#myarchaeology

Philip Graham (RCAHMS) – Western Isles

Philip Graham, RCAHMS

Philip Graham, RCAHMS

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

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

The Standing Stones of Calanais

I’m Philip Graham, Public Engagement Manager at RCAHMS, responsible for letting people know about our work and for encouraging people to use our unique resources through an expanding series of lectures, group visits and tours, training and induction sessions, and events like Doors Open Day. A major part of my job is responsibility for our social media channels Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr so I get to work with the amazing range of images that we hold in our collections and on a daily basis share what we’re doing with the rest of the world.

Callanish. Copyright RCAHMS (taken by Philip Graham)

Callanish. Copyright RCAHMS (taken by Philip Graham)

Although I trained as an architect at the University of Edinburgh my job enables me to immerse myself in the whole spectrum of the built heritage, including archaeology and industry. The #MyArchaeology site I’ve chosen is the extraordinary Standing Stones of Calanais (or Callanish) in Lewis, part of a landscape dating back 5,000 years.

I was lucky enough to visit Calanais as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project I worked on a few years ago called Recording Your Heritage Online which worked with community groups across the country to share their information and images with us to make them more widely available; now through MyCanmore people can upload their images and information directly into our website. The project also worked with the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland to produce four books in their popular series of Illustrated Architectural Guides.

Aerial view taken in 2004. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1023422)

Aerial view taken in 2004. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1023422)

Our aerial view shows the full extent of the stone circle. At the heart of this cross-shaped setting stands a solitary monolith 4.8m high with lines of smaller stones radiating south, east and west and an 83m avenue running from the north. Surrounded by the stone circle is a chambered tomb.

View of stone circle at Callanish, Lewis. Titled 'Druidical Circle at Callernish in the Island of Lewis, N. Hebrides. G. R. Mackarness , July 1866.' Copyright RCAHMS (DP094025)

View of stone circle at Callanish, Lewis.
Titled ‘Druidical Circle at Callernish in the Island of Lewis, N. Hebrides. G. R. Mackarness , July 1866.’ Copyright RCAHMS (DP094025)

 

 

The stones are nicely depicted in this sketch drawn in July 1866 by GR Mackarness who was an antiquarian and the Vicar of Ilam in Derbyshire, taken from the book ‘Views in Scotland’.

 

 

 

 

The fact that no one definitively knows what the purpose of this site was adds to its mystery. Some have argued that it was built for ritual or astronomical reasons, and you may have some ideas of your own!

There are loads more great images of the Standing Stones of Calanais on our websites:

http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/4156/

http://www.scran.ac.uk/database/results.php?search_term=Callanish

http://aerial.rcahms.gov.uk/database/results.php?search_term=Calanais

Find out what we’re up to by following RCAHMS on:

https://twitter.com/rcahms

https://www.facebook.com/rcahms

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rcahms/

http://www.youtube.com/rcahms

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.

 

Angela Gannon (RCAHMS) – West Lothian

Angela Gannon, RCAHMS at the viewfinder on top of Cockleroy Hill

Angela Gannon, RCAHMS at the viewfinder on top of Cockleroy Hill

‘If you’re not fast, you’re last’ is one of the choice phrases I, Angela Gannon, routinely hear from my two sons as I invariably end up sitting in the back of the car having been beaten to the front passenger seat … again! So it is too that in the list of Scottish council areas for the Day of Archaeology, my first to third choices had already been selected by colleagues. But should West Lothian really be number four in my list anyway? Well, of course not. As one of RCAHMS’ archaeological field investigators, and living just outside West Lothian, I have spent many a Sunday afternoon visiting sites and monuments here, from the cairn and henge on Cairnpapple Hill to the lesser known fort that crowns the summit of Cockleroy Hill.

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

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

It is the latter that I want to champion today because, despite the regular procession of visitors traipsing to the top, I suspect it is only a small percentage who recognise the fort – even though the well-worn path they follow to the summit passes through the original entrance. Situated on the boundary of Beecraigs Country Park, the path leads walkers to the viewpoint on the top, and on a clear day you can see Ben More, near Crianlarich, 74km (46 miles) to the north west, Goat Fell on Arran 106km (66 miles) to the west-southwest and Black Hill in the Scottish Borders 53km (33 miles) to the southeast – or at least that’s what the directional arrows on the viewfinder lead us to believe. Over to Fife are the hills of Dumglow and East Lomond, both with forts on their summits, and to the east the profiles of the Bass Rock and North Berwick Law are readily recognisable. We ourselves have visited Cockelroy on many occasions and under very different conditions – in shorts and T-shirts in March to wellies and waterproofs in July. And, yes, I haven’t got the months mixed up!

The outer face of the lower rampart. Copyright Angela Gannon

The outer face of the lower rampart. Copyright Angela Gannon

The fort has much to commend it. As a prominent and conspicuous hill, it occupies a commanding position in the landscape, overlooking Linlithgow and Grangemouth with fine views north over the Firth of Forth. Its perimeter is defined by a stone rampart that follows the leading edge of the summit with stretches of stone inner and outer faces still visible. From this we can tell that the rampart was originally about 2m thick and had an earth and rubble core. On the west and southwest, the ground drops precipitously but on the northwest it falls more gently and here the fort is defended by an additional line of defence. This too takes the form of a stone faced rampart. Alongside the viewfinder and the Ordnance Survey triangulation station within the interior of the fort, four ring ditch houses were recorded in 1985, but I have yet to visit the site and be convinced. Perhaps under better lighting conditions and with a more positive ‘eye of faith’ I might see them.

Looking west along the north section of the upper rampart. Copyright Angela Gannon

Looking west along the north section of the upper rampart. Copyright Angela Gannon

So next time you venture up Cockleroy remember to look down – the archaeology is there at your feet. But in the meantime, do have a look at our site record for the fort  including the oblique aerial photographs taken under snow.

There are also some great kite aerial photographs taken by Jim Knowles of the West Lothian Archaeology Group which are well worth a look too: http://www.armadale.org.uk/cockleroy.htm

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.

 

William Wyeth (RCAHMS) – Stirling

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

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

I’m William Wyeth, one of four Education & Outreach trainees based at RCAHMS in the year-long Skills for the Future programme. My year at the Commission is split between different parts of RCAHMS’ work (Scran, social media, a university module, etc), as well as an external three-month placement. My placement was itself split between Stirling Castle and the Bannockburn Heritage Centre. I’ve chosen the undiscovered site of the second day of the battle of Bannockburn. The battle itself was a pivotal moment in Scottish history, which combines elements of mythology as much as fact. The physical remains of the battle, however, are almost non-existent; thus far, a single 14th-century arrowhead has been found, which may not be linked to the battle in any case. There is no doubt that the battle of 1314 CE took place somewhere around today’s Bannock burn, but frustratingly efforts by archaeologists and metal detectors to locate any evidence in the ground have been unsuccessful.

Since the battle, the area between the Pelstream and Bannock burns (where it is considered the second day of the clash took place) has been used as a ploughed field and dump site for building waste from different periods. Today, the area is largely wild grass, sitting between 20th-century suburban housing and the railway line from Edinburgh to Stirling.

View of the Big Dig. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

View of the Big Dig. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

I’ve chosen the undiscovered battlefield because it represents the challenge to historians and archaeologists in determining the developments on the ground during this critical day in Scottish history. It has also recently been the focus of a Big Dig in June 2013, which saw fantastic community involvement aimed at establishing the site of the second day’s battle. Part of the activities on the site was filmed for an upcoming TV show produced to celebrate the 700-year anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

Filming the Big Dig, with Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

Filming the Big Dig, with Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver. Copyright Aisha Al-Sadie

 

 

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.

 

For more information on this site, or others in this area you can also go to the Historic Environment Record for Stirling Council.

Contact Details:

Murray Cook

Municipal Buildings, Corn Exchange, Stirling, FK8 2HU

01786 233663

Email: archaeology@stirling.gov.uk

Web: http://www.stirling.gov.uk/services/business-and-trade/planning-and-building-standards/archaeology

Searchable HER: http://my.stirling.gov.uk/archaeology_maps

 

Piers Dixon (RCAHMS) – South Lanarkshire

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

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

Early Stone Castles of South Lanarkshire

I have been working as an Archaeological Investigator for RCAHMS since 1989 and currently as an Operations Manager in Survey and Recording. As a medievalist I have long been interested in castles in all their variety wherever they occur from Scotland to Greece, but opportunities for me to record and research them for RCAHMS only became available in 2000 with the Donside survey that led to the publication of In the Shadow of Bennachie (2007). This showed me that we have a lot to learn about the origin and development of castles, with a rash of motte-like structures, including the dramatic castle of Invernochty, Strathdon, with its ‘later’ stone curtain wall built by the ‘native’ earl of Mar, not all of which were medieval castles at all. Baileys, usually part and parcel of the castle earthwork, were absent, except at the Bass of Inverurie, but the mottes were often big enough to take a range of structures. More worrying was the absence of identifiable elite structures of the immediately preceding period.

View of Crawford castle from the air, showing the later stone castle on top of the motte. Copyright RCAHMS (DP153534)

View of Crawford castle from the air, showing the later stone castle on top of the motte. Copyright RCAHMS (DP153534)

The origins of castles in Scotland are generally assumed to derive from the influx of Anglo-French followers of King David and his successors bringing with them their notions of what was necessary for the centre of power of a lordship. Raising an earthwork or modifying a natural mound to make a place of strength was the quickest way of achieving this. South Lanarkshire provides a good test bed for this thesis since the documentation tells us that it was settled in the 12th century by Flemish knights, some of whom established themselves by building castles based on mottes or earthworks that defy easy definition. Some like Coulter motte in the care of Historic Scotland, or Crawford castle, a motte with a later stone tower, appear to have been typical conical mounded structures, but others like the earthwork at Castle Qua just outside Lanark, or that at Cadzow, not far from the later stone castle, take the form of promontories defended by earthworks with broad external ditches.  These were sites that were rejected as prehistoric settlement enclosures by the Royal Commission investigators in the 1970s, although a Roman coin found during excavations by Lanarkshire Archaeology Society of the Cadzow earthwork suggest a late Iron Age or Dark Age date.

Cadzow earthwork, showing the mound and south ditch. The old oak trees have been dated by dendrochronology to the 15th century when the site lay within a hunting park. Copyright Piers Dixon

Cadzow earthwork, showing the mound and south ditch. The old oak trees have been dated by dendrochronology to the 15th century when the site lay within a hunting park. Copyright Piers Dixon

Further investigation of these sites is clearly needed. That at Castle Qua has been the focus of some interest locally and the Commission has reviewed the possibility of further survey work at the site with Addyman Archaeology for the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership.  The site itself is a dramatic one with a cliff on one side dropping down to the Mouse Water more than 100 feet below. A substantial earthwork that displays traces of stone facings lies within broad ditch enclosing an area some 30m across with traces of structures near the cliff edge. A second ditch suggests the possibility of a bailey.

Plan of Castle Qua showing the suggested line of the outer ditch as an overlay on the RCAHMS plan. (Addyman Archaeology overlay and RCAHMS DP152072)

Plan of Castle Qua showing the suggested line of the outer ditch as an overlay on the RCAHMS plan. (Addyman Archaeology overlay and RCAHMS DP152072)

Archaeology has also thrown up spanners in the dating of mottes, for example, excavations by Chris Tabraham at Roberton motte in the 1970s produced a sherd of imported pottery from France dated to the 14th century from the base of the mound. This contradicts the established wisdom of dating the construction of mottes and other earthwork castles to the 12th and 13th centuries by incoming Flemish lords. Although there is a good correlation between the documented Flemish incomers and the eponymous villages of Roberton, Thankerton, Symington, Covington, Lamington and Wiston, for example, all settlements of potentially medieval origin,  earthwork castles have yet to be located at all of them.  There is clearly much work to be done here in understanding the development of castles and this area provides an excellent location for doing just that.

Castle Qua earthwork and ditch, much overgrown. Copyright Piers Dixon

Castle Qua earthwork and ditch, much overgrown. Copyright Piers Dixon

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Alison Clark (RCAHMS) – South Ayrshire

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

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

I am Alison Clark, a trainee at RCAHMS. The site I have chosen is Craigie House and Park, just outside Ayr. The aerial photograph below looks towards the park, just beyond the tenements, now taken up by the caravan park, playing fields and a sports stadium.

A-listed Craigie House was built c1730 for Sir Thomas Wallace, and sold in 1783 to William Campbell, who had made a fortune in India. It is a fine example of 18th century mansion architecture, now used as a business center. Elements of the wooded estate and formal gardens still survive and are managed by Ayrshire council.

Aerial View, Copyright RCAHMS (SC681912)

Aerial View, Copyright RCAHMS (SC681912)

 

 

It is the wooded estate gardens which led me to make my choice. My father is from Ayr and actually met my mother at Craigie teaching college.  As a child the park was a frequent haunt for us as a family and I hope by offering this brief introduction the gardens may become a new stomping ground for a few more families.

RCAHMS has a vast collection of material available to the public through the database Canmore.

For Craigie House, two images available on Canmore show how the House and Estate have developed over the years, with the contrast between the architecture of the original House and the College being particularly obvious.

View of Craigie House, Ayr, From South. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1344901)

View of Craigie House, Ayr, From South. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1344901)

Craigie College of Education, Craigie Estate. Copyright RCAHMS (DP017311)

Craigie College of Education, Craigie Estate. Copyright RCAHMS (DP017311)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are other relevant documents on Canmore for those wishing to undertake research into the original House and Estate including items such as information relating to the stables and doocot which were demolished to make way for the new college building along with the architectural plans for the college.

As part of our traineeship here, the Collections trainees will be undertaking some training in the process of digitisation of documents to make them available to the public through Canmore.  This involves the copying of photographs and other records by our professional photographers at RCAHMS, and we will be able to gain some experience in the processing of the material to ensure the images can appear on the database.  Those items which have been digitised are then available to view online   Material which has not been digitised will still be available to view in the RCAHMS Search Room, using the references provided.

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.

 

 

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.

Leanne McCafferty (RCAHMS) – Renfrewshire

Leanne McCafferty, RCAHMS

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

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

After graduated with an archaeology degree in 2002, I began working at RCAHMS on a partnership project with our Welsh counterparts, RCAHMW. This involved looking at how the two organisations recorded information about the built heritage including archaeology, architecture and marine sites. I  am currently a project manager within the Data and Recording section with a particular interest in the history of recording at RCAHMS and how this is reflected in the information we make available through our Canmore database. In an attempt to illustrate this, I’ve chosen the site of St Fillan’s Well.

The holy well of St Fillan lies to the east of Kilallan, a farm near Kilmacolm in Refrewshire. It is one of 276 holy wells recorded in the Canmore database.

These wells were associated with early medieval saints (although their use could have been much more ancient than this) and were reputed to have healing waters. The holy wells recorded in the Canmore database claim to cure a variety of maladies from deafness to “nervous diseases”. In the case of St Fillan, reputedly an Irish monk, the waters of his well have folk traditions associating it with the curing of rickets in children. Nearby the well are two associated monuments, St Fillan’s Seat and St Fillan’s Church, which is dedicated to the saint.

An engraving of St Anthony’s Well from William Ballingall’s Edinburgh Past and Present. Copyright RCAHMS (SC431735)

An engraving of St Anthony’s Well from William Ballingall’s Edinburgh Past and Present. Copyright RCAHMS (SC431735)

The information RCAHMS holds on the well is taken from the Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division’s record card. The cards were transferred to RCAHMS in 1983 and provided the foundation for what would become the database we use to record monuments today. This information is then available to the public through Canmore. The record cards provided a brief description of the site along with references to relevant publications and a map. They were compiled by the Archaeology Division office-based recorders and then passed to the field staff, who in turn would investigate the monument. The office recorders would assemble the monument descriptions from existing publications such as the RCAHMS County Inventories and Statistical Accounts.

Ordnance Survey record card for St Fillan’s Well. Copyright RCAHMS

Ordnance Survey record card for St Fillan’s Well. Copyright RCAHMS

For St Fillan’s Well, multiple sources have been consulted to construct a concise history and description of the site. The well was first recorded in the Old Statistical Accounts in 1791. The statistical accounts were first collected in the 18th century by Church of Scotland ministers and described the geography, agriculture and culture of their respective parishes. The Reverend John Monteath was responsible for Houston parish in which St Fillan’s Well is located and describes how the well was used for curing “rickety babies” until it was filled in by a local minister at the end of the 18th century. It also records the tradition of leaving cloth as a votive offering which means St Fillan’s was also a rag or ‘clootie’ well. One of the more famous clootie wells is located at Hill O’Hirdie near Munlochy in the Highlands.

The well was mapped by the Ordnance Survey in 1856 and recorded in the Object Name Book. These books were used by the OS staff to record the place names that were used on maps. Ordered by parish, a copy of the Name Books is available for public consultation on microfiche in the RCAHMS Search Room.

 First Edition OS map (Renfrewshire 1863, sheet VII) depicting St Fillan’s Well. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

First Edition OS map (Renfrewshire 1863, sheet VII) depicting St Fillan’s Well. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

In 1895 a paper exploring the association of the cult of St Fillan with Kilallan was published by J M Mackinlay in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. More recent publications on the well include Scottish Healing Wells (F and R Morris 1982) and W H Lyle’s The History of Bridge of Weir (1975).

Renfrewshire was not included in the county inventory survey by RCAHMS, but when it was visited by the Ordnance Survey in 1955, it was reported the field investigator that the well was being used as a cattle trough.

To see the Canmore record for St Fillan’s Well, see http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/42246/details/kilallan+st+fillan+s+well/

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.

 

Kirsty Millican (RCAHMS) – Perth and Kinross

Perth and Kinross.  ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Perth and Kinross. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

My name is Kirsty Millican and I work for the Historic Landuse Assessment (HLA) Project at RCAHMS. The site I would like to focus on may not seem the most spectacular; if you visited it today all you would see is an apparently unremarkable arable field. Instead, like many thousands of sites in Scotland, it is revealed to us just as cropmarks – the differential growth of crops above buried features –  photographed from the air. At Westerton in Perth and Kinross, these cropmarks reveal the former presence of a Neolithic timber enclosure (probably built sometime between around 3300 and 2600 BC, and classified on RCAHMS Canmore pages as a pit enclosure because of the way it is revealed on the aerial photograph), an enigmatic type of monument that I find as fascinating as much for the way in which it is revealed to us today as for the glimpse it gives us of the activities and structures built by our prehistoric ancestors.

The image here shows the Westerton enclosure quite clearly – it’s the rectangular enclosure in the centre of the photograph defined by two parallel lines of five neat circular dark marks with one centrally placed mark at each end. These circular marks in the crop record the presence of buried post pits – the holes dug to take standing timber posts. The posts themselves have long since decayed and disappeared and only the infilled pits remain beneath the soil. And here’s my interpretation of these marks with the enclosure in red. North is at top of this image, so the enclosure is at a slightly different angle to that in the aerial photograph.

Interpretation of the cropmarks at Westerton. The timber enclosure is in red, cropmarks of other features are in black. Copyright Kirsty Millican

Interpretation of the cropmarks at Westerton. The timber enclosure is in red, cropmarks of other features are in black. Copyright Kirsty Millican

Today there is nothing above ground to indicate that Westerton was once the location of an important prehistoric structure (see image below) and indeed it was built of a relatively ephemeral material, wood, which would decay and disappear over time. However, through the medium of differential crop growth and ripening caused by the buried features and the fact that those features were captured on a photograph taken from a small aeroplane, we have this picture of a monument constructed over 4000 years ago. Therefore, from these simple marks in the crop, it is possible to begin piecing together something of what people were doing, or at least building, here thousands of years ago. This in turn gives us a window onto the past peoples and societies, their lives, activities, beliefs and values. I continually find it amazing the something as apparently simple as the way in which crops grow can reveal so much.

The location of the timber hall today within an apparently unremarkable arable field Copyright Kirsty Millican

The location of the timber hall today within an apparently unremarkable arable field Copyright Kirsty Millican

So let’s return to Westerton and see what it can tell us. The site at Westerton has never been excavated, but we know from similar sites dug elsewhere that it likely dates to the later Neolithic period (probably somewhere between around 3300 BC and 2600 BC) and that those post pits would have held substantial timber posts, probably of oak. This, then, was a substantial timber structure. For a variety of structural reasons it generally thought that Westerton, and other similar structures, are unlikely to have had a roof. Clues to the purpose and use of these timber enclosures are fragmentary, but they are usually interpreted as having some kind of ceremonial and/or funerary function. Below is one possible reconstruction of what Westerton may have looked like. As only the holes dug to take the upright timbers survive, inevitably there is a lot of speculation involved in reconstructions such as this. For example the timber posts may have been modified, carved or painted in some way, and there may well have been fencing between the posts. Despite what we do know, there remains an element of mystery about these Neolithic timber structures.  Nevertheless, images such as this at least help us to begin to imagine what they may have looked like.

Speculative reconstruction of the timber enclosure at Westerton depicting the enclosure as formed by large, relatively unmodified timbers. Copyright Kirsty Millican

Speculative reconstruction of the timber enclosure at Westerton depicting the enclosure as formed by large, relatively unmodified timbers. Copyright Kirsty Millican

Some of the excavated sites that help us to interpret the cropmarks at Westerton are also found in Perth and Kinross, and the RCAHMS Canmore pages have some wonderful images of these sites. These include the timber structure excavated at Littleour and one at Carsie Mains. Another similar, though unexcavated, cropmark site has been recorded at Balrae. Several other timber enclosures are also known elsewhere in Scotland. Therefore, we know of several of these mysterious sites both in Perth and Kinross and beyond. Whether they were all exactly contemporary is impossible to say but, who knows, perhaps the same people who built Westerton knew of the structures at Littleour and Carsie Mains and the communities that built them. Certainly they knew the reasons for their construction, reasons that can only be vaguely grasped today, and will have participated in particular ceremonies and events both within and around these structures. Whatever they were used for, these were undoubtedly important structures. Think of the effort involved in cutting down oak trees without metal tools (these enclosures were built before the introduction of metal to Scotland, so stone axes must have been used) and of erecting the large timbers to form the enclosure without the use of modern machinery.

There is much more that could be said about this site; there just isn’t enough room in a single blog post. However, I hope this has given some flavour of why I find sites such as Westerton so fascinating, and the way in which such ghostly marks in crops can reveal a wealth of information. This information would be unreachable (and indeed Westeron and many thousands of other cropmark sites would be entirely unknown) without a combination of the effects of buried archaeology on growing crops, the aerial survey of individuals and organisations such as RCAHMS and the luck that meant someone flew over this site at just the right moment to see and record it. The fact that all these factors came together at just the right time allows us to reach back to the things people and communities were doing and building in a location more than 4000 years ago. It truly is fascinating!

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.

For further information you can also contact the local authority archaeologist. In this case contact details are:

David Strachan
Manager
Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust
4 York Place
PERTH
PH2 8EP
01738 477081
www.pkht.org.uk

 

Dorothy Graves McEwan (RCAHMS) – Orkney

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

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

 

My name is Dr Dorothy Graves McEwan and I am the Skara Brae Project Cataloguer at RCAHMS. Skara Brae is the best preserved Neolithic settlement site in Western Europe, and through this distinction has become a World Heritage site beloved by many people the world over. This unique site captured the imagination of antiquarians in the 19th century. It continues to fascinate archaeologists, myself included, to this very day.

My first ferry ride to Orkney. Copyright the author

My first ferry ride to Orkney. Copyright the author

My reasons for loving Skara Brae are entirely personal. In 2004, in the early days of research for my PhD, I took a trip up with my boyfriend (now husband) to visit archaeological sites in the Highlands.  Eventually, we pointed the car north and just kept driving until we came to John o’Groats. We looked at each other and said, “Why not?”

Onto the ferry we went, and the next thing I knew, I was staring at the glorious remains of a settlement that reminded me so much of The Flintstones that I had to laugh. At that moment, standing above House 7, I realised I was entranced by the Scottish Neolithic. It has since become a research passion.

Skara Brae; house 7. Copyright RCAHMS (SC346480)

Skara Brae; house 7. Copyright RCAHMS (SC346480)

An average day of my work currently consists of delving into containers of archive material that was created by archaeologists Dr David V Clarke and Dr Alexandra Shepherd, who in the 1970s excavated material from Skara Brae’s middens. A midden can be considered a fancy archaeological word for the ‘trash’ heap, where literally anything and everything can be found deposited. It is by excavating the midden so carefully that Clarke and Shepherd have been able to open a door into the past that might have otherwise remained closed forever.  By combining their work with Prof V Gordon Childe’s iconic excavations in the 1930s, we know so much more about the daily life of the people who built and lived at Skara Brae.

Skara Brae: Vere Gordon Childe in hut 8. Copyright RCAHMS (SC372285)

Skara Brae: Vere Gordon Childe in hut 8. Copyright RCAHMS (SC372285)

The midden has revealed an extensive diet including plants, shellfish, fish, wild birds, deer, and pigs. They created stone, wooden and bone objects and tools. They even possessed artwork: beautiful pieces such as carved stone balls and incised decorations that appear on some of the stonework.

Skara Brae Finds Photograph: Bone and stone objects, including mattocks and carved stone objects. Copyright  Historic Scotland (SC1165931)

Skara Brae Finds Photograph: Bone and stone objects, including mattocks and carved stone objects. Copyright Historic Scotland (SC1165931)

 

 

 

 

All of this and so much more will be forthcoming in a final report by Dr Clarke and Dr Shepherd. In the meantime, it is my job to catalogue the material into a singular Collection that any member of the public can easily consult online or in person at RCAHMS.

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.

 

 

Derek Russell (RCAHMS) – North Lanarkshire

The author's dog, Cosmo, at Bothwellhaugh Bath House. Copyright Derek Russell

The author’s dog, Cosmo, at the site of Bothwellhaugh Bath House. Copyright Derek Russell

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

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

I am Derek Russell. I am an Information Services Infrastructure Project Manager within RCAHMS. I provide the services which store the digital archive.

I have chosen the Roman Bath House located within Strathclyde Park. This park is the boundary between North and South Lanarkshire and was created in the 1970’s by flooding the old mining village of Bothwellhaugh.

When I was first asked to take part in the Day of Archaeology I was quite surprised. I have no training in this area but I thought I would take a “member of the public” approach to this event.

I thought about what sites has made the biggest impact to me. I remember being in primary school when the Bothwellhaugh Roman Fort and a Roman bath house were being surveyed.  Until that point I had believed that the Romans never ventured into Scotland and built large walls to keep Scotland out. It made me think about the history of my local area and what other buildings or roads were still in existence.

I have taken some pictures of the site as it is today, which is open to the public to enjoy.

View of Bothwellhaugh Bath House. Copyright D Russell

View of Bothwellhaugh Bath House. Copyright D Russell

View of Bothwellhaugh Bath House. Copyright D Russell

View of Bothwellhaugh Bath House. Copyright D Russell

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.