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.