Friday 21 June 2013

Week 1 wrap-up

We are now a week into the SERF fieldschool 2013, which means the topsoil has been cleared off, the first features have been planned and there's lots of contexts to explore. This is where the fun part begins! But first, let's take a look at what progress has been made on each site, as told by the supervisors and students themselves.


Yesterday we completed our fifth full day excavating at Leadketty, and the results so far have been tantalising. As yet, we are not sure exactly how old the site we are excavating is: it could be Neolithic, or Iron Age, or even medieval. A complete sense of what is in the massive trench we are working in is also not clear because, believe it or not, the weather has been too good! The dry conditions mean that the gravel subsoil and the archaeological features are more or less all the same sort of beige colour, with only charcoal-rich features easily apparent. Yet we know there is a lot of archaeology in the trench, as for about 2 hours on Tuesday morning, just after an overnight rain fall, we saw dozens of features including several palisades and ditches, and lots of pits and possible postholes. Today we gave up planning for the time being as we simply cannot see the archaeology, and we may have to resort to spraying the site or doing a highly risky rain dance over the weekend.

Palisade trench visible on Tuesday morning for about 2 hours!
 The main objective of this trench is to investigate a cropmark enclosure, measuring about 100m and defined by a segmented or causewayed ditch. We have found the ditch in our trench, but we have also discovered a previously unknown external fence line that seems to define an even bigger enclosure, perhaps 140m or so in diameter. We have not started to excavate the boundaries of these massive concentric enclosures yet, but we have over the last few days commenced work on some of the features within the enclosure.

So far we have not had any exciting artefacts, other than a sherd of 19th-century pottery which seems to have found its way into a large posthole! Inside the big enclosures are a series of features, including one defined by a shallow fence slot, and containing a lot of rather small postholes. Again, this could be Neolithic, or much older. Next week the objective will be to start to investigate the two enclosure boundaries and work out how old they are, and how they relate to one another. Then we can start to piece together how this fits in better with the discoveries of the SERF Project to date. All we need now is a little rain!
Tim enthusiastically bucketing

Kay Craig

As part of the hillfort excavations programme this year we are tackling Kay Craig, a low hill directly across from Castle Craig (the broch site we excavated in 2011 and 2012). The site commands great views up Strathearn and over the local area, pointing towards its strategic location. This part of the study area contains several hillforts in close proximity around Coul (meaning corner glen) including Ben Effrey, Ogil Hill and Castle Craig so we are hoping to find out when this site has been in use and whether it is contemporary with any of these other sites.
A tantalising piece of information was provided by the landowners and locals who have told us about an historical structure being inhabited on this site until 1695. It is not marked on any of the historic maps or in any documentary sources we have come across so far but we are keeping a close eye out for any evidence of medieval or later occupation. The discovery of pottery today which is possibly from the early Iron Age suggests we have a prehistoric element to the site as well so we may be looking at an area which has been in use over several periods. Some of our students share their experience so far:
Veronica: We're now on Day Five of the excavations at Kay Craig and things are progressing nicely. So far the activities have included de-turfing the trenches, trowelling off the top layers to reveal a spread of stones in the ditch and some much larger stones on the bank. These were then planned and photographed so we are now excavating in earnest! Trench 1 is 2m by 20m and cuts across the ditch and up over a large wide bank while Trench 2 is 6m by 6m and is placed across part of the platform on the top of the hill. We are a much smaller crew than the other sites but that is just fine up here, great views across to Castle Craig and great company are making this a very pleasurable experience indeed. Also, NO RAIN! Yet.... :)
Andrew: How best to summarise the last five days at Kay Craig? The name itself means 'Rock of the Jackdaws' and although we haven't seen any of those yet it is easy to imagine a crumbling, bird-infested tower on the hill. The discovery of plenty of tumbled rubble in Trench 2 suggests a possible structure of decent size, surrounded by a ditch and bank further downslope. An unfired clay loomweight was our first find although we have heard tales of more grisly things buried on the site...thankfully the deposited placenta (shudder) that we were told was there remains undiscovered! 


St Serf's

Exposing the foundations of the churchyard wall of St Serf's reveals the foundations of earlier stone structures.

The St Serf's crew have been dealing with a very different kind of archaeology than those at Leadketty or Kay Craig. Our trenches outside the churchyard of St Serf's parish church, Dunning are all into archaeological layers now after removing the overburden, which contained incredible amounts of largely Victorian pottery and glass as this area was used as the village rubbish tip until the early 20th century. Trenches 04 and 05 have revealed the foundations of the churchyard wall and earlier drystone buildings similar to those found in this area during SERF 2012. In the closing hours of Thursday, however, a single sherd of Scottish White Gritty Ware, dating to the 12-14th centuries, was found in Trench 05, so we may be getting down to medieval layers.

Carolyn and Kirk, two of our students from the US, play it safe in Trench 06

Trench 06, which extends from the churchyard to the Dunning Burn, has had the deepest deposits anywhere, so much so that our students have had to take safety precautions! The river embankment now stands to 1.5m and the infill seems to consist of made ground, reclaimed in the improvements of the modern period. There are some undisturbed deposits in the area nearest the churchyard wall, and we will be investigating these more in the following week.

Trench 07, a narrow architectural trench at the base of St Serf's medieval square tower, has finally exposed the original base course of the tower and this is set into a layer containing medieval ceramic, so we are coming close to revealing the earliest stages of the church in Dunning - stay tuned for more details!

Wednesday 19 June 2013

The Wee Big Dig

Well the Big Dig's Wee Dig at Dunning Primary was a great success! The kids there were so enthusiastic and well behaved. The team opened two trenches with the help of our wee diggers. Amongst other things trench one produced our star find: a piece of brown glazed ware probably dating to the 15th century; trench 2 revealed the remains of the old path to the school's original entrance. The event ended with the burial of a time capsule filled with work by the children :)

Monday 17 June 2013

Welcome to the 2013 SERF Fieldschool!

After our successful dig at Castle Law Forgandenny hillfort earlier this spring, the SERF fieldschool is back for the 2013 season! This year (15 June - 5 July) we have three main sites in the Dunning area of Perthshire, continuing the work we started last year. Our excavations this year cover the Neolithic straight to the modern day. Alongside that we'll be doing lots of surveys and other activities in the Dunning area; read on or follow us on Twitter for regular updates @SERFProject. Let's introduce this year's sites!

Leadketty Farm

Dene at the opening of the Leadketty trench last week.
This year's prehistoric excavation is truly massive, at 50x20m. We are investigating the site of a possibly Neolithic causewayed enclosure, seen only as a cropmark from aerial photography. The topsoil is all cleared off now and there's plenty of features appearing already, so stay tuned for more details.

St Serf's, Dunning

Our students opening one of the trenches outside St Serf's Parish Church, Dunning.  
We are also continuing our exploration of the medieval church of St Serf's, which is famous for its 12th-century Romanesque tower and now houses the 9th-century Dupplin Cross (originally from Forteviot). Our excavation in this area last year turned up a fragment of another Pictish cross slab reused in a post-medieval context, as well as lots of evidence for the weaving industry that made Dunning an important market town. So far this year we have been busy sorting through loads of modern midden material (see below), but with the odd fragment of 16/17th-century ceramic appearing here and there.
Just some of the many modern finds found today in Trench 04 outside St Serf's!

Kay Craig

Neil starts digging through the rubble at Kay Craig.
Our last main site is at Kay Craig, a possible hillfort directly across from the broch we discovered at Castle Craig. That site was had evidence of occupation from the Iron Age down to the 11th century, so the aim at Kay Craig is to see when this site was used and how it related to the occupation on the broch site. But there's still lots of rubble to clear off!

And much more...

Alongside our main excavations at these sites, we're also running a fantastic series of events in and around Dunning this month, including the second annual Big Dig all around the village, and the Wee Big Dig at Dunning Primary School. For more information, visit our outreach events page or follow the Big Dig on Facebook!

For more on previous seasons of SERF, including excavation reports and photo galleries, head to our project website.