Brochs

A transition period in the life of an archaeologist

The career of an archaeologist usually has its ups and downs and is not a straight forward road. No surprise that I am again somehow between 2 jobs. Well, okay, I started my current job at the Research Centre of the “Keltenwelt am Glauberg” nearly 3 months ago (http://www.keltenwelt-glauberg.de/en/research-centre/the-research-centre/) – the museum is a must-see if you are interested in the Early Celts and if you want to see the rich burials of three Early Iron Age men with bronze flagons, gold rings and necklaces, prestigous brooches and many other things more, not to forget the life-size sand-stone statue of one of the buried persons).

But my past job as a stand-in for the Assistent Professorship for Digital Geoarchaeology at Bamberg University (https://www.uni-bamberg.de/ivga/) still needs my contribution: In my Bamberg time I had organised this summer’s student field trip to Scotland.

Bamberg University Archaeology Fieldtrip 2016

Bamberg University Archaeology Fieldtrip 2016

On the Day of Archaeology 2016 we will visit the Corrimony Chambered Cairns (https://canmore.org.uk/site/12256/), Urquhart Castle (https://canmore.org.uk/site/12547/)

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle

Dun Telve Broch

and the Glenelg Brochs (Dun Telve: https://canmore.org.uk/site/11798/  and Dun Troddan: https://canmore.org.uk/site/11797/) – definitely not the worst places to spend one’s day!

Dun Troddan Broch

Dun Troddan Broch

We will travel around Scotland with it’s rich and fascinating heritage to show the students places with a highly interesting landscapes and with sites from the Neolithic to the modern era.

This trip ties in to my research plans for investigations in Scotland, comparing indigenious societies and ‘their landscapes’ in the light of the Roman occupation in areas in Scotland and in the German state of Hesse. Meeting various Scottish colleagues to talk about this project idea will be part fo the trip as will be the preparation of a special exhibition we plan at the Glauberg museum (more to come as soon as our ideas become more ‘stable’). So it’s a great opportunity to combine old obligations with plans in my new job (and of course with enjoying Scotland, its landscapes, its archaeology and last but definitely not least its people and their various [cereal] products).

As I will most likely not be extensively online (and not in the mood to work online) too often during that trip I will use the images of a previous trip to Scotland to illustrate this day in the highlands. I might however – depending on my mood – use Twitter (@posluschny) every now and then.

Mike Middleton (RCAHMS) – Shetland

The archaeology of Sumburgh, Shetland.

The author in Levenwick c.1977. Copyright Mike Middleton

The author in Levenwick c.1977. Copyright Mike Middleton

I’m Mike Middleton and I manage two nationwide archaeological mapping projects. The Historic Land-Use Assessment , is mapping signs of past land-use preserved within the modern landscape and the Canmore Mapping is focussing on the known extent of archaeological sites recorded in the RCAHMS Canmore online record of monuments.

I’ve chosen the archaeology of Sumburgh at the south end of mainland Shetland where I spent many happy hours, as a child, scrambling over the archaeological sites without really knowing what they were. Both my parents worked at the airport and being busy people, they were often at work when I finished school. So I would spend time out playing with my friends, on the beaches and land around the airport. There were loads of great places to play. One of our favourites was the abandoned WWII defences. Built quickly out of poured concrete onto sand, the buildings had no foundations and have subsided and partially collapsed over the years providing the perfect place for young boys to play war games.

If we were feeling more adventurous we would head down to watch the seals and sea birds at the bottom end of the Ness of Burgi. En route we would pass the Ness of Burgi fort. Known as a blockhouse or gatehouse fort and built during the Iron Age, around 100BC, the fort has a rectangular gatehouse cutting off a narrow promontory. With its low, broch-like entrance and cells to each side it was an excellent playhouse.

The Ness of Burgi blockhouse from the north-west. Copyright RCAHMS (SC 342869].

The Ness of Burgi blockhouse from the north-west. Copyright RCAHMS (SC 342869].

A view from inside the reconstructed wheelhouse at Scatness. Public contribution to Canmore, Copyright Mike Middleton

A view from inside the reconstructed wheelhouse at Scatness. Public contribution to Canmore, Copyright Mike Middleton

Most amazing to me now, as I had no idea it was there at the time, is the multi phase site of Scatness. The site was excavated in the late 1990s and revealed evidence for Iron Age, Norse and Post-Medieval settlement. It is dominated by the remains of a broch and surrounding wheelhouses. Both of these monument types are Iron Age drystone structures specific to Scotland. Brochs are hollow-walled and tower-like in form while wheelhouses incorporate a series of stone piers within the outer wall much like the spokes on the wheel of a bike. I still find it hard to believe that so much was under the ground I played on and invisible to me at the time. Equally amazing is the proximity of the Scatness site to the very similar and just as complex multi phase site of Jarlshof.

An image of a Viking ship incised into a piece of slate. The author’s favourite find from Jarlshof. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1221187)

An image of a Viking ship incised into a piece of slate. The author’s favourite find from Jarlshof. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1221187)

Although as children we didn’t know Scatness was there, we weren’t short of brochs to play on because just opposite the end of one of the runways is Brough Head broch or Eastshore broch as I knew it as a kid. The site is partially eroded by the sea, cutting it in half, something of particular fascination to us children. Like Scatness and Jarlshof the broch is surrounded by unexcavated earth covered structures and abandoned 19th-century farm buildings. It is quite possible that if excavated this site could be as complex as Scatness and Jarlshof.

Brough Head broch from the sea showing the two walls of the broch exposed. Public contribution to Canmore, Copyright Mike Middleton

Brough Head broch from the sea showing the two walls of the broch exposed. Public contribution to Canmore, Copyright Mike Middleton

Sumburgh has an incredibly rich archaeological resource. I look back with fondness and frustration at my youth playing on these monuments. I feel lucky that I have had the chance to grow up in such a rich archaeological environment while disappointed I didn’t understand what they were at the time. However, the sites of Sumburgh also provide a snapshot of the big issues facing our heritage today. The hastily built WWII defences were constructed as temporary structures. Made from concrete and often in poor repair many of us don’t realise their historical significance. These factors mean that our wartime sites are one of the most rapidly diminishing archaeological resources in Scotland. The Brough Head broch, Jarlshof and the Ness of Burgi Fort are all suffering the effects of coastal erosion, a threat facing thousands of sites worldwide and those maintaining the sites at Scatness and Jarlshof, have to balance the needs of conservation with the thousands of tourists who wish to visit these wonderful sites. What the archaeology of Sumburgh illustrates is it that not every site can be saved. It is just a matter of time before sites like Brough Head are lost to the sea and there just isn’t the resource to save all the threatened sites in Scotland. However, we can record these monuments and make this information available so we, or others in the future, can try and understand them better. We can’t all excavate sites but we can all take a photograph and draw a plan. We don’t need to excavate every site to understand it. By taking photographs or drawing plans we can all record vital information. You can be part of this process by visiting sites, helping to record them and then uploading your research using the MyCanmore public contribution tool. We need your help to record our heritage. We can only do it together!

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

George Geddes (RCAHMS) – Highland

George Geddes, RCAHMS

George Geddes, RCAHMS

Highland ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Highland ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

George Geddes, an Archaeology Survey and Recording Project Manager at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) explains the archaeology of Croick in the Highlands.

The ruinous and mutilated remains of an Iron Age Broch stand in the glebe lands on the riverside at Croick. Few visitors cross the wall from the churchyard to visit them – the remains are difficult to ‘read’, having been robbed and rebuilt over two millennia. The church itself, built to one of Thomas Telford’s designs, stands testament to a period of violent change in the surrounding landscape, when many of the tenantry were forcibly removed. During 1845 a number of evicted families took shelter in the churchyard and etched their names in the beautiful windows providing a lasting memorial to an event that must have been truly traumatic for the people involved. Nowadays, the church is a serene and peaceful place to visit and a visitor noted that they were ‘moved to tears’ by the display. What place then, to help one think about social progress, inequality and change, not only in the 19th century (so recently in one sense), but also in the Iron Age when movements of people and power may have been every bit as dramatic.

Croick

Aerial view looking along Strath Cuileamach with the church, manse and remains of the broch in the foreground, taken from the SE. Copyright RCAHMS (DP024749)

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

You can also contact the local authority Historic Environment Record (HER) for more information. In this case contact details are:

Ian Scrivener-Lindley

HER Officer / Historic Environment Team / Highland Council

Planning & Development, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, IV3 5NX

T: 01463 702503

HER: http://her.highland.gov.uk/

 

 

Nora Edwards RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

I am a member of the Curatorial Group with the Skills for the Future Trainee Team. This is a four year scheme funded by Heritage Lottery Fund to provide 1 year of work experience for 34 individuals who are looking to work in the Heritage Sector. The curatorial skills trainees will undertake a range of tasks and learn about collections, conservation, digitising and access.

My childhood holidays were spent in Scotland and one of the most memorable and interesting places we visited regularly was the Isle of Lewis. There are a number of interesting sites on the island, and while the Standing Stones at Callanish are undoubtedly atmospheric, my most memorable site on the island is the broch at Dun Carloway.  I remember the sheer scale of the building and being amazed that it was so old and yet you could still climb in between the two sets of walls, solidly built to withstand war and weather.

Dun Carloway Broch

The building stands in the centre of a farming township, the remains of blackhouses are dotted around and the fields still show evidence of farming down the centuries. The site is fascinating in the way that it provides evidence of occupation for thousands of years in such a compact area.

If you want to find out more about this years Skills for the Future team, visit our blog or follow us on Twitter @SkillsRCAHMS.