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