology is very different from what I initially thought it would be like. It is much broader than I first thought. And last but not least, I need a proper holiday abroad. Change of scenery and all.

Overall the day was tiring. I think some of us were feeling the strain. I hope it is just because we are at the half way point in the field school. Here’s hoping the enthusiasm will pick up towards the last third.

Good bye and good night!!!!!!!!!!


Wednesday 12 August 2009

Day 10: 12/08/09

At the henge site Anna writes:

Things are coming along quite well at the henge site. Several features are being excavated and everyone is getting a chance to do one. A few artefacts were found today on site. There was some burnt bone found in the ditch section. Dene found a piece which was jet black which he suspects could possibly have been part of a bracelet. Also some modern pieces of white pottery were found. The weather eventually delayed any more work. The rain made excavating more difficult to accomplish.

An STV crew came to the site today for some coverage of the recent developments and of the work that is being done. The footage centred on the cap stone that was recently removed to reveal the cist. An interview with Kenny Brophy was conducted on site. The footage will be shown tomorrow night at 6pm.


Meanwhile at the cemetery site Robert reports:

Today I got to go back to the cemetery site. The last time I was there we were removing the soil with the hoes. Today I got to trowel. In the morning I was given a section to trowel with the others. We found a piece of worked agate in area J before break. By the first break I was asked to write this blog so I went around taking some pictures: one shows the area that we dug and started after the break. The two most surprising finds that we found was a piece of worked Arran Pitchstone and a small copper alloy pin head (pictured) both in the same context and area. They were in fact very close to each other about a metre apart. These two pieces I found whilst troweling. We couldn’t find the rest of the pin head so we decided to bag the soil and to dry sieve tonight, which I volunteered to do. In the same area and context we found some roman pottery, some green-glazed medieval pottery; two pieces of medieval pottery; some medieval white gritty ware; some white gritty-glazed. The last thing we found was a hammerstone in some cleaning in area I. Those who weren’t troweling were drawing sections and plans. After lunch we bagged the soil but by about three o’clock we had to abandon the site due to terrible rain the site started to flood.


And from the promontory enclosure site Cathy spins a tale:

Since the momentous day when the promontory enclosure trench was de-turfed and the fibula found in the north end of the trench there have been several developments.

Despite early difficulties identifying distinct contexts, mainly due to a mixture of bright sunlight and similarities between deposits, the ditch of the hillfort has been identified; with an extent of 4m located within our trench. Pre–excavation, the ditch already has several distinct fills and will be excavated to determine the depth and stratigraphy. Next to our ditch the remains of a possible rampart are also starting to become clearer.

In the north of the trench there has been a more complicated situation with several linear features and possible stone settings. These have been recorded and fully excavated. Due to the small finds in these areas, including several sherds of pottery, these features have been identified as ridge and furrow.

Today the interpretation of these features as ridge and furrow has been further bolstered by the discovery of a curved metal blade, thought to be a farm tool. These features and the sickle point towards a region where ridge and furrow cultivation was practiced.

Picture the scene:
An expanse of golden barley; stretching into the distance, soft rays of the setting sun are cast over the hills to the west.

A weary farmer sits down at the side of the field, tired and thirsty after toiling under the hot sun since dawn, harvesting the year’s crop. Another few long days of work to finish the harvest, all the time hoping the weather doesn’t break and leave her family in danger of going hungry over the winter.

Enjoying the quiet moment before returning to the bustle of her home she sips water from her worn white jug, a relief for her throat, dry from all the dust rising in the fields.

Looking down at her sickle she sighed, it was blunted and worn out from the past six year of use. Dropping it to the ground she stood up and stretched, it was time to send her son to the market anyway, he could trade some of the crop for a new one.

Turning to leave she stumbled, crushing the jug beneath her foot, muttering under her breath she abandoned the useless fragments, she would have to make another, yet another job to fit in at the busiest time of the year….


Tuesday 11 August 2009

Day 9: 11/08/09

Today the news of the cist burial has been taken up by the press... look for it in the Scottish newspapers.

On site the day started with further drawing and recording at both Forteviot trenches, but soon the heavens opened and the rain fell - which slowed work. Although digging was stopped at the henge site for the afternoon, excavation continued on the cemetery site.

Sara recounts her experience at the Forteviot Pictish cemetery site:

Excavations at the cemetery site are well underway by this point in the field-school and many features were being excavated including; postholes, ditch features and what are thought to be Pictish graves surrounding a barrow feature. The weather was quite horrific and the area in front of the spoil heap started to resemble a swamp; however, we donned our waterproofs and kept working. With work making steady progress, I spent the majority of the morning setting up the total station, taking levels for some section drawings and retrieved the co-ordinate points for specific small finds; later planning an obscure gravel patch which had become apparent in the west of the site. Having planned the potential feature, the afternoon was spent defining the edges and trying to understand what could have created the strange L-shaped patch which showed potential to be quite deep. As soon as the gravel fill started to be taken out; about 9 million frogs appeared and so several people were recruited for ‘frog rescue 09’. It became apparent that the feature was probably the result of a large animal burrow and that the gravel fill was the natural that underlay the silt. However, towards the end of the day, charcoal began to appear in the silty layer, which underlay some of the gravel which confused everybody and remains a mystery. As mentioned, the spoil heap did not fare well when the floods came and so the very last part of the day today saw myself and another giving it a good tidy.


Day 8: 10/08/09

Today was a day off - a much needed break for all after a busy and exciting week in the heat. Although we were relaxing and taking in the local sites in Strathearn, the conservator at AOC Archaeology was very busy examining the material from the cist retrieved from the henge site. She X-rayed some of the lumps of material and one of the X-rays clearly shows the bronze object to be a dagger! And after some more careful examination it appears that the handle has been enlaid with gold bands...this is truly a magnificent find. More will follow as the examination continues.


Day 7: 09/08/09

Sunday was full of recording and planning. Sami writes about his experience at the Forteviot henge site - the process of excavation

As before, the workday started after a hearty breakfast at 9 am. Today I was working at the large henge site at Forteviot. My first job was to take an area down around an inch, so that any stone features and the colours in the soil would be more prominent. Not the most exciting job in the world, but it has to be done if we want to get anywhere. That took me most of the day, but seeing the features clear as day was worth it. For lunch, we had sandwiches with pickle and a meat of unknown origin. For some strange reason, I was apparently the only one that liked them.

After lunch I was assigned my very own feature to dig, a suspected posthole on the southern side of the trench. It was about a meter in diameter, and next to another posthole that was already being excavated. I began by cleaning out the edges of the feature, with the goal of identifying a ramp that would have been used to lower the post into the hole. Had a good start by finding a quartz flake, but unfortunately we couldn’t identify a ramp. We remained unfazed by this setback and separated the feature into 2 halves, one of which I will be excavating as a means to give us a good look into the function of the pit. Right after we set up the dividing line, it started to rain cats and dogs, causing us to promptly retreat back to our lodgings.


Day 6 continued...

Work continued on the Forteviot cemetery site. Many of the cut features still proved to be elusive - drying in the heat and becoming difficult to see. Nonetheless, there was success in tracing the ditch of the large square enclosure - a portion of which lies underneath a broad silt deposit - and therefore needing further excavation. In the area where the ditch is visible a section was excavated by Kirsten.

While most students gained excavation experience on the main sites other students were learning to survey elsewhere- Haileigh has written about hers below...


"Today I worked on Standing Building Survey with three other students. The building in question was a doocot at the Green of Invermay. The building resembled a hexagonal shaped tower, perhaps five meters in height, made largely of sandstone. We viewed the inside, which had small compartments which would be used for pigeons to nest.

Dr. Hall and Prof. Driscoll explained to us a brief history of the building, which could potentially be as early as 17th century, as well as teaching us the basics of standing building survey. The archaeological aspect of the survey is important in that it highlights different phases of work such as extensions and what this can tell us about the building and surrounding at this particular time. This did become apparent during the survey, as we could see where stone and mortar had been conserved-for example, some of the material used to replace the older harling had gone a different colour of grey and seemed less gritty, and it was evident this patch had been renewed.

We worked in pairs to each record a side of the wall, below a baseline which sat roughly 2.20m above ground. My partner, Eilidh, did the majority of the drawing (due to her artistic talents) on a 1:10m scale on tracing paper over a grid of 1mm, and I did most of the measuring of the stones and features in the wall-communication is a vital aspect of this survey. Our side was the North side which was well shaded by trees. There were no real ‘features’, but a huge amount of stone and mortar work, which could be tricky and meticulous to accurately record, measure and transcribe to paper, but it was an enjoyable task and good to do something completely different from the digging that is most commonly associated with archaeology.

In the afternoon, we were taken on a mini field-trip to the houses on the estate of Invermay. The first house we observed was a potentially 17th century castle with later additions such as barn buildings. The castle features were evident on the wall as the outlines of gun-loops (now blocked up) were clearly visible. The front of the house had a protruding semi-circular wall where the door stood, probably with a staircase inside, and above the door was a triangle feature which included four letters, likely to mark initials of two individuals who had married. Professor Driscoll suggested that this may have been an earlier feature which was later moved to the new entrance. Furthermore, stones on the chimney can show that the roof was originally thatched, as these stones traditionally were used to re-direct water from the top of thatch. Observing this collaboration of old and new in one building can show the benefits of standing building survey, as small details can show how buildings were used at certain times in their life-cycles."


Monday 10 August 2009

Day 6: 08/08/09

At the henge, although there was a lot to do across the trench, everyone was interested in the cist and what was being excavated. Due to the fragility of the remains in the cist the conservator had decided the best method of excavating the concentration of organic material and bronze object was to carefully encase it and remove it in several large chunks. This material could then be examined in detail in a laboratory. As the rest of the cist contents were excavated (after careful planning and recording the evening before) it came as a surprise that much of the visible fragments were wood - or more accurately bark - no bone had survived. The pieces of bark (likely birch) were recorded and removed from the cist. Lining the base of the cist were rounded pebbles and cobbles - all of which appeared to have been carefully placed. Some of the cobbles were quartz. The Forteviot cist is unique in many respects - but from the shape of the stonelined 'coffin' and situation it is thought to be Bronze Age--but dating the organics should help us accurately date this feature.

Amazing Day 5 continued...

Meanwhile... back at the henge site we had arranged for a crane to come a lift the megalith discovered in a pit in 2008. This was a big event for the whole SERF team and everyone came to watch the lift. We had spent the days running up to the lift speculating what was under the large stone. Once two straps were on the crane lifted the stone was fairly quickly. There were many cries of amazement as a chamber lined with stone was revealed. This chamber had not be opened for many hundreds/thousands of years. The stone lined cist was thought to have been a burial of an important person. The contents were fragmentary and at first inspection it was not certain what had remained. However, once there was a closer look inside it was clear that there was very fragile organic material at least at one end of the cist and evidence of a bronze object and therefore the conservators had to be called in. The excavation of the cist was going to take time...

As the sun set that evening several of us stayed on site. In the low light Ewan Campbell noticed that on the underside of the megalith, that was now on the side of the trench, there was a carving! The symbol was curved - perhaps a stylised axe or hammer? It was off to search for any known parallels...


Day 5: 07/08/09

Friday was a very eventful day - with amazing discoveries. At the promontory enclosure excavation we had finally removed all of the modern ploughsoil and were excavating what was interpreted as a Late Medieval (probably c. 17th century) ploughsoil. Babs, a student from Aberdeen University, was given the task of cleaning the section as she was excavating down- I like a clean, straight section. In this section she uncovered a copper alloy clothes pin or fibula (pictured), which we think dates to the 1st-2nd centuries AD. This is a great find and even greater for Babs - as it was her first ever archaeological find!


Thursday 6 August 2009

Day 4: 06/08/09

Today was my first full day of assuming responsibility for the drawings on the henge site, and I have to admit it I was a wee bit apprehensive! But with a bit of help and guidance from Uncle Dene and the Funk Brothers I think it turned out alright. My duties included laying out grids in the trench (which was actually started yesterday) and then taping them out so the different parts of the site could be systematically and accurately recorded. Once that was sorted out we took volunteers off from other trench work and I’d explain to them the whole process of planning, why we use the materials we use, why we record at this stage, tips on good practice etc. A lot of students (myself included!) get quite nervous about putting pencil to paper for the first time. This was even more pronounced today as the weather has been drying the exposed soil making features hard to define. However I’m pleased to say that the people we’ve had planning so far have all been eager to learn and have produced some excellent results. It’s also a real gratifying experience to pass on knowledge and skills to people who seem genuinely enthused and happy to take part.

This pre-excavation stage is always exciting because you know that you’re not far away from actually excavating features and hopefully figuring out whatever story the site has to tell. With tomorrow comes more planning and, weather permitting, the lifting of the Megalith. Good times.


Day 4: 06/08/09

So today I was at the Pictish Cemetery and the first task of the day was mattocking.
Dr. Campbell started by sectioning off part of the site which contained a very unusual, large, square, enclosure ditch for a Pictish site. In the heat the mattocking was quite difficult work, which wasn’t helped by the sun drying out the soil making it difficult to see the features of the ditch. However, it was this part of the day when the most significant find was discovered – a 13/14th century piece of pottery (as shown in the photo). The mattocking was finally finished just before lunch, after which we began trowelling back to clean the area, in order to define the feature. It was then when Anna found her first archaeological find ever, yay. On site another team were also mattocking in the afternoon; they were looking for features inside the enclosure and through this process found a posthole, how exciting! Meanwhile, throughout the day Carmen and Natalia were surveying next to the site using Ground Penetrating Radar – looking for the ditch coming out the southern side of the trench. Unfortunately their battery ran out; however they are hopeful to get a chance to finish it off tomorrow. The day finished off with a quick photography lesson from Dr. Campbell – illustrating the ditch and the hard days work of day four.


Wednesday 5 August 2009

On day 3 we also broke turf (well ...actually cut through the oats) of our small excavation trench of a promontory fort near Forteviot. The sun was shining, but we had shade nearby. We have just started digging through the topsoil by hand. It is slow going but I hope that we can get through the topsoil tomorrow.

Although we are now able to update this blog from the comfort of our accommodation (and not in a dark parking lot in an industrial estate near Perth), we seem to be having technical difficulty in uploading photos or other media -- a film revealing of the stone in the Neolithic trench -- hopefully we will have this fixed tomorrow.


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…).

Dr Funk

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Day 2: 4.8.09

Ah, how quickly the need for a cooked breakfast comes back…

As we split for the first time to the Neolithic and Pictish trenches (using the time honoured tradition of who sat on which bus), this poor individual can only describe the joy of the Neolithic trench.

After the fast-paced hoeing action of yesterday, the cleaning continued on at lightning speed. With the trench suitably clean, trowelling got underway so those who stand on the spoil heap and point could see what lovely features we had.

After the almost finds-free seasons in 07 and 08, it was with great excitement that we found two knapped cores (and another possible quartz core). As well as this, some nice pieces of burnt bone were found.

The large monolith that was uncovered (typically) in the last few days of the ’08 season was re-found and mostly uncovered. This is ahead of it being lifted on Friday (with a lot of luck). Preparations are coming on for the hoards of visitor-types we are expecting to come up to see it lifted, including pokey-sticks and hazard tape J.

Tonight we welcomed our prodigal project director Dr Brophy. He was clearly missing the archaeology so much that his first action was to go onto an accies forum and check his fantasy football team.

Things can only go up from here…

Day 1: 3.8.09

Well, here we are again… SERF. The wonderful area around Forteviot will once again ring to the sounds of mattocks, trowels, and regular shouts of “We’ll find it in the section!”.

On the buses on the way up, the banter was flowing freely, and those not used to the witty repartee were soon initiated J. After only minor rearranging we all found our rooms (only some of which we were locked out of) and had a hearty packed lunch (or nothing for those who didn’t bring their own).

Starting as we meant to go on, we headed out to site for a short afternoon’s work. This year’s team being an excellent bunch and the soil being particularly favourable, we soon had the measure of many of the features that were contained in the monster Neolithic trench (unlike some other years I could mention). With much of the trench hoed, we headed back for our first dinner, and more importantly, the first “supplies” run to Tesco.

Now only a slightly too late night for some separated us from our first full day’s digging…

We opened the henge trench on the Friday before the dig began in earnest. On Saturday local metaldetectorists were on site of the cemetery trench to help the archaeologists survey the topsoil for small finds before it was excavated by JCB. We found many small iron objects – which are likely bits of modern machinery. Several musket balls and a few pieces of copper alloy objects, one of which was decorated were also found. Each of the find spots were recorded. We then stripped the topsoil off the cemetery area and found traces of rig and furrow. In between the furrows glimpses of the ditch of the large square enclosure could be seen…and soon they would be excavated.

Monday 8 June 2009