Georgina Brown RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

I am Georgina Brown, a surveyor and cartographer in the Landscape Section at RCAHMS. The site that I have chosen is the archaeological landscape around Inveresk. At this point, I had better admit to a slight bias in choosing this site as Musselburgh is my adopted home town. Very little of the archaeology in this area is actually visible on the ground; most is buried below the modern day land surface and has only been revealed when an excavation has taken place or when it shows up as a cropmark in the fields; however, when you put all the discoveries together, they tell a fascinating story.

Roman remains were first noted at Inveresk in the 1560s but the story of the fort and its environs is still being added to today. Parts of the Roman Fort were excavated in the 1940s and many other structures and artefacts have since been discovered around Inveresk during excavations preceding building work. The remains of houses, streets and wells of the civilian vicus were unearthed at Inveresk Gate, the base of a possible viewing stand for a Roman parade ground was discovered at Lewisvale Park and, close by, altar stones to Mithras and Sol were found during the construction of the cricket pavilion. Most recently, Roman and Iron Age skeletons along with the remains of an enclosure, possibly used for storing military supplies shipped in from the continent, were found at the former Brunton’s Wireworks site. The area’s outlying features – Roman temporary camps and field systems – have been revealed as cropmarks on aerial photographs. Add to this list Mesolithic flints, a 900m long Neolithic cursus, Bronze Age burials, Iron Age house remains and you have a very rich and varied “invisible” archaeological landscape.

Map of Roman Remains at Inveresk

Inveresk Cropmark remains

To have a look at these sites and a map showing where they all lie, try the following links.

Inverest Fort

Roman temporary camps

Westfield Cursus

Altars to Mithras and Sol

Skeletons at the former Brunton’s Wireworks site


Kirsty Millican HLA Officer RCAHMS

Cows, Cropmarks and a Cursus

View of Lochbrow, looking west from the cursus terminal (photo ©Kirsty Millican)

It is the kind of place most people would pass by without a second glance, an apparently empty field usually occupied only by cows, but the site of Lochbrow in Dumfries and Galloway is one of my favourite archaeological sites inScotland. My name is Kirsty Millican and I am a Historic Land-Use Assessment (HLA) Officer at RCAHMS. My interests, though, extend beyond HLA to encompass cropmark archaeology and the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods in Scotland. Lochbrow is a site I first encountered while undertaking research for my PhD and is a place that I have returned to several times since.

So why do I find such an apparently unremarkable location interesting? Because of the cropmarks of course! Cropmarks are formed by the differential growth of crops over buried archaeology, and are best recorded from the air. A scattering of such marks were first recorded at Lochbrow by an RCAHMS aerial survey in 1992, indicating the buried presence of pits and ditches. These features can be interpreted as a timber cursus monument (a long enclosure defined by timber posts usually dating to the Earlier Neolithic), at least one, if not two, timber circles (a monument form dating from the Later Neolithic into the Bronze Age) and several round barrows (later prehistoric monuments). This tells us that this apparently empty field was an important location for a long period of time, and was probably a hive of activity during the construction and use of these monuments.

Map of the cropmarks (in red) and the main topographic features at Lochbrow. The cursus is the long enclosure oriented north to south, the two timber circles lie to the east and south-west of the cursus and the barrows to the south.

What I have always found remarkable is the level of information such ghostly marks in crops can reveal. This is archaeology with no remaining above-ground features; if you visit the site today there is nothing to suggest such a complex of sites ever existed. Moreover, the cursus and timber circles were built of wood, a material that is not durable and so does not survive for us to study today. All that remains are the infilled pits that were dug to take the upright timbers forming the outer boundary of these wooden monuments; it is these pits that influence the formation of the cropmarks, allowing us to photograph them from the air. The cropmarks, then, give us a rare glimpse into the activities and structures built by our prehistoric ancestors. Indeed, without the simple technique of taking photographs from an aeroplane we would know nothing about this important group of monuments, nor the location of what was undoubtedly a very special place. It makes you wonder how much more is buried beneath your feet …!

So why have I chosen to visit this site several times, if there is nothing to see of this archaeology on the ground? Well, sites such as these are not built independently of their location, and you can learn a lot about a site by considering their locations, even without above-ground archaeology. Indeed, I believe that the sites at Lochbrow are closely connected with their location, and the cursus in particular seems to mimic the dominant topography. By visiting the site of these cropmarks, I’ve been able to suggest that the topography of this location was likely drawn into the use and functioning of these monuments, possibly defining the outer extents of this place, and may have had an influence upon the form of the monuments chosen to be built here. I have also returned twice (with colleagues from Edinburgh and York Universities) to undertake geophysical and topographic surveys of this site, to try to gain a better understanding of the sites here and their location, and to investigate the possibility of additional sites and features that have not been recorded by the cropmarks. The results so far are promising and I’ll be returning again later this year to finish the surveys. Who knows what we’ll find, but I’m excited by the notion that so much lies buried beneath my feet, and with a little perseverance we may be able to add a little bit more to the story of this site and to our understanding of what people did here and the structures they built thousands of years ago.

Undertaking geophysical survey at Lochbrow (photo ©Gordon Wallace)

To view more about these cropmarks, visit the RCAHMS Canmore page for this site with particular reference to the cursus and pit enclosure