Tuesday 9 July 2013

End of Dig Wrap-up Part 4: In and Around Dunning

As with every SERF fieldschool, we aim to give our students a taste of as many archaeological techniques as possible alongside our main excavations. This year, our students had a full complement of projects which they could include in their portfolios, including walkover survey, geophysical survey, standing building survey, topographic survey and community outreach activities like the Dunning Big Dig. Here are some of the results from these projects, rounding out another superb SERF Project fieldschool in Dunning.

Topographic survey at Kincladie Wood Roman Camp

The upstanding north ramparts of a Roman temporary camp survive in Kincladie Wood on the edge of Dunning.
Relatively little is known about the Roman temporary marching camp at Dunning. The only upstanding remains are situated in Kincladie Wood and apart from some very small-scale excavations in the 1970s and 1990s, most of our evidence for the camp comes from aerial photography. This has been used to trace the perimeter of the fort enclosing an area of around 46 hectares, sufficient to hold an entire army of soldiers and their logistical support. The western entrance of the fort was revealed in advance of the construction of houses along Romangate, Dunning, and produced pottery from the middle of the second century AD. The Perth Road runs through a similar entrance on the north side of the fort. All the entrances are defended by a simple outwork or titulus bank and ditch.

Aerial and profile views of the Roman camp ramparts and titulus gate

The survey focused on the Kincladie Wood section of the defences, recording the main bank and ditch of the camp, as well as the surviving remains of the titulus bank and ditch beyond the northern entrance. At the west end of the rampart, the survey might suggest the beginning of the corner of the camp, in contrast to the plan which shows this in the field beyond. At the east end of the rampart, the survey may have just picked up the entrance before being cut by the road. An additional low bank to the south of the main rampart looks likely to be associated with drainage in the boggy area of woodland.

Much remains to be revealed about Dunning’s Roman camp: its date remains uncertain, part of its extent remains unknown, and there is no known evidence of activity in the interior associated with its use. Our survey of this part of the monument was a brief training exercise, but it re-opens these questions for future research.

Dunning Big Dig and Beyond

University of Toronto student Cait uncovers an early wall in a back garden in Dunning
This year's Big Dig was a series of events across the first two weeks of the fieldschool, beginning with the Wee Big Dig at Dunning Primary School and five days of test pitting in the back gardens of interested volunteers across the village. You can read more about the results at our Dunning Big Dig blog.

Loom weights neatly stacked against the wall of the abandoned Weaver's Cottage on Thimble Row
Two of the Big Dig test pits were kept open and extended for excavation in the third week by the SERF Project with the help of ACFA volunteers. One of these was in the Weaver's Cottage on Thimble Row, a unique survival from Dunning's heyday as a weaving trade hub. Further excavations here revealed more about the everyday life of weavers a century ago and beyond, plus evidence of earlier walls.

A section of the early medieval monastic enclosure or vallum ditch found in a back garden north of St Serf's
A test pit at Castle Cottage adjacent to Dunning Primary School, where a possibly early monastic vallum ditch was found and radiocarbon-dated to the 8th century in 2007, was extended across the garden and successfully located the vallum ditch in this area. This was not excavated but planned and surveyed in situ. This work shows that early medieval features still survive in the village and this will help us plan future excavations.

Monday 8 July 2013

End of Dig Wrap-up Part 3: Leadketty

Leadketty: mysterious to the end! After three weeks of hard toil, and the investigation of dozens of pits, postholes and stakeholes as well as digging a ditch, palisade and two fence lines, the big questions about what was going on in and around the big earthwork enclosure and when all of this was happening remained frustratingly unresolved. Of course, we eagerly await the outcome of the post-excavation analysis of samples which should provide dating evidence and environmental context – but that means a wait of many months before we can really start to make sense of the archaeology we found. This means that in ways this was a frustrating excavation, but enlivened by a great team, some fine banter on-site, hot sauce in abundance, and some creative photography from Helen!

Jamie, day 17

The main target of the excavation was the big, putative causewayed enclosure. Ultimately, we did find part of the ditch of this monument, but it proved extremely challenging to excavate due to the nature of the subsoils, ditch fill and dry weather conditions. Nonetheless, Steve, Eva, then Scott, Chris, Jamie, Ben and Kirk were up to the challenge and mattocked the ditch into submission. Their brutal handiwork revealed a rather boring ditch, but at least we found it! By contrast, features in the rest of the trench were more easily spotted and excavated, including an amazing prehistoric fence line defined by a series of closely spaced postholes.

The palisade seemingly enclosing the causewayed enclosure

This fence line seems to be associated with the causewayed enclosure, perhaps indicating a larger enclosure encircling it, or a screen or elaborate entranceway (we identified two large possible gate posts). Some fine posthole excavating, often utilising ladles and spoons, revealed the complex and variable nature of this boundary. Amazing trowel (and spoon) work was evident all over the big trench, with plenty of small features cut into gravel and silt to keep everyone very busy. These remains suggest there were some timber structures within the causewayed enclosure, as well as at least two fence lines, but how these relate chronologically to one another remains to be seen.

As is often the case with excavation, there are more questions than answers at this stage, but none of this would have been possible without a brilliant and hard-working team who made each dry, dusty day on site a pleasurable experience!

Kenny and Dene

The LK13 team

End of Dig Wrap-up Part 2: St Serf's

Week 3 was pretty wild! As is the rule with most seasons, all the biggest news emerged in the last few days of the dig. Since our last update, Trench 04 revealed a large and incredibly unexpected revetment wall which we will return to below. But first, a wrap-up of all our trenches in and around St Serf's Parish Church, Dunning.

Trenches 05 and 06 were situated just northeast of the churchyard, just above the Dunning Burn. Both revealed surprisingly shallow deposits bottoming onto what appeared to be the former riverbank gravel, with Trench 06 (extending as far as the embankment of the river) showing how some of this area has been artificially raised and leveled in modern times. Locals inform us that the seemingly placid Dunning Burn was prone to flooding even with these improvements, although this happens less frequently now that there are numerous tree plantations upstream. Trench 05 did include two sherds of medieval pottery and a stance for a modern drystone structure, but along with the sparse features of Trench 06 indicates that the riverfront area was used only for light agricultural activity associated with the old schoolhouse before becoming the village midden in the late 19th century and the site of a Scout hut in the 20th century, which stood until recently.

Trench 04 was located along the modern boundary wall of St Serf's churchyard. After the Victorian midden layers, the modern structures, and the medieval garden soil, we reached a layer of stone settings about a meter below the ground surface. When we hit some very large sandstone slabs surrounded by gravel in the middle of the trench, we figured we were approaching bedrock. This 'bedrock' soon became a wall of large, squared blocks of sandstone, standing up to three courses, running broadly north to south. This wall had only one face; it was backed by smaller boulders and clay, as opposed to the loose gravel and sand on the outward side.
A large wall running N-S runs underneath the modern churchyard boundary wall

The gravel surrounding the wall was certainly not 'natural' either, as it had medieval pottery and slag mixed in it. Both the wall and this gravel layer rested on the natural bedrock. Bedrock also appeared behind the wall but at a considerably higher level than the one on which the wall was built. So our current theory is that this wall was a revetment or retaining wall rather than a rampart.
Trench 04 in context: Sven's ranging poles mark the wall as it appeared in the trench, with the rest of the St Serf's team marking the apparent line of the wall.

So is this the early medieval monastic boundary we had hoped for? It is certainly not the 8th-century vallum ditch encountered elsewhere in the village, but as seen in the photo above, it could still have acted as the edge of the platform on which the medieval church was built. The only dating evidence is that the wall was leveled and filled in with gravel and sand mixed with medieval pottery, indicating that this took place in the medieval period. As usual, more questions than answers here, but very exciting nonetheless!

Trench 07, along the north wall of St Serf's square tower, showing pre-12th century foundations

And while this was going on, we opened another small trench to investigate the origins of St Serf's square tower itself.

The excavations at the church tower have been very successful in uncovering evidence for an early medieval church at Dunning, possibly dating back as early as the time of St Serf himself (around AD 700). The area we excavated was very restricted (only 3 x 1 metres) due to the presence of the post-medieval graveyard, and modern service trenches for the church. The foundations of the 12th century church and a medieval burial ate into this space leaving only a tiny patch of pre-12th century deposits intact and making it very difficult to excavate. Despite these problems, this area turned out to be highly significant, as it showed the foundations of an earlier stone building that had been re-used by the medieval masons! Pre-12th century stone churches are very rare in Scotland, with only a couple of other examples known. Even better, there was an earlier burial running under this foundation, which will enable us to get a good scientific date for the building, and shows that there was an even earlier focus for burial, probably a wooden church under the present church tower.
12th-century tool marks on the ashlar masonry of the tower, long obscured by soil buildup

Another surprise was the quality of preservation of the 12th century stonework, which showed the mason's toolmarks from working the stone blocks of the church. These had been preserved by post-medieval deposits from the effects of industrial pollution (acid rain) of the 19/20th centuries, and show how much the soft sandstone of the present building has been damaged in the last few hundred years.

All in all, a very successful season at St Serf's!

Thanks for reading,
Adrian and Ewan

End of Dig Wrap-up Part 1: Kay Craig

The well-built wall of the circular structure

Well! That's us finished up at Kay Craig after the smoothest hillfort backfill in SERF Project history. Done by 2pm and down to the Kirkstyle beer garden for a couple of pints before the end of dig BBQ.

In the final week we continued to explore the circular structure at the top of the hill. Our provisional interpretation is that this is a site that has seen several phases of use.

One of the first phases is evident from a large ashy and charcoal rich layer across the top of the bedrock - possibly material from a burning event that has later been spread across the site to level out the uneven bedrock (unfortunately no finds from this layer so we will have to wait and see what the carbon dates say).

On top of this layer the circular structure with concentric boundary wall reminiscent of the broch at Castle Craig has been built. The structure wall is much smaller than a typical broch wall at 1.2m wide so we think this is probably a 'dun' site or smaller enclosed outpost, perhaps contemporary with the broch, although again we have to wait for carbon dates to be sure.

Later some of this structure wall has been disturbed by a combination of rabbit burrows, vegetation roots and probably some robbing of stone.

Some repairs have been done as the site was reused - this time with more rough angular stone blocks making up part of the wall while reusing the base course of the earlier structure. There was also a possible turf component to the structure and a small secondary hearth in a disturbed occupation layer. This hearth was up against one side of the reused structure and had enough slag nearby to suggest it was a secondary hearth for metal working. Several whetstones and the crucible plus a LOT of ash were near this spot as well.

This structure was then knocked down or fell down creating a layer of tumbled stone which was where most of the possible medieval finds came from.

Rock-cut ditch packed with stones

Meanwhile the ditch and bank were excavated down to bedrock. The ditch looks like it has been deliberately filled in with a lot of flat angular stones to level the uneven bedrock surface and also to provide a more usable surface, perhaps for keeping livestock on or creating more space for other activity on the site.

The bank is presumably contemporary with the ditch as it follows the line of the ditch and a large quantity of the angular stone in it it has likely come directly from the quarried out ditch. No more finds in the ditch since the possible Iron age and possible medieval pottery so we will be waiting on yet more carbon dates to compare the date of this part of the site with the structures on the hill and the other sites in the area.

So as of yet there is all to play for but regardless of what period the activity on this site spans it is a really interesting addition to our project data.

A big thanks to everyone who helped out on the site, particularly our regulars; Veronica, Neil, Andrew, Bec, Jennifer, Alex and Lorraine. Special thanks to our superb supervisor Yvonne who kept it all running smoothly. And thanks to the locals who came to visit, the landowners who made us welcome and Mrs Kinnard for pointing us at the site in the first place.

Onwards and upwards to the next hillfort!

Cathy and Tessa