Living Lomonds Big Dig: East Lomond Hill (Day 13-17)

Welcome back to our dig blog.

 

Well the dig at East Lomond Hill has now come to a close. This post is to update you about the final week of discoveries:

 

Day 13

College students from SRUC Oatridge joined the dig team for today. They had tour of the site and had a go at digging for the afternoon. With the increased numbers Callum our site supervisor opened a small trial-trench (our final of the season) at the north-east of the site to investigate a long terrace feature located in this area to investigate if this is part of the hillfort’s defences. Large annexes can form part of Early Medieval forts that have been shown to adapted existing Iron Age fortification. The rest of the group continued to reveal a floor level in trench A, which has been subdivided into quadrants.

Trench A from the summit of East Lomond.

 

Day 14

Today the dig welcomed Henrick a pupil from Glenalmond College who is interested in a career in archaeology and had a day learning field skills. A series of stone-settings were reveled in trench A associated with late prehistoric finds. These feature may be post-setting linked to the large wall at the south side of the trench, but there density would seem to suggest more than one phase of building. At the south-east corner of trench A removal of a subsoil revealed a new cut feature with substantial burnt deposits on the surface, large fragments of slag and fired clay. This looks like remains of metal-working site. This feature was close by a small wall or drain and the large stone ‘box’ setting.

Small stone wall or drain in trench A with metal-working feature in foreground.

Small stone wall or drain in trench A with metal-working feature in foreground.

Stone-setting in NE quadrant of trench. Possible post-settings for a building(s).

Stone-settings in NW quadrant of trench A. Possible post-settings for a building(s).

 

Day 15

The weather closed in on us this morning. This meant our first lost hours to rain – not bad for an September/October dig. To make the most of our time the team took shelter at Falkland Centre for Stewardship, who kindly let us use their facilities to do some much-needed finds processing. This was helpful as it helped remind us just how much burnt bone was coming out of the site and a small fragment of worked flint was found in one of the general finds trays, which is always nice to see as a background indicator of prehistoric activity in the area, but was not from a well stratified layer. The clouds dispersed in the afternoon and allowed the team to get back on site for some recording.

 

Day 16

This was planning day when we set about fully recoding all the exposed building remains and features in trench A. Trench B to the south was excavated further to reveal a rather nice stone-lining at the base of the bank, below which was a clay and burnt soil deposit, which we should get a radiocarbon date from. Our aim in these closing days of the dig was to complete the recording of the layers we’ve got down to as the complexity of the remains meant we could not hope to resolve everything during this season. The responsible thing to do at this stage was to record what we’ve found rather than dig too much. In this way the dig has provided a useful evaluation of the area. On a site as big as East Lomond Hillfort is the most sensible approach for this the first season of a community dig.

Stone-lined bank in trench B.

Stone-lined bank in trench B.

 

Day 17

Our last day of archaeology for our volunteers. East Lomond saw us off with a fine day of weather. In trench C, Callum and Sue discovered a ditch and the tumbled remains of a wall or rampart. A fantastic find, which shows the hillfort was much larger than previously thought. Samples for dating from the ditch may show this was part of an Early Medieval Pictish annexe enclosing the southern shoulder of the hill. This ditched-outwork is different in character from the bank in trench B, which might instead connect to a similar upstanding section of bank visible further down the slope from trench C. If so then the hillfort may have a series of encloses adjoining its southern side. Figuring out the chronological sequences of these enclosures will be a major new find from the dig. In trench A the final discoveries were another section of wall similar in character to the smaller wall by the stone ‘box’ feature. This smaller wall was shown in section to be later than the larger faced wall, which we could now see had been truncated (cut away) at its east end. The ‘box’ feature contained burnt bone and was lined with coloured sandstone slabs, the intepretation of which will require further research for comparable features, though we are fairly confident this isn’t a burial cist and may be related to industiral activity. Also a fragment of a large rotary quern was identifed in the floor surface at the north-west side of trench A.

A section of wall and rubble at the NE edge of trench A.

A section of wall and rubble at the NE edge of trench A.

 

Closing thoughts

After all the planning and section drawings and photography were completed, the picture to emerge in trench A looked increasingly like a complex series of multi-phase settlement remains and industrial activity. Happily this is exactly the kind of sequence that we might reasonably expect to find in a well-preserved interior of a multi-phase hillfort annexe. That said very few Iron Age to Early Medieval fortified sites have been excavated in this part of Scotland, particularly in the areas inside the fortifications rather than focusing on the ramparts and walls. The post-excavation will start to build up a clearer picture of the story we have uncovered at East Lomond, but the current interpretation is that we have discovered the remains of a large Iron Age building, which was partially removed during a later period (perhaps the 1st millennium AD) to make way for a smaller series of stone structures and a metal-working site. Moreover the wider settlement terrace on the southern shoulder of the hill was enclosed by at least two boundaries (one ditched, the other a lined bank) to form annexes to the hillfort, perhaps also during the 1st millennium AD. The site is now being back filled with community payback assistance.

Misty sunset over the Lomond Hills from the dig.

Misty sunset over the Lomond Hills from the dig site.

These excavation has been a fantastic achievement only made possible by the amazing efforts of local community volunteers. Well done to everyone who took part! Thanks for all your hard work and good company up the hill. Thanks to our funders, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and the New Park Trust. Our appreciation also goes to Falkland and Balbirnie Estates and Fife Coastal and Countryside Trust. This event was delivered by Dr Oliver O’Grady of OJT Heritage for the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership.

 

The Discover the Ancient Lomonds Project has enjoyed over 200 days of volunteer help this year. We are incredibly grateful to all those who have given up their spare time to take part, to learn more about archaeology and help conserve their local historic landscape. Thank you!

Discover the Ancient Lomonds! Young volunteers take part in the dig with views of Glenrothes behind.

Discover the Ancient Lomonds! Young volunteers take part in the dig with views of Glenrothes behind.

Keep an eye on the Living Lomonds Facebook page and website for news of exciting feedback and heritage events coming soon.

All the best for now.

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Living Lomonds Big Dig: East Lomond Hill (Day 8-12)

Hello one and all.

Some delay since my last post. In defence the dig team has been unusually busy this week with visits from secondary school classes and our highly successful open day last Saturday. In the midst of all this we’ve made some extraordinary finds from the suspected prehistoric settlement site in trench A. Here is our breakdown of the digs daily diary:

 

Day 8

We welcomed pupils from Glenrothes to site today. Tara O’Leary from Falkland Centre for Stewardship joined us on site to give a creative storytelling workshop beneath tent cover, as did kite photography expert Keiran Baxter from University of Dundee who took the pupils through the art of low altitude aerial photography. Thanks to John Wells from SNAPS for supplying free extra kites for the day.

Low altitude aerial photographs of the site taken by Kieran Baxter using a kite during a school visit.

Low altitude aerial photographs of the site taken by Kieran Baxter using a kite during the school visit.

The pupils also had the chance to try their hand at digging in trench A. One happy student managed to find this rather splendid spindle whorl from a mixed midden layer:

Spindle whorl found at the dig on East Lomond.

Spindle whorl found at the dig.

 

Day 9

Weather conditions deteriorated in the morning with low cloud and high winds. Sadly this meant our school workshops had to be moved to the classroom, but Tara and the team still had a great meeting by all accounts.

Our local digging volunteers bravely carried on the digging work on site and were rewarded with an improvement in the visibility as the day went on. An extension was added to the main trench in order to resolve the layout of the wall at the south-east corner. This showed that the curving section does in fact end at this location supports the idea that we have a simpler circular structure rather than a more complex cellular layout, which had seemed a possibility beacuse of a concentration of rubble at the original edge of the trench. Always worth a little trench extension.

Area of a trench extension after cleaning back that shows a break in the wall that may be an entrance.

Area of the trench extension after cleaning back. This shows a break in the wall that may be a paved entrance.

Finds included a fragment of polished jet from deposits next to the wall exterior. Jet isn’t found locally and was likely sourced from somewhere like northern England. This implies the site (which we think is Iron Age) was linked to trade routes along the North Sea coast.

Fragment of polished jet (ignite).

Fragment of polished jet (ignite).

 

Day 10

We welcomed the last of our school visits today. A brilliant day had by all with lots of budding archaeologists heading home happy. Writer Mandy Haggith joined the Tara today to give an excellent workshop on Celtic storytelling, poetry, creative writing and much more. In the trench the pupils, who were from Dunfermline, again had the chance to dig for a bit. Once again the youngsters turned up a star find – this rather excellent fragment of a whetstone (for sharpening metal tools/blades):

Fragment of a whetstone.

Fragment of a whetstone.

Our grown-up diggers also set about half-sectioning the bank feature in trench B. This looked like it was of simple soil construction with a simple stone revetment and base. We hope to get some datable material from the base before recording the remains.

Some mattock action as the bank feature was half-sectioned.

Some fine mattock work as the bank feature was half-sectioned.

 

Day 11

Saturday saw an improvement in the weather for our public open day. The Living Lomonds team were out in force with Sarah MacDonald (Community Participation Manager) and Audrey Peebles (Communications and Press Officer) both helping out on site – thanks ladies! We also welcomed members of the press. The site tours were well attended with some great questions from the audience keeping the site director on his toes. 😉 Finds from the dig were on show in the site tent along with more information about the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership.

Digging continued regardless in amongst all the excitement. We welcomed back Gilda and Chris who took part in our very successful walkover survey training activities earlier in the year. Great to have you back on the team and as ever full of enthusiasm.

The team started to excavated the mixed midden material that we are presuming overlays the building’s floor levels, if they are still in place…

 

Day 12

Another good turn out of local volunteers and some decent weather. We were also visited by Jonathan Wordsworth of Archaeology Scotland. Our dig has been taking place during Scottish Archaeology Month. The digging team split into two jobs on Sunday. One group had the heavy work mattocking out a foot-depth of soil overlying the east side of the trench where we think the continuation of the wall is buried. This area turned out to be badly affected by animal burrowing. What seems to be the wall began to emerge as a rather unstable band of rubble and boulders, but this is still to be fully exposed. Trowelling turned up another great find – this fragment of a jet bangle or armlet:

Fragment of a jet bangle or armlet, which are known from Iron Age sites in Scotland.

Fragment of a jet bangle or armlet, which are known from Iron Age sites in Scotland.

The other group continued to excavate down to the floor of the building. A deposit containing yellow/orange clay as well as more charcoal and burnt animal bone fragments seems to indicate an occupation layer/floor surface. Removal of the overlying mixed midden material began to reveal stone-setting features.

Half way across the trench volunteer Chris Fell uncovered potentially the best find of the dig so far. It was sitting on the possible occupation level beside a worked-stone pot lid. The find was a 6cm long metal object most of which is covered in iron-oxide cortex, but may also have another metal component as the decorative detail at one end is clearer than elsewhere. This seems to comprise of a bird-head shape. I think this may be the remains of a brooch or pin with a bird-head motif at one end? We’ll need to get this conserved a.s.a.p. and x-rayed to establish this more clearly:

Metal brooches and pins with bird-head designs are known from Roman Britain and this may be an exampe of Romano-British objects making their way into Celtic northern Britain.

Admittedly obscured by corrosion, which makes it hard to interpret, metal brooches and pins with bird-head designs are known from Roman Britain. This could just be an example of a Romano-British object making its way into Celtic northern Britain. Conservation and x-rays should help make things a bit clearer.

The Roman frontier was only short distance from East Lomond Hill during the 2nd century AD.

Detail of the possible ‘bird-head’. The Roman frontier was only a short distance from East Lomond Hill during the 2nd century AD.

Well done and congratulation to Chris on a cracking find and well done to all our volunteers on a fantastic week of digging. Only one more to go. The plan is to put a section across the building interior to show the sequence of deposits and finish revealing the wall course. More soon as we move to dig’s end. Do join us for more soon.

 

Living Lomonds Big Dig: East Lomond Hill (Day 3-5)

Welcome back to our dig blog.

There is lots to report from East Lomond. All this week we’ve continued to be helped out by corporate volunteer teams. They’ve done a great job in less than ideal weather condition. The archaeology is starting to emerge through the mist.

Day 3

With a reduced team today we focused on drawing a plan of the trench after the topsoil had been removed and the sub-surface cleaned.

Volunteers have a go at some light planning on day 3.

Volunteers have a go at some light planning on day 3.

With a good pre-excavation plan in the bag the guys then set about revealing the possible wall in the lower south side of the trench. This turned up more burnt bone and started to reveal a firmer and richer subsoil below, which was rich in flecks of charcoal and crumbs of clay. This seems encouraging for there being potential occupation deposits nearby.

Day 4

A bigger team on this day with plenty of good digging done. Our wall started to look more substantial with some good solid facing stones revealed. Beside the wall the subsoil encountered on day 3 was exposed further and proved to contain more burnt animal bone fragments and scatters of charcoal.

Digging back a 'spit' of soil to reveal more of a wall.

Digging back a ‘spit’ of soil to reveal more of a wall.

At the north-east corner of the trench it was time for a trench extension to reveal more of the circular feature we are interested in from the geophysics. Cleaning back this new area turned up a fragment of a rather nice whetstone (a smooth stone used for sharpening metal blades).

SGN volunteer Alex holds his whetstone find.

SGN volunteer Alex holds his whetstone find.

Day 5

More thick fog today and another great team of workers from SGN. Continued digging a 10cm spit back to reveal our increasingly clear wall at the south side of the trench. Also started to dig a slot through our possible turf wall at the north side and finish cleaning our extension. Beyond the main trench a group of volunteers from Perth opened up a 4m x 2m trench over a bank about 15m to the south. This may be an old field bank or potentially an annexe attached to the adjacent hillfort.

The probable wall looks increasing clear though seems to have been robbed out of stone in places. The good facing stones look great now. Beside these are a band of smaller pebbles making up an inner core to the wall and a less well-preserved outer set of larger stone.

Our probable wall starts to look larger and curved.

Our probable wall starts to look larger and curved.

Star find of the day was a small hand tool – this was a round stone pounder found by Andy of SGN. Looks like a water worn small boulder, fits nicely in the hand and lightly coloured yellow and orange with white bands of quartz (not usual for the stone on the hill and prehaps selected and carried into the area). Its importance as a tool was given away by impact marks and striations that are visible on one face. This suggests to stone was used by some one in the past to pound against another stone surface, prehaps to break bones up to extract marrow or crack nuts etc. The tools was found reused in the structure of the wall face. We’ll never know for sure, but it is interesting to think whether this was originally placed in the wall because of the memories associated with the old tool? It is always useful to think about these more interpretive ideas when your on site. The team all had a good chat about it.

Andy proudly shows off his stone tool find.

Andy proudly shows off his stone tool find.

For our wall the running theory is that we are revealing the arch of an Iron Age building, perhaps a hut circle, but we will need to see more and get down onto the lower deposits to know for sure.

We will welcome the first of our local community volunteers this weekend. Site tours start from 2pm. Look forward to seeing you there if you live nearby. Stay turned for more updates!

Bye for now.

Living Lomonds Big Dig: East Lomond Hill (Day 1-2)

Hello.

Welcome to the first of our dig blog posts for the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership’s community excavation at East Lomond Hill.

We’ve made great progress during the first two days of the dig thanks to loads of help from two dedicated teams of Scotland Gas Network volunteers. Despite some pretty harsh weather conditions on day one (thick fog and fine rain all day!) the team got stuck into de-turfing our first 10m x 5m trench. This was located over the site of suspected settlement remains that were identified by our geophysical survey (see last post). After a morning of heavy work we were rewarded with our first find – a sherd of Late Prehistoric pottery, probably Iron Age (700BC-AD500) in date.

SGN volunteers and Living Lomonds archaelogists Peter and Oliver pose for a group photo in the fog under the site shelter.

SGN volunteers and Living Lomonds archaeologists Peter (far left) and Oliver (far right) pose for a group photo in the fog under the site shelter. (C)LLLP

Cleaning back on Tuesday then revealed the remains of what may be a spread turf bank at the north side of the trench (perhaps part of a turf-walled building?). A line of angular boulders at the south side of the trench looks like it may resolve into a wall associated with a stoney deposit. These stone seem to have been placed to create a straight facing and are partially overlain by a brown subsoil, which gave up a post-medieval sherd of terracotta coloured pottery and occasional fragments of burnt bone. So the indications are good for the prospect of reasonably rich archaeological deposits, and the sun came out towards the end of the day. Who could ask for more? Thanks again to all the lads from SGN day one and two teams. More blog updates soon. Bye for now.

SGN volunteers cleaning back the trench on day two of the dig (note the line of stones in the foreground - by Stephen in the blue jumper).

SGN volunteers cleaning back the trench on day two of the dig (note the line of stones emerging in the foreground – by Stephen in the blue jumper). The summit of East Lomond Hill is visible in the background. (C)LLLP

 

Scanning the Lomond Hills (in Fife, Scotland)

Greeting!

Welcome to another in our Living Lomonds archaeology blog posts. Firstly, apologies for the gap since our last post. A whole lot of fieldwork has been happening out on the hill since June and we are fast approaching the first of our Living Lomonds Big Digs. This starts at East Lomond Hillfort in Fife from Monday 15th September until Sunday 5th October. Take a look at our website for more information about how to visit: the-living-lomonds-big-dig-2014-east-lomond-hill. I’ll be bringing you updates about the digs progress every other day – so stay tuned for more regular posts!

We’ll bring you more about the dig plans with the first posts, but the current little entry is mainly about geophysics: what it is all about and news about the fascinating surveys that LLLP volunteers have been undertaking this year. These include the first geophysical survey at East Lomond Hillfort completed by our brave and dedicate teams of volunteers; the results of which have informed planning for our community excavation at the fort.

Seeing Beneath the Soil: Archaeologists and Geophysics

Geophysics covers a range of scientific techniques that were first developed by geologists to investigate physical characteristics of the earth’s strata (layers of rock and soil deposits) that are buried deep beneath the surface. Archaeologists began to experiment with these techniques from the 1960s/70s. Techniques such as seismic, ground penetrating radar and electrical resistance were used to investigate archaeological remains at shallower depths. Archaeological geophysics is often refered to as ‘shallow geophysics’ for this reason. These shallow methods can still pick up deeper geology sometimes creating a challenge for the archaeologists. The different forms of survey and devices can each provide different types of information about deposits and structures buried under the turf. Since the 1990s tailor-made survey kit have been commonly used by professional archaeologists in all walks of life to investigate what might be buried out of sight; from commercial units to university researchers. In 2008 a study by English Heritage recorded that about 26% of all development management archaeology work (part of Local Authority planning processes)  included some kind of geophysical survey to evaluate proposed development sites.

Despite this geophysics still has a bit of a reputation among some archaeologists as being a unreliable, particularly in Scotland, which has more than its fair share of igneous geology that can particularly affect magnetic based surveys. This has led some naysayers to declare that “geophysics doesn’t work in Scotland”, which is often preceded by a sharp intake of breath between the teeth or a range of tutting noises. Happily such negative views are pretty much nonsense and expounded by those with a fairly limited misunderstanding of how geophysics works, what it actually does for you and what it should be expected to do.

Living Lomonds volunteers discuss some resistivity results.

Living Lomonds volunteers ponder some resistivity results.

Basically geophysics simply provides a combination of information about the physical attributes of buried deposits and (now this is crucial) spatial information about those attributes (ie. where different readings are located on the ground). Figuring out exactly what geophysical readings are actually telling you about the archaeology that is buried under your feet is the tricky bit. This ‘data interpretation’ is something of an art form, the success of which is largely down to the  experience and skill of the archaeologist who is interpreting the data and the extent of good quality archival and mapping research that has been done about a target site beforehand. Admittedly, this subjective factor in geophysics interpretation can occasionally led to embarrassing moments for the unwary or unlucky surveyor, when a juicy looking anomaly turns out to be something non-archaeological or nothing at all. Common problems occur if data has been over-processed or a not enough background research has been done about a site or made available to the surveyor. In practice there are generally two stages to any survey: recording readings out in the field using a device in a systematic survey grid and then the data processing and presentation. Conventional data results like resistance survey and magnetometer (the ones you’ve probably seen in action on re-runs of Channel 4’s Time Team) produce results in the form of 2D data plots, usually displayed as some form of grayscale pattern. These show different levels of readings as black, white or grey coloured makings within a square grid. You also get ‘3D’ data from certain kinds of radar surveys and tomography, all of which provide information from different depths and so can be very useful for archaeologist.

Living Lomonds community volunteers in action at East Lomond.

Living Lomonds community volunteers in action at East Lomond.

The Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership has undertaken survey at East Lomond Hill. Here is a link showing the location where the survey was carried out around the site of an Iron Age and Pictish hillfort. Resistance and magnetometer surveys were undertaken to look for settlement or industrial activity with a focus on the southern shoulder of the hill where an outer annexe from the main fort rampart my enclose the part of the site. Here is the resistance results from a ladder of survey 120m north to south and 20m wide:

Resistance data from East Lomond Hill - anomaly outlined in red. (c) Oliver O'Grady.

Resistance data from East Lomond Hill – anomaly outlined in red. (c) Oliver O’Grady

A circular low resistance anomaly near the bottom of the plot looks like we may have found an ancient building of some kind. This could be a Iron Age roundhouse or hut circle or a later Pictish cellular buildings. We’ll found out soon as we’re about to dig it. Whatever this anomaly may turn out to be, the low resistance readings suggest it more likely to be made of turf or soil walls rather than stone slabs for instance. Its a great find if we can prove its the real deal. We’ll see… watch this space for more news.

Bye for now.