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.

2010 Season DAY 1: 3rd August 2010


Trench 5 - enclosure of unknown date....
Hey, this is Chelsea from Glasgow University. I was working on Trench 5a. Today we were cleaning up the site using hoes and shovels. This was to make the features of the site become clearer.  After using the hoes we had to go over what we had done using our trowels. We were able to see the outer henge ditches really well after all the cleaning. This was a lot of hard work but I guess it has to be done! 

The cleaning line making progress over the trench.

Trench 6  - henge, but perhaps not a henge
Hey, this is Sandi from Aberdeen University and Trench #6. Today, we spent the first part of the morning cleaning the trenches with hoes and then the rest of the day was spent cleaning the trench all over again with trowels; it was fairly simple if a little back-breaking!  Now that the trench is clear it’s much easier to see the features we have. So far we can see part of a Neolithic henge ditch and what might be a compacted historical road that runs North-South across the trench.  The weather was pretty fair today, if a little breezy which was nice during the hard labour!

A well deserved rest during lunch.

Trench 7 - palisaded enclosure postholes
Hi, my name’s Jim Waugh and I’ve been working in Trench 7. Most of today has been spent on the preparation of the trench; sides being squared, the surface of the trench floor being cleaned by hoes and various features being marked out for further investigation. Among the features that we’ll be looking at in more depth are a series of post holes, thought to deliniate the route of the ancient entry avenue into the site, and various other patches that have caught the interest of the dig managers and supervisors. Although it has been a day of hard graft, the fact that everyone in Cathy’s Commandos worked their socks off meant that, from now on, we can all get on with the archaeological work from tomorrow morning.

All possible features to be investigated being marked by flags prior to excavation.

Trench 8 - squarish barrows
xDay one on trench eight and morale was high as we proceeded to scrape back the first layers of topsoil to define the existing features with greater clarity and to realise new ones. The identification of adjacent twin Pictish Square Barrows, and possible supplementary burials within the Forteviot cropmark complex provides further possibilities to explore the complex relationships between earlier prehistoric activity and later activities, and to advance our understanding of Pictish burial practices.

Following several hours of backbreaking labour with our good friends the spade and mattock, further trowel work allowed us to clarify the identifiable features within the larger square barrow, with a central burial surrounded by a square ditch. Centuries of ploughing have flattened any protruding structural anomalies that are only just beginning to be revealed.

Under the capable hands of Dr. Ewan Campbell, site supervisor Miss Bain and his crew of motley archaeologists, ranging from the uninitiated and perpetually confused first time field archaeologist (such as myself) to the hardened excavators, work progressed swiftly and confidently.

Following the initial clearing work began exploring several unidentifiable features, ranging from potential post holes outside the main square barrows to the taphonomic influences of previous animal occupants. Excavation began on the ditches defining the outside boundary of the two square barrows revealing their extent and depth.

The square barrows are very distinct after cleaning!

Law of Dumbuils

Day 1 at the Law of Dumbuills turned out to be a very productive day.  Arriving on site this morning to find an empty hillfort, no trenches insitu and no porta-loo to be seen eeeek.  I thought I was going to have to bagsy a spot within the trees.  But luckily no, Tessa pulled out a chemical toilet from the back of the landrover and a tent.  We found a lovely spot and the toilet tent is now set up and ready to use, I think it’s still to be christened.

Anyway back to the archaeology.  After  having a look around the hillfort and locating archaeological features we set up a 35.0 by 2.0m trench running North-South across 3 ramparts and 3 ditches.  De-turfing was tough at points as a lot of the grass was like springs and the spades kept bouncing off it, but by 3pm the de-turfing was done and the trowelling began.   The ramparts are well preserved at points and we’re already uncovering a lot of stone.  The hillfort itself is in a great location  amazing views North, East and West with Castle Law situated to the South.  Overall a very productive day and the rain stayed away, which is just as well because we forgot the gazeebo.  Looking forward to what’s in store tomorrow!

Monday 2 August 2010

SERF Begins!

Hi everyone,

Well, its a rainy morning in Glasgow and the staff and students of University of Glasgow are assembling for another fieldwork season up in Forteviot.

Finds are being packed up, luggage stowed and then we are off up the road to Strathallan School; who are kindly putting us up again for the month.

There we will meet up with the University of Aberdeen contingent and assorted others for lunch, a preliminary introduction to the project, then off to site to get some afternoon cleaning on the go! Hi Hoe!

Staff have been up in the area doing some geophysical survey, opening the trenches and getting some preliminary cleaning done all ready to get started.  Hopefully the constant dreich weather in Glasgow won't follow us north and keep us off site today.

Hopefully our followers; old and new will enjoy the coming weeks of updates, info and pictures we will post on our blog - tell your friends.

Cheers for now,