Hello! This Spring archaeological goings-on have been afoot in the Lomonds Hills. This is a quick update about some of the rather interesting and fun volunteer training events that we have already started doing out in the sunny Fife-shire countryside. Late last February and earlier this March the project launched a series of ‘Introducing Archaeology’ events targeted at getting the word out to new volunteers and raising the profile of the Living Lomonds Historic Landscape programme more generally. Over two weeks we’ve held a set of Discovery Survey activities, which in technical terms has meant training groups of between five and ten peoples in the basic skills of walkover survey, site recording and landscape interpretation. I am please to say there have been folk taking part from all walks of life, with people making the trip to the Lomonds from as far afield as Newburgh on the Tay and wider Perth and Kinross. Despite some rather brisk Fife Spring weather the volunteer teams have been just fantastically enthusiastic and have already started to make some fascinating new discoveries amongst the hills.
The plan with the walkover surveys are to build on baseline survey work that has already been undertaken during the development phase of the LLLP; preliminary archaeological research that I was fortunate enough to oversee. The baseline work collated all previous information known about sites across the hills, including data from the local Sites and Monuments Records (more commonly known these days as Historic Environment Records) held by the good people at Fife Council Archaeological Service and National Monuments Records of Scotland maintained by the RCAHMS. It turned out that the last large-scale survey to be attempted of the Lomond Hills took place back in 1978. After some initial exploration and site visits it quickly became clear that there was good potential for new discoveries to be made in the Regional Park and that an up-to-date archaeological walkover survey would be a worthwhile exercise to form the basis for a scheme of community training activities. Thankfully the HLF and Historic Scotland agreed! So here we are on the threshold of an new programme of Discovery Surveys set to be launched this April.
What have we found so far? We’ve started by walking areas of moorland around East Lomond Hill, which is itself the site of an important Iron Age and Pictish period Hillfort (ramparts of which are just visible on the first photograph above). East Lomond has been our starting point as this area is part of Falkland and Balbirnie Estates, who were the first landowners to consent to access and are partner members of LLLP. Even the first ‘introducing’ events have thrown up new sites and objects that represent an extraordinarily wide breath of the landscape’s history, potential stretching from the Bronze Age to the early 20th century. Highlights include previously unrecorded prehistoric hut circles or roundhouses on Purin Hill.
Lost boundary stones relating to the AD 1818 division of the Commonty (common pasture land) of the Royal Burgh of Falkland; an important process of change in this landscape that was overseen by a government surveyor called William Raye.
Note the finely carved ‘W R 1818’ visible in this photo of one of the stones recently uncovered amongst the heather (apologies for rain on the lens). These carvings are seen on all the boundary stones relating to the Falkland commonty division and also have fine linear tooling marks down all four sides. It’s rare enough and quite handy to discover an archaeological find with its date and initials carved onto it. There is exciting new research currentlu underway by LLLP which is looking into the history of how the divisions were surveyed and has uncovered an original plan of the stones layout held at Falkland Estate. I’ll post more details about these fascinating stones on a future occasion, but suffice to say its clear there are many stones that are at present totally unrecorded in the archaeological records. Our volunteers have been having a great time stone-hunting in the heather.
Other post-medieval and relatively recent finds have included shooting butts or hides, part of 19th and early 20th century estate sporting landscapes. This was a primary use for the area prior to the establishment of the Regional Park. Our latest discoveries have been a series of old track-ways on the north slopes of East Lomond. Several of hese snake their way up onto the moor and are often visible as a series of adjacent heather-ground earthworks that indicate where route-ways have meandered around the same location over time, as one road surface becomes over worn and impassable. These features are notoriously difficult to date, though they are fairly common in upland areas of Scotland. A track-way discovered by one of our teams on 2nd March seemed to make for a 19th-century limestone quarry, which may help to date this example, nevetheless some of these route-ways may reuse ancient tracks that could date back as far as the Iron Age or earlier.
Some great finds and great days out, I’m sure you’ll agree. It is not long now until the project’s Spring into Summer programme of events will be launched. So if you’re local or even if you’re not please do keep an eye on this blog or the facebook page to get details about all up-coming volunteering opportunities. In the meantime I hope you found this first post interesting. I will be putting up some more thoughts in the next posts about the involved work that the Partnership has been doing with local landowners on access and best advice for visitors to the hills, and also news on findings from our first geophysical surveys. Until then, all the best.