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!