Friday 20 August 2010

DAY 13 in the trenches - 17th August 2010


Trench 5
Hey, my name is Chelsea and I have been working on trench 5A (the sexy trench). Today it was pretty sunny, so working was rather easy, for once. In the morning I finished trowelling one of the inner ditch terminals of the palisaded enclosure. Once this was done I took photographs and drew a section drawing. After this I was asked to start trowelling in one of the sections of the triple cist which was really exciting. I had found large lumps of quartz and a small bone fragment. I was told that one of the cists from last year contained a lot of quartz too, and this also had a dagger inside, so things are looking very promising. The section that Heather had excavated had a body stain which may be the bent leg or elbow of the person who was buried here. Hopefully, we will find some other treasure shortly. While excavating, all the soil went into sample bags – I feel sorry for Gert as he has to sample them all! Today a glass bead was also found. Ewan said that it is most probably Norse, however, since it was found on the spoil heap we do not know where it came from. That’s all the news from our trench today.

Trench 7
Work resumed on trench seven following the festivities of our only day off from the relentless onslaught of archaeological exhilaration. Last week culminated on Sunday with the annual open day and barbecue at Forteviot town hall and let it be known that a good time was had by all with an excess of sun and fizzy pop providing the fuel for much banter.

Yet again I found myself slowly moving backwards through time. From my first week risking the curse of the Pictish square barrows, and the mystery lung disorder it brought, to a couple of action packed days at the hillfort. It was there that I had the delightful task of topographic surveying through some pounding gorse and bramble bushes and excavating the bottom layer of the main ramparts of the central fort. Most excellent.

After moving from the Pictish period in the historic era to the probable Iron Age fort at Law of Dumbuils today I moved back a few thousand years into trench seven, and quickly found myself knee deep in the Neolithic with my very own post hole.

I would just like to take an aside to mention the sheer scale of the palisaded enclosure, which has incited the full wrath of my archaeological imagination. It is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when confronted with an amorphous soily blob. Trying to untangle the pedantry of pedology or the confusion of corresponding contexts often obscures the ultimate goal of the excavation process, which is to enlighten us on the purpose and process of creation of structures and monuments that have been recalaimed by the natural and fallen to attrition and decay.

Each post had a probable width of half a metre, and stood anywhere from five to fifteen metres, driven into the ground by hand to a depth of upto two metres. The fact hundreds of these posts were arranged to form a vast palisaded enclosure thousands of years ago which stretched out two hundred and fifty square metres cannot fail to arouse some form of curiosity and awe in the mind of the archaeologist, who granted are a special breed of people.

Anyway, the day progressed steadily as most features being dug were finished, the series of gigantic postholes bottoming out at approximately one and a half metres, which considering my own is less than a third of this means I have my work cut out to finish it in time. It would appear that we have a variety of possible interpretations for the birth and death of each of the palisade post holes. One appears to have been burnt in situ, another rotted away and one even forcibly ripped out. Hopefully as work reaches its finishing stages in the next few days we can edge ever closer to an understanding of this awe inspiring monument and the people who built it.

Lewis Prentice

Monday 16 August 2010

DAY 11 & 12 - 14th & 15th August

Hello - minor technical difficulties halted blog updates...but here are some news from the past couple of days

August 14th


Yesterday we had a visit from the FlyingScotsCam people, who took aerial photos of the site using a flying mini-drone. The unmanned octocopter looks like something from Blade Runner (it  weighs less than two kilos, runs on electric batteries and has eight rotors to stabilise it), and enables the operator to take pictures from a variety of heights and angles. It has an integral GIS system which enables it to hover over particular points, and it even talks to the operator.  There is also a live visual feed to hand-held control panel, enabling instant viewing.  Mike Smith, the director of  FlyingScotsCam, took some great shots of my site, the Pictish square barrow cemetery.   This is an exciting new technology which allows very quick vertical coverage of archaeological sites, and could be used to produce plans of sites as well as showing the landscape setting and the relationship between different parts of large sites such as the SERF project.

Ewan Campbell

Trench 5A
My name is Heather and I am co-directing Trench 5A with Meggan. Today saw the fruits of many days labour by the students and volunteers. Now that Carmen the geophysist has taken all her  soil samples, we were able to remove the soil over the central area within the double ditched enclosure. At first a few stones set on edge looked like the side slabs of a single Bronze Age cist, but as more soil was removed it turned out to have three compartments, which is quite unusual.  Hopefully this will be excavated over the next few days and we will see whether there are any remains of a body or artefacts buried with the body, pottery or perhaps another dagger.

The outer ditch has been excavated with a few deep slots and we think that it was dug for a large timber palisade. The inner ditch is not so deep but also supported timber  posts.  A terminal of this inner ditch may be where there was an entrance.  

Trench 5B
Hi all, Alex here from trench 5B. Today Charlie and John found their third Neolithic cup-marked stone in three days – this one came from the tree throw cut by the large pit full of charcoal and evidence of in situ burning that they’ve been excavating. It’s a pure mad find an’ that, lovely to see evidence of cultural deposits in natural features like this. Let’s hope Charlie and John can make it four in four days. Dene, Gordon and Kenny from over the fence in trench 6 came to spread the joy by teaching us “novitiates” the Cup-Marked Stone Dance in honour of this magnificent find.
Students and volunteers gaze up at the dance masters on the spoil heap to learn their moves

Elsewhere in trench 5B we’ve had to do some re-thinking. Thanks to the wonderful dry conditions of the last few days new features have begun to appear in addition to further, previously invisible, extensions on already recorded features, features like the newly discovered ramp on Andy’s palisade posthole. This is a handy technique archaeologists can use to spot the differences between the natural, free-draining, ground surface and the more water-retaining features like postholes and ditches. A new theory was being thrown around in all the posthole-y trenches today. Some people think that these ramps may have held some significance beyond the practical purpose of aiding the lowering of these potentially massive timbers into the ground. Just look at the ramp of my semi-excavated palisade posthole today, did it really need to be that long? Only time will tell what the significance of these exaggerated ramps may be.

The large exaggerated ramp (background) stretching away from my posthole (foreground)

We have such a great bunch of students in the trench that I often find myself at a loss for someday to help, everybody just gets on and does a great job and for most, this is their first dig! Well done guys. Happy SERFing.

August 15th - OPEN DAY

From Trench 5A
Well, today was Open Day at the trenches in Forteviot.  SERF invited locals to come view the trenches and get a little background about what we’ve been doing, seeing as we’ve sort of invaded their village for three weeks.  We began the day making sure that we knew what to say and spent the vast majority of time giving tours of our trench.  Each of us spent some time digging, but I don’t think anyone made huge progress on their features.

The tours were good, though, and we had a lot of interested people coming to see the trench.  It was great to have the triple cist burial to show, especially since we only found it yesterday.  I think all the visitors were generally pleased and enjoyed seeing the archaeology in action.

And from Trench 5B
Today was something a little bit different – an Open Day: all who were interested in what we are doing at Forteviot were welcomed to come and visit. A number of local people came along, as well as some visitors invited by the archaeologists, and others who travelled from as far afield as Falkirk, Edinburgh and Paisley.
The weather was factor-fifty-fantastic – it seems the gods were pleased with our work. Hopefully so were our visitors!
For me this was my first experience of giving tours and also my own first opportunity since digging began to take a tour of all the trenches myself. Taking stock of the extent of work we have accomplished in such a short time – staff, directors, supervisors, students and volunteers together – was really impressive. It’s clear that the wider landscape we’re working to reveal spans an extensive depth of space and time, and must have been richly invested with meaning by our ancestors. Most of them did not leave a written record for us, so to be able to unravel a little of their world is truly fantastic. For me, the opportunity to impart this to people with unabashed puppy-dog enthusiasm meant great fun!
Meanwhile, as all this was going on, work continued on our trench. Only one week of digging to go now!! At the moment, many trenches are being completed, which means that everything needs to be recorded. Still plenty of time to find more treasure next week though!

I would like to say a big thank-you to my very first tour-recipients who were fantastic - and one of whom I understand was a volunteer last year – to my mum and dad for coming to see the dig, and of course to everyone who contributed to a great day.

Helen Green, student, University of Glasgow

Saturday 14 August 2010

DAY 10 - 13th August 2010

Law of Dumbuils

It has been awhile since we have updated you on the progress of the excavations at the hillfort.  There has been a lot of earth moving and stone moving.  We have defined the three ramparts, where the outer two appear to be composed largely of earth and stone.  The innermost rampart has large stone (quarried bedrock) facing - with the N face completely or deliberately collapsed.  Within the innermost rampart the spread of large stone that defined only one side of the trench was interpreted as a possible structure.  In order to get a better picture of what was going on we added an extension to this area and on initial cleaning the stones looked to be in a circular pile - but today the interpretation is back to uncertain (that's the nature of archaeology).  Nonetheless, as Colette was cleaning over these stones today she found a circular shale/cannel coal object - perhaps the rough out for a piece of jewellery!

View of possible structure and extension

 Colette's cannel coal/shale object


Trench 5A
Hi, I’m Nicola from Glasgow University and I’m working in Trench 5A. Today, at last the sun was shining, the sunscreen was on and it was a glorious day here at Forteviot with no rain. Trench 5a was busy with the planning and excavation of various slots through the inner and outer ditches of our double ditched feature, the deepest of which I’ve been working on for what seems like forever.

Slot 1 of the outer ditch, nearly 1m deep.

We’ve been able to get into the centre of the enclosure now that parts of the baulk have been removed, no treasure yet but we live in hope. We did have a nice piece of metal, possibly Roman lead that came out of the inner ditch this afternoon. This was found by one of the volunteers on her first day, some people have all the luck!

Other highlights of the day include being buzzed by the remote control hovering camera (boys and their toys)  and of course the fact that today, being Friday, was PIEDAY! Unfortunately the doughnuts did lead to an invasion by the wasp army which in turn caused an overenthusiastic spraying of the Jungle Formula from some quarters, we’re lucky we can all still breathe!

Trench 5B

Today in trench 5B, people were mostly drawing up the cross sections of the features that they have been excavating, which resulted in an absence of drawing materials and sanity (standard!)

Vivienne started the day rather upset as despite starting to excavate the other side of her pit feature yesterday, she was told this morning that she had to wait a while for some geophysical testing to be done on it, so she has to move on to another feature in the meantime. Gutted!

Drew had to move back to his feature, as although it was previously dismissed as nothing, the DELIGHTFUL weather conditions today (not actually sarcastic WOOHOO!) made visible something which appears to be a posthole. à

Charlie has found a flat working stone with circular holes on either side, which Dene, Gordon and Kenny have deemed “the greatest thing we have ever found on site”, but we weren’t sure whether or not they were trying to be funny or not! à

On top of all this excitement, which we all thought couldn’t get any better, there were a couple of technicians operating a remote controlled helicopter-camera over our trench today. Don’t lie, you want one for Christmas too...

I’ll leave you with this riddle: how many archaeologists does it take to retrieve a pencil?

That’s all for today lads! This groundbreaking (that’s right, I went there) news came to you today from Ailsa J xx

Thursday 12 August 2010

DAY 9 - 12th August 2010


Trench 5

Today began with a glorious group photograph of Team Awesome. Voila.

As the weather remained fine for most of the day good progress was made with Vivienne and volunteer John finishing their features.
Andy has been working hard on his post-hole feature for several days now. Due to the great depth of this post-hole feature a necessary invention of the Taladel was made. This involved high tech implements such as ladels and masking tape in order to create an instrument which would reach and clear out soil from the post-hole bottom.

Thanks go to everyone for the particularly delightful, high standard of conversation, especially Dean ‘Awesome’ Paton for his manly lifting of people and Nick Window, simply for his name really.
Finally a massive HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our team member Ailsa.

The Birthday girl herself looking fabulous.

Ciao, Charlie x

Trench 6
Hi – I’m Giles, your blogger for today for trench 6. I’m a desk-based archaeologist currently working for the Highland Council. I’m here at Forteviot this week, as the chance to explore a Neolithic site in Scotland, particularly one with such great evidence from the timber side of things is a chance not to be missed.

Progress has continued well today, and only a few showers to slow us down!

I am working with Sandi in the ditch, which is now shaping up as a re-modelled terminal for a henge. This ditch is filled with a number of silty fills, and whilst there has been little of artefactual interest from the lower deposits, it certainly has been interesting to try and untangle the confusing, if not complex, stratigraphy!

The key task today was ensuring that these deposits were fully recorded before excavation could be undertaken of the basal orange sand within this feature, potentially a primary henge fill.  The ditch is in places nearly 6m wide, and is now about 1m deep. Numerous examples exist in Britain of ‘special deposits’ being recorded at the terminals of Neolithic ditches – such as the recently discovered Bluestonehenge at Stonehenge - so hope has not been abandoned of finding an interesting cache or assemblage!

Elsewhere in the trench, the heavy work continues apace in the pit which dominates the interior of this henge. We yesterday recorded a number of very large stones which seemed to be deliberately placed. These have now been removed, and probably represent rubble fill of this feature. 

Again, this has produced very little in terms of artefacts. However, the large pit recorded during the previous season at Forteviot,  within the henge, contained fragments of Iron and lead, Roman amphora and sherds of medieval pottery, so I don’t feel hope should be abandoned here either.

Lighter work continues on the posthole which has now been almost completely excavated by Alistair– and his ladel. Work also continues on the two potential grave cuts which have to date produced a number of sherds of All Over Corded beaker – dated to 2400-2350BC. No more Early Bronze Age pottery today but a number of fragments of burnt bone isn’t too bad!

A newly opened feature is a potential pit or post hole cut into the inside edge of the henge ditch. This is going to be a key relationship to explore in the next few days – particularly if this new feature produces any datable objects.

Trench 7
So the day started with only 3 of us on site! We are pleased to announce that Robbie’s posthole is the deepest feature on site measuring 1.6m and has reached the water table at 1.4m. Elaine continued to excavate her tree throw which is getting deeper and when Corinna  arrived later on in the morning we both made section drawings of our two features and then filled out the context sheets...not to mention getting another heavy rain shower in the process. The paleochannel is now thought to be far more modern than it was before since some tarpaulin was found. Unfortunately, Robbie’s  ‘trowdel’ didn’t make an appearance today but hopefully it will again sometime in the near future!

Robbie's Posthole 

DAY 8 - 11th August 2010


Trench 5

Hi i’m a french student from Paris. I’ve come to Scotland to improve my English and to experience  Scottish archaeology as i’ve previously excavated mostly  in France. This morning i was on the same feature that i have been on since the beginning of last week – this was a post hole within the sondage. A sondage is like a trench within a trench for getting a better and quicker  understanding of what’s happening within the feature. Other people have been getting deeper and deeper into their
features. This most important thing i’ve found so far has been some charcoal. 

Trench 6
Today we dug up the “pit of death”  a bit deeper, it’s now about  1.40m deep. I found a sherd of corded ware pottery in it. All of the people who excavated that particular bit looked like bob the builder as we had to wear safety helmets. Mattocks,  shovels and wheelbarrows completed the picture.
Also a few big stones were uncovered causing lots of excited noises from our supervisors. Then in a grave pit excavated by Shuhei ( apologies if I got the spelling wrong, which I most probably did) a big piece of beaker showed up and our trench was filled with uuuch and ooochs of our superviosion team.
Apart from that I discovered we have voodoo doll attached to a pole on one of the spoil heaps which no doubt has a purpose of destroying all of our enemies whoever they may be.  I also learned that a soup ladle is a very serious piece of archeo-equipment as are sponges apparently!

Trench 7
After the rain of yesterday we made good progress on continuing to excavate the features. Jim and Jackie continued with their excavations of palisade postholes, reaching several different fills and taking samples.

Meanwhile Anne and Laura continued excavating the two possible posthole slots at right angles to the line of the palisade enclosure. As the day went on Ann reached what looked like a nice coherent fill with some packing stones and a fill that was the consistency of concrete, and just about as hard to dig! After some rigorous chiselling Anne was ready to photograph and draw the section, Laura will be reaching a similar stage tomorrow.

Robert completed excavation of the semi-circular, amorphous deposit and then went to assist with the section drawing of Robbie’s posthole.

Robbie completed the half-section of another palisade posthole today, stretching a respectable 1.6m into the ground. To accommodate this and stop Robbie from falling headfirst into it, some more breakthrough tool designing took place. The 11th of August 2010 will for ever more be known for the invention of the ‘trowdle ©’. An aesthetically pleasing, functional piece of equipment, this new invention tops even the likes of the “Planinator ©.” Combining the digging power of a trowel and the scooping potential of the ladle this is a unique and exciting opportunity to get your hands on one. Units are available for a mere £21.78, orders for multiple units accepted. They are also good for spinning at speed around your head. Please contact Clancy and MacIver Ltd. for more information

Trench 8
Hi there, this is Fi again. Today was my last day at trench 8 and it proved to be a very successful one. In the morning I continued to excavate the grave in the larger of the two barrows and came across some human tooth enamel at the western end. It was badly preserved but it’s the first human remains I’ve ever found so I was very excited. The teeth were gently removed with some of the surrounding soil due to their delicate nature and placed in small finds bags. A small circle of finer soil above the teeth was identified by Ewan Campbell  as a soil mark created by the brain cavity of the human skull that had once been there slowly becoming filled with silty sand before finally rotting away in the acidic soil. Lewis continued work on the smaller grave and we both managed to get our recording finished.  

Wednesday 11 August 2010

DAY 7 - 10th August 2010


Trench 6

After a nice wee skive yesterday it was back to the hard graft again today. So far I’ve been a trench 8 man but as trench 8 is all but complete I was shipped off to whomsoever wanted me and was claimed by trench 6. After a quick look round to get my bearings, I was thrown into ‘ The Pit of Death’, sadly not because there are any remains within it but because of the amount of time its taken. Our orders for the day were to go down a metre but remove as much as possible, as soon as possible, so as to get the complete section of the pit. Our starting point can be seen in the picture to the right. By lunch, after what had felt like a hundred barrow loads, we had removed a large portion and began straightening the edges, with even Kenny and Gordon lending a hand. Just as lunch began the heavens were opened by a solitary crack of lightning when everyone took refuge in the buses. After an hour the rain was still persistent so we waited for a break in the cloud before venturing back to our nicely soaked trenches.  Luckily the rain had cooled us all down and mattocking and shovelling became a little easier, didn’t last long though as the clouds parted and we were bathed in sweltering sunshine. We archaeologists are rarely satisfied by the weather! By the end of the day we had removed a massive amount of earth(see left), but sadly had no significant finds, perhaps tomorrow as we remove the bottom we will hopefully unearth something, anything.                                              


Trench 8
Day eight on trench eight and work continued with enthusiasm as the final stages of excavation and recording proceeded steadily. Our team was reduced to a hardcore collective of four (almost) competent individuals allowing for a close knit communal cooperative to carry out and collate the days work.

I was delighted to discover that I was continuing the excavation of the central grave in the smaller, adjacent and almost certainly later additional square barrow where only a few days earlier the recovery of tooth enamel from a several teeth caused a ripple of excitement amongst the Forteviot team.  Although it is highly unlikely to be able retrieve a date from the finds further examination of the teeth by an individual well versed in the skills of the odontologist may illuminate several physical characteristics allowing us to edge closer to an understanding of the individual who now only remains in the most fragmented and indistinct form.

This was a thought that plagued my thoughts during my days graverobbing,  doubts on the moral rights to impose on the long cessated persons own request and wishes was balanced by a desire to discover and better understand the previous occupants of our fine country.

After excavating the remainder of the westerly half of the grave, where the head once resided, I took a sample from the bottom of the grave fill which with a bit of luck will contain enough charcoal or other material to retrieve an accurate date for the burial. It was in this area that I discovered what looked like a worked stone tool, which as it transpired turned out to be merely natural.

This co-incided with Ewen’s discovery of the largest piece of agate, a workable silicate rock type occasionally used to produce stone tools, ever discovered within the Forteviot cropmark sequence, which fairly delighted our resident Mesolithic expert Dene.

Fiona continued her planning and excavtion of the central grave in the main Square barrow which continues to throw up more questions and answers. The possibility of an outer ditch or palisade was an idea bandied about today as well as the suggestion it may be a rare example of an Iron age square barrow. With a bit of luck these questions will be answered in the remaining days. The grave itself appears to be stone lined and hopefully more information will come to light as the top half, where the head resided upon burial is uncovered.

A torrential downpour and occasional lightning halted work for a couple of hours, as the others clambered into cramped and steaming vans and containers we relaxed in our on site tent and engaged in some extended tea drinking and banter.

Lewis Prentice

Monday 9 August 2010

Day 6 - 8th August 2010


Trench 5

Hello, I’m Dimitra Mexis  - an archaeology student from the University of Glasgow. Today is the second day of my feature (the big rock!) being excavated and not just being cleaned.  We’re beginning to see the bottom of it at one corner.  The size of the rock was deceptive - as it now appears to be a lot bigger than it looked pre-excavation. 
Almost everyone’s features are becoming deeper and deeper by the day (including those over in 5B).  Kirsty has been shunned by the group for attracting wasps with her perfume!
These three points have been the highlight of day 7 at Trench 5A.

My big rock!!

Directors’ Update
Trench 5A is coming along nicely.  The double enclosure is showing up really well as are the other features in and around it.  We have started sections across the outer enclosure ditch, half-sectioning the pit with our big stone (fingers crossed for carved stone!!) and started sectioning two large pits or post-holes, too.  The team is working really hard (even when having a major gossip session), no one has been stung (yet) and Heather and I are looking forward next week to really getting into the features and finding out what is on the underside of that buried standing stone. – Meggen Gondek (University of Chester) – Co-director, Trench 5A

Trench 6 - The ‘henge’

Dr Gordon Noble standing in the large central pit explaining discoveries at Trench 6 to members of the other teams

Excavation and discovery continued at an encouraging pace today. Work on the ‘henge’ ditch progressed and clues are emerging regarding whether this site is a prehistoric ceremonial henge (or hengiform) monument or a funerary barrow – or both, with the former transformed into the latter at some point, perhaps in the Early Bronze Age. All Over Corded (AOC) Beaker pottery continued to be found in the northerly (N-S aligned) rectangular feature and hopes are high that it may perhaps be an early (earth-cut) Beaker grave. Moreover, a sherd of AOC Beaker was also discovered in the westerly rectangular feature (also N-S aligned and similarly sized). If so these would be exceptionally rare finds – but only time will tell. Excavation of the large (and deep!) central pit was also further extended and we are coming ever closer to discovering what (if anything) is at its centre. Some of the team are hoping for an impressive Medieval kingly burial! Others are less certain. It appears similar in size, profile and fill to the pit excavated in the centre of the henge monument excavated in 2009. The day and week was rounded off by Dr Brophy and Dr Noble giving all trench teams a guided tour of the trench discoveries of the last six exciting days. Today we also said farewell to volunteer Jim – his sieve-fixing, hard digging and hard-boiled sweets will be missed!


Trench 7

Robert here today from Aberdeen University. First impressions of the trench this morning were good. Many of the features were showing up clearly, with evidence for new features that hadn’t really been visible before. We began the day by towelling back the final area of the trench, cleaning it up ready for it to be planned. After the area had been cleared the tape measures where brought out and set up so that the area could be planned. As the day went on everyone set about their own individual tasks. This included continuing with the planning of the trench and its features, carrying on with the excavation of features (such as post holes and the ditch cut). We even got onto starting excavation on some new post hole features and a possible tree throw. But its early days working on these and no finds as of yet. The post holes already under excavation continued to yield more charcoal.

Trench 8

Natalia here from Glasgow Uni, or at the minute the tropics of trench 8. Today in the glorious sunshine at trench 8 we continued excavation of the ditches leaving various baulks and fully excavating the corners. I dug the entirety of the North West corner of the western barrow (the big one!) so that we can see the cut in plan and notice any anomalies. Thanks to differential drying we noticed a band of dark silt running along the outer edge of the ditch cut leading me to wonder if it were possibly a palisade... too far fetched? The afternoon was much less fun for me as it entailed looking over all the context sheets and various other boring paperwork. Paddy however had a fantastic last day in the interior grave of the Eastern barrow where he found tooth enamel- much more exciting than it sounds due to the poor survival conditions in this soil!! Euan says that it looks like a young individual who was buried here. Hopefully Fi will find some in the interior grave of the western square barrow!!!

Paddy excavating the tooth enamel from the grave in the eastern barrow.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Day 5 - 7th August 2010


Trench 5

Soil, toil and lots of spoil; the sun sets on another day at Forteviot! I’m Vivienne Barz, from trench 5B, and I’ll be taking you through day six of the SERF Project.

It appears as if all the hard work: clearing, digging, hoeing, trowelling and, of course, bloodletting in the form of pancake-sized hand blisters, is beginning to pay off. Throughout Trench 5, many students have unearthed all sorts of Archaeological treasures, ranging from sizable chunks of charcoal, burnt human and animal  bone  and of course, lots and lots of lovely, datable dirt. I am currently cross sectioning a lovely  charcoal rich pit with one particularly nice large piece which came out today, perfect for scientific dating!! Additionally, the students are learning a plethora of industry information: techniques for topographic survey, standing building survey, and finds recording.

So far, so good!

My beautiful charcoal rich pit.

Trench 6

Hello, I’m Alex, I’ve been working on Trench 6. Interpretation of the contents of this trench is a bit ambiguous, though at the moment we think we are dealing with a Neolithic henge feature, and thanks to a hard days work by some of the volunteers on the surrounding ditch (approximately 6 meters wide!!), we think we may have found a ‘terminal’ confirming that we are not dealing with a bronze age barrow after all (for the moment anyway).
 I have spent the day excavating a feature that has turned out to be a post-hole just beyond the outside of the ditch. There have been no significant finds (besides some small charcoal fragments), this is interesting  because this and other parts of the site seem to have been abandoned carefully and cleanly by the final original occupants, possibly a sign of the (sacred?) importance attached to it while it was in use in the ancient past. Most features seem to have been backfilled tidily with the gravelly soil and pebbles, perhaps during the Iron Age or the Medieval period.
 However, the day was not completely fruitless in terms of finds: some fragments of bronze age ‘beaker’ pottery emerged from a feature within the henge and what is potentially a bronze or copper pin or buckle came put of the soil nearby. There was also the invention of a remarkable new planning device by Dr Brophy and Dr Noble (patent pending).

The Planinator: leaning post, plum-bob and tool holder for the archaeologists of tomorrow!

Trench 7
Corinna here today from Glasgow Uni. Today we started off with scraping back part of the trench to clean it up a bit. I managed to find a bit of charcoal by the linear feature, then I did some more trowelling of the same feature, but haven’t found anything so far. The others were digging up their features & some were planning too. For the afternoon me, Lindsey, Elaine & Fiona went to learn about topography. We used EDMs, computerized theodolites to you and me, and they required a lot of complicated setting up as they were pretty fiddly. Me & Fiona weren’t so good at setting it up, but Elaine & Lindsey did it well quick, probably because Lindsey’s done it before. We measured out a plot of land using the prism staff & the machine uses lasers to work out coordinates & angles & heights of land. Had to stand up a lot & try to keep the staff completely straight so the machine could measure out the lines. The weather was good.

This is a pic of Laura doing some trowelling.

Trench 8
Hi, I’m Fiona, a 2nd year student at Glasgow University working on the Pictish square barrows in Trench 8. An overcast morning saw us continuing excavation of the ditches of both barrows and Fi began excavating a section of the suspected grave within the western barrow. Specific contexts were difficult to define, likely due to repeated plough action, and progress was initially slow but the grave seems to be there as expected.  What may be discovered within it, only time will tell. Lewis began a half section of the very dark feature in the south east of the trench which we suspected may have been a charcoal grave but seems to be a fire-pit, possibly Neolithic, containing a lot of charcoal, charred seed deposits and evidence of in-situ burning. The clouds eventually gave way to intense sunshine after lunch and I bade goodbye to Trench 8 for the afternoon while I was introduced to topographical survey training using the total stations. Utilising heavy and (very) expensive equipment seemed a small price to pay in order to get off my knees for a few hours. It was a lot of fun  but I did miss the digging. Hopefully there will be more information about Trench 8 features and finds when I return tomorrow.

Lewis beginning excavation of the pit with evidence of in-situ burning.

Law Dumbuils
Hi Colette here from Aberdeen University. I’m situated at the hill fort on Law of Dumbuils and today has been fairly eventful. Before we could begin digging today we had to manoeuvre around the herd of sheep in our path, not what you would expect on the daily commute to work. Once on site I returned to the area I had been digging the previous day the south end of ditch 1. Here we have hit bed rock quite close to the surface, and we were trying to see how far down the trench it came at that particular level. After much hard work trowelling and using the matttock we discovered: not very far. Since it wasn’t very pleasant work I luckily got moved down to the clay area at where the ditch is at the lowest point. Here we were investigating whether the clay was potentially over tumble rubble like just a bit further up or if in fact the clay ran underneath the rubble. I scraped away for hours and eventually found what we were looking for, a definitive line of where the clay leads. I discovered that the clay was in fact underneath the tumble rubble. Whilst searching for this I found a stone bashing tool, which may be related to the mortar found earlier by Alex just up from where I was working. Other finds today included burnt bone most likely from sheep and also what looks like a sheep’s shoulder bone, these finds came from the North facing side of rampart 1. After a hard days slog in the muddy trench you just want to get back for your tea, but the journey home was just as eventful as in the morning with sheep in our path, we were lucky this time though as Stuart managed to scare them away ;).  

Alex's 'mortar'

DAY 4 - 6th August 2010


Trench 5

Hey I’m Kirsty and I’m a part of the excavations in Trench 5a. The current main features in the trench I’m working in include: the outer enclosure wall, a few post holes, the inner enclosure and a standing stone as well as  some mysterious other features which we are currently trying to understand.  Today I was working on one of these mysterious features, 5009, which seems to be connected to the outer enclosure wall, but it could be completely unrelated, so we are trying to get to the bottom of this, although this is difficult as the rain resulted in the soil changing colour making it less easy to define. Apart from that we generally finished up the pre excavation plans of the trench and finished reading the levels for those plans. There were some discoveries, a few pieces of modern pottery or china and some large pieces of charcoal, which suggest burning on some features.

Measuring levels for  the site plan. 

Trench 6
Hey, this is Alasdair from Trench no.6. Today the weather has taken a slight turn for the worse, with grey skies and rain showers throughout the day. This made it a rather gruelling task to excavate the features that have revealed themselves over the last few days. Several of the post-hole features in our trench have now expanded in size as we have excavated further, two of which are now believed to be burials. The interpretation of the site is changing all the time, as more and more of the features are uncovered. The team has also began removing soil from a section of the henge ditch, a large ring around 6m in width, in search of an entranceway.

While an entrance is yet to be identified, I made a chance discovery: a small glass bead, which I have been told is likely to date from the Roman Iron Age, made from recycled Roman glass. This was quite exciting, as it one of only two glass finds ever made on the site, the other being a small glass droplet. This has lead to a theory that the material was in fact being made on or near the site. All very exciting, and I’m feeling rather pleased with myself for the discovery of the glass bead! Now I’m just hoping for the weather to start getting better...

A slightly blurry photo, but it gives you an idea of the scale and colour of the bead.

Trench 7
Lindsay here today! We trowled the next section of the trench that needed to be planned and then set up measuring tapes for plan drawings. Some people drew plans and others dug individual features. All of the features we were digging today were possible post holes. At the moment there are two apparent post holes, both have a center that is composed of dark brown soil which indicated a post pipe. The dark brown soil of the post pipes also have charcoal inclusions, the colour and charcoal inclusions indicate that the post pipes were burned. In one of the post pipes several pieces of burnt red stone were found.  Several pieces of charcoal were also collected for carbon dating which should give us some precise dates for the postholes. 

Trench 8
Hi, I’m Anna, a final year student from Glasgow Uni working on the square barrow site. Today was rainy which, although sometimes is a blessing since features can be seen more distinctly, was not today as the constant rain only helped to confuse the outline of the ditch feature with the soil around it. This made trowelling the features more difficult as we were trying not to trowel outside of the ditch. The ditches of the eastern barrow started to be excavated further today. There are three ditches to this barrow, the fourth side being part of the western barrow. The ditches were partly excavated and could perhaps be finished tomorrow. The ditches of the eastern barrow are not very deep. The  site in general is not very deep since the area is on a slight brae of the hill and so has been more affected by ploughing. In the southern ditch of the eastern barrow we found some charcoal which indicates that human activity occurred on the site in the past and will hopefully give us some precise dates for its use.

Friday 6 August 2010

DAY 3 - August 5th 2010


Trench 5

The very last of the trowelling back and cleaning was finished up this morning on trench 5. A light rain made for the best photo-shoot we’ve had so far with the double-ditch showing up beautifully on both sides of the baulk. These perfect conditions prevailed for the first few minutes of pre-excavation planning, before the sun unfortunately came out and the soil dried once again to a homogenous grey-brown.

As planning continued, sections of the ditch and surrounds were selected for deeper sondage. The spoil was sieved for artefacts and biological material, a lot of stones resulted.

The large rock protruding in the South-West corner has been stirring interest – cleaning by Dimitra has revealed a base cluster of tightly-packed small stones. There is the possibility that this is a barrow-grave, as discovered in previous years, has been discussed, but only further excavation will tell.
The ditch segments in the baulked-off corner seem to be continuing to a good depth, and our team are getting quite proud of their own little patches. It will be interesting to see whether the ditches are continuous below the gravelly layers, and also what the distinct pits (5008) and (5001) show when they are continued tomorrow.

Relaxing during lunch, right before the rain...

Trench 6
Hey all, I am Bambos. Today the weather had once again been kind to us, there were only a couple of rain bursts and plenty of sunshine. When we arrived at trench 6 (where a Neolithic henge, post holes, pits and a number of barrows are presumed to exist) the morning dew that soaked the surface made the features of archaeological interest stand out from the natural deposits. After a quick briefing everyone took their place at their designated posts, and with trowels in hand begun to remove the earth in search for something...that is anything...indicative of past human activity. We were nevertheless not left disappointed when burned bone fragments made their appearance in an area within the henge. With great anticipation their origin and date may become known when analysed within a laboratory environment (hopefully they will prove to be really old and human). Our excitement was even further stimulated with the discovery of two pottery fragments found once again within the henge. On first glance they appear to belong to the Neolithic period (perhaps early to mid).  As you can see this is exciting stuff...I bet  you wished you were here to experience it all. Take care...

Trench 7
Hi, my name is Elaine Halligan and I’m a student at Glasgow University.   I have been working in trench 7, a Neolithic trench in Forteviot.  This morning when we turned up at the site the features in our trench were a lot clearer  due to the rain last night.  It looks as if there are more than first thought.  We began excavating some of the features after the planning was done, and  I was excavating  feature A, which is either a possible posthole or a tree throw, hopefully it will become clear tomorrow.  There have been no significant finds so far but it has been interesting all the same, hopefully tomorrow!  The other guys on the trench carried on with the planning, and will be ready to start excavating the rest of the features tomorrow, so we should be getting a better idea of what we are working with then.  Luckily the weather has been quite warm today with only the odd shower, and  hopefully it will stay like that for the rest of the week.    

Trench 8
Hi, my name’s Fi. I’m a second year archaeology student from Glasgow University working on Trench 8, the square barrows.  We had great sunny weather for most of the day, which although was lovely to work in dried out the soil in the trench an awful  lot. This meant a lot of near crumbling sections and very little colour differentiation in the soil for us to distinguish and interpret features. Despite this every one managed to get their sections of ditch that they were working on recorded and the trench edges  have all neatened up. We also got the levels and co-ordinates measured for our section drawings as Cathy brought us an EDM theodolite for the afternoon. We even had time for a tidying trowel of the trench surface right before the rain which really made the different contexts stand out. Hopefully tomorrow we can finally start to excavate one of the possible graves!!

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Day 2 - August 4th 2010


Trench 8

My name is Paddy Gleeson and I came to Forteviot from University College Cork.

This is the third day here and the second properly excavating. Today I spent most of the day finishing digging my section through the central ditch of one of the Pictish Square barrows in Trench 8. The ditch seems to be the eastern ditch of the larger of the two square barrows but may have functioned as the ditch for the smaller one too though they are not joined in plan. The section didn’t produce anything artefactual; only sandy clay with some large stones towards the centre. After a while I began to get my eye in and finally figured out how to spot the edges and the bottom.

Other than me in the trench, most people seem to be doing the same task, digging sections through the ditches. Fiona, is digging some sort of pit that has produced an animal bone, possibly a rib bone I heard someone say though due to the preservation in the soil here we are guessing it’s modern. The only other find I remember from today is that Fi (quite an expert at sieving) found a charred grain in the fill of her section across the northern ditch of the larger, western square barrow.  The most amusing ‘find’ of the day is definitely Anna’s ‘thumb stone’: a really cool naturally degraded stone that when placed on someone’s thumb appears to look exactly like a gnarly thumb tip. Not archaeological but highly amusing!

All hard at work recording the sections of the ditches of the smaller barrow.

Trench 6 
Hello! I am Calum Macpherson, an undergraduate from Aberdeen University. Today in the trench there was a move from the pure trowelling of yesterday into some rad planning of the grids and the start of excavating some of the features. The day began with a light trowel over several of the grid squares now assigned with colourful names such as John Boy, Liz, Marvin and Mervin. After this we moved on to planning the grid squares by mapping out all of the features shown which for me, involved a lot of staring blankly at a grid square trying to map out the features below. After what seemed like an age we took a photo of the area and broke for lunch. After a break for lunch people started to move onto excavating the features they were assigned. I was assigned an area of charcoal and as yet I havent managed to excavate particularly deeply as soon after i started to excavate it was time to pack up and leave it for another day.

The cleaning continues for some as others behind them begin the pre excavation planning.