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.

Living Lomonds LogoOJT Heritage Logo









Scanning the Lomond Hills (in Fife, Scotland)


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.