Tuesday 2 July 2013

Bottles, Stones & Pottery: a note from our Finds Czar Jules McHale

Some of the Greatest Hits from the Victorian midden in the St Serf's trenches
Comforted by Pringles, giant buttons and a variety of visits from our SERF team and residents of Dunning, this year’s small finds processing has been carried out at the wee school in Dunning Village. In this season's infancy, the finds recovered were predominantly from our trenches at Kirk Wynd, behind St. Serf’s church. We have amassed a plethora of bottles, clay pipes and pottery from a late 19th/early 20th century midden site.

An example of late medieval green-glazed pottery, showing the thumbprint of the potter
Throughout the season, St Serf's has produced medieval pottery sherds, while Kay Craig has produced multiperiod material from early Iron Age pottery to a possibly medieval crucible for melting precious metals.

Leadketty, with its complex and numerous features, has been sterile of any finds so far! But its sterile condition is very different from the situation in last year's henge and palisaded enclosure excavations, where numerous contexts turned up Grooved Ware ceramic and burnt deposits. This does infer that the monuments were most likely kept intentionally clean. In this case, there is important evidence for prehistoric ritual activity even in this absence of artefacts. Both rich and sterile excavation conditions provide us as archaeologists with information that can potentially shape our interpretations and understanding of the sites.

A very unusual quartz pivot stone, split in half, found in the St Serf's trenches
All of the small finds that have been recovered from the series of trenches at SERF 2013 have been washed where appropriate, catalogued and stored to enable potential further study. To date, approximately 500 finds in total have been recorded. The assemblages of artefacts vary across lengthy time periods.

Monday 1 July 2013

Happy St Serf's Day!

Prof. Steve Driscoll slays the Dragon as Mairi invokes St Serf
Fortuitously for us in the St Serf's trenches, July the 1st is St Serf's feast day. St Serf is an obscure Pictish saint whose dossier only dates back to the 12th century but incorporates much earlier material. One of the most famous legends which have grown up around this shadowy figure is his slaying of a dragon with his staff, which is said to have occurred in Dunning. Taking the initiative, our student volunteers crafted a dragon last night, which we then flew over our trench today. At the end of another grueling day, our supervisor Prof. Steve Driscoll re-enacted the slaying of the beast, with our trusty ranging pole representing St Serf's venerated staff. Huzzah!

The Dragon flying over our trench.

Sunday 30 June 2013

Early foundations and medieval structures at St Serf's

Earlier foundations beneath the square tower of St Serf's
Amazing things are happening in the St Serf's trenches. Trench 07, a small architectural slot at the base of the 12th-century square tower, has revealed the foundations of an earlier stone structure! In the photo above, you can see the mortared rubble foundations of the 12th-century tower as it joins the nave. But about halfway down the trench, the foundations change to a setting of stones on a slightly different axis, set into a trench filled with rubble. What's more, this rubble contains flecks of disarticulated human bone, meaning it has cut into earlier burials. Whatever this all relates to, it is earlier than the 12th century, so this is where it gets exciting!

The mystery medieval stone setting in Trench 04 outside the churchyard wall
Meanwhile, outside the churchyard wall (and some 30cm beneath it) we have finally gotten through the garden soils filled with medieval ceramic (see below). At a depth of over a meter, our students' quality troweling skills have revealed numerous stone settings, including the one pictured above. This feature in particular has turned up bits of burnt bone and charcoal so far, so we may be seeing in situ settlement evidence, predating the modern extension of the churchyard ...stay tuned to find out what it is!

Medieval potsherds from Trench 04 and 05
Meanwhile, our Open Day today included brand-new 'Churchspotting: How to Read a Medieval Church' tours of St Serf's led by Dr Adrián Maldonado, which were a big hit with the locals and will hopefully run again next year. Week 3 at St Serf's is going to be a big one!