Prehistoric Europe

Reconstructing a dolmen

Today is a busy one for me. I’m writing this on an overcrowded train to London on the first stage of a journey to the USA. It’s for pleasure not work, although as many archaeologists will tell you, at times the division is a blurry one.

For the past few months I’ve been working on a number of interesting projects. I have been working with Sustrust on the Giants Quoit project. For the last four years they have been working tirelessly with the Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service to excavate the site of Carwynnen Quoit near Camborne in Cornwall.

The dolmen (an entrance grave with three orthostats, or uprights, topped with a large flat capstone) fell down In 1842, and being a popular local landmark it was re-erected shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, in 1966, after an alleged earth tremor, it fell down once again. This time, the stones remained in a pile, and memories of the Quoit faded. In 2009 Sustrust bought the five acre field where the remains of the dolmen lay, and began to hatch plans to re-erect it.

My involvement came earlier this year, 2014, when I was asked to virtually reconstruct Carwynnen Quoit from existing laser scans of the individual stones and to investigate a number of other stones that had the potential to contain rock art. Armed with large quantities of 3D and excavation data and a number of historic photos from different angles, I busied myself with moving the modelled stones around on screen. One of the decisions made early on by the whole team was to reconstruct the quoit as it could have appeared thousands of years ago. Our historic images of the monument show the orthostats leaning at dangerous angles, having spent millennia being persuaded by gravity to cease trying to defy it, gradually tilting before collapsing.

Setting the stones upright by archaeologically studying the sockets in the ground and wear on the capstone meant that the Giants Quoit (as it is locally known) could stand again for, hopefully, millennia. It will never be exactly the same as the quoit was when originally built some 4500 years ago, but close, and importantly, safe, so that people can enjoy and engage with the monument.

I visited Carwynnen Quoit on a rainy day back at the beginning of May and it was a hive of activity. A school visit was in progress with a large marquee was set up as an outdoor classroom, with demonstrations of ancient technology such as honeysuckle rope construction, pottery, and theories about how the stones were originally moved. Lessons in poetry and art were planned for later in the day. I’m sure that day will have an influence on them for years to come – considering that local schools were also involved in the excavations of previous years, I wouldn’t be surprised if the seeds of a few embryonic archaeological careers haven’t been sown.

Using photogrammetry I made very detailed 3D models of the stones thought to contain rock art, and got a good feel for the site and how it may have appeared during the late Neolithic. We also crowded around the computer to continue to twist and move stones to help inform the reconstruction. It was decided to make a triangular wooden template to make sure that the orthostats would be positioned correctly.

Back at the office I processed the images of the rock art stones – the “Shield Stone” and “Coffin Stone” – into 3D point clouds and began to use a number of techniques to enhance details cut into the surface of the stones. I came to the conclusion that the marks on the Coffin Stone were mainly natural, although human-influenced, perhaps as a result of ploughing, dragging or even an attempt to dress it at some point. It is tempting to see a series of intersecting lines which form uneven diamond or lozenge patterns as deliberate, but they’re easily formed unintentionally.

The Shield Stone is interesting. The markings are deliberate, but I remain to be convinced that they were part of a singular design.

Photogrammetry of the reconstructed orthostats

Photogrammetry of the reconstructed orthostats

The 3D point clouds allow all kinds of analysis to take place that you cannot do physically, such as colouring the stone by depth to enhance details cut into the stone (they show up as a different colour to flatter parts) and removing distracting details such as the natural colours of the stone.

To match one of the historic photos of Carwynnen Quoit, an Edwardian picnic is being organised where participants will dress in period costume, eat lunch, and pose for a real plate photograph. Sadly, I’ve just had to reply to the invitation explaining that I’ll still be in the USA when it happens – I’d never normally turn away the opportunity for a ‘proper’ antiquarian day out!

Below are a few of the images that I created for the project. Visit the Giants Quoit website to find out more, and be sure to come back to the Day of Archaeology site to explore more of the amazing posts submitted today.

20140711-173654-63414111.jpg

Simulated glass plate image of the 3D reconstruction

20140711-173652-63412050.jpg

20140711-173652-63412647.jpg

20140711-173653-63413717.jpg

Laser scanned orthostats placed upon the excavation plan


From mountains to sea…and everything in between: Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service

It is our great pleasure to welcome you on the Day of Archaeology 2014 to the Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service.

Situated in the North East of Scotland, we are a small team (just the three of us!) with responsibility for a large geographic area – not only do we act as the regional archaeology service for Aberdeenshire Council, but also for Angus and Moray Councils, which is equivalent to 10,733km2!

Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Council areas in North East Scotland ©ACAS

Map showing location of Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray Council areas in North East Scotland ©ACAS

Protection, Management and Promotion

For any given area roughly 95% of the historic environment is not protected by national designations, and it is down to Services like ourselves at local government level in the UK to protect it.

The team’s remit is to protect, manage and promote the historic environment of Aberdeenshire, Angus & Moray. A big part of this is maintaining a Historic Environment Record (HER) for each of these areas, an ever-growing database of sites and monuments of archaeological and historical interest hosted on our website.

There are currently almost 32,000 sites recorded in the HER, ranging from Lower Paleolithic auroch horns through Early Medieval Pictish stones to World War II defences. That’s almost 12,000 years of history!

The HER acts as the hub for our primary work within the Councils. We use it as the basis for assessing the potential impact of planning applications, forestry, utility and other consultations on the historic environment. The resulting archaeological mitigation work from these consultations then feeds back into the HER, broadening our (and therefore everyone’s) knowledge and understanding of the historic environment here in the North East, and helping to inform future decisions.

We will provide the best Protection, Management and Promotion of the Historic Environment of Aberdeenshire for the benefit of all ©ACAS

Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service Team Motto ©ACAS

(more…)

Working in the palace of the Queen She-Wolf: the Mallou hilltop fort in Galicia

mallou_total-1000x395

The impressive location of the Mallou hilltop fort.

An independent team of archaeologists, journalists, anthropologists and people from many different disciplines and professions is working on the last two weeks of July in the hillfort of Mallou, led by archaeologist Anton Malde and the popular science writer and university professor Manuel Gago. This is a public archeology project promoted by the  Council of Carnota.

mallou_2

Main gates at Mallou hilltop fort

The hillfort of Mallou is a small fortified town on the Atlantic coast Galician striking monumental in its structures (especially the walls and the original door),  original configuration (a combination of large elongated structures near the wall and small circular huts in the center) and its excellent state of preservation, which allows understanding the original urban even without digging! The village, inhabited by Iron Age people of the Celtici Supertamarici  (the Celts located at North of the Tambre River) offers a unique perspective for the end of the Iron Age II on the Atlantic coast, very little known from a scientific point of view. The two closest excavated forts are more than 60km away.

mallou_1

South Walls

The fort has an important symbolic role for the local community, which identifies this as the residence of the famous Queen Lupa (The Queen She-Wolf), the mythical pagan figure who allowed disciples of St. James burying the body of the saint in the sacred woods of Libredón.

But the Mallou Castro Project is also special for the attention given to the local community and public archeology. Although the archaeological team has eight experienced professionals in the field, the design of this action encourages the participation of the local community and everyonge interested in archeology, through activities adapted to the conditions of training, health and interests of the participants in the project. The aim is involving society in the process of building knowledge and creating experiences and strategies for the local community to be the leading advocate and user of the archaeological site.

Thus, the project offers volunteers a wide range of activities: since cleaning the dense fields, support archaeologist technical tasks, and even literary workshops on writing historical tales. Over sixty volunteers from Mallou villaje and allGalicia are involved in the project for one or more days, enriching the local tourist economy and creating a new way of relating to heritage.

Connect live from 18:00 h. Friday July 26

Live streaming video by Ustream

Waterlogged Day, Waterlogged Wood….

My name is Anne Crone and I am a post-excavation project manager at AOC Archaeology Group, working in their Loanhead office in Scotland. I am currently managing a number of large post-excavation projects, the most important of which is the Cults Landscape Project – important to me because I also carried out the fieldwork in partnership with my colleague, Graeme Cavers, and because it has enabled me to ‘indulge’ many of my research interests, in crannogs, waterlogged wood and dendrochronology.

crannog

The Cults Loch crannog under excavation

 

The fieldwork project has involved the excavation of a number of sites in and around Cults Loch, a small kettlehole loch at Castle Kennedy, near Stranraer in south-west Scotland. The project arose out of the initiative of the Scottish Wetland Archaeology Programme, the aim of which was to more fully integrate wetland archaeology into more mainstream ‘dryland’ archaeology. So we selected a landscape in which the archaeological sites appear to cluster around the loch and within which there were two crannogs – these are man-made islands found only in Scotland and Ireland and which are repositories of all sorts of waterlogged organic goodies!  We have excavated one of the crannogs which sits on a little man-made promontory jutting out into the loch, the promontory fort that lies on the other side of the loch, overlooking the crannog, and one of the palisaded enclosures that lies on the grassland around the loch.

And now we are halfway through the post-excavation programme.  We know that this is a later prehistoric landscape because we have 1st millennium BC radiocarbon dates from the promontory fort and crannog. But more exciting – I have been able to dendro-date some of the oak timbers from the crannog and we now know that most of the building activity took place in the 2nd and 3rd decades of the 5th century BC, and that there was refurbishment of the causeway in 193 BC – for me these more specific dates bring the occupants more clearly into focus…

Today – well, it started off with a 3 mile walk to work – usually a great start when I can think through my schedule for the day – but today the heavens opened and I was soaked by the time I arrived at the office! After drying out I settled down at my desk to read the report on the soil micromorphology from the crannog which my colleague Lynne Roy has just finished. As project manager I need to edit and check each report before it is sent out to the client, in this case Historic Scotland, but as the archaeologist I also want to read it for the insights it will give me into the taphonomy of the deposits on the crannog. And it is really fascinating! We found large patches of laminated plant litter, interspersed with gravel and sand layers which we interpreted as floor coverings that had been repeatedly renewed. Lynne’s analysis has revealed that the occupants probably cleaned away as much as possible of the dirty floor coverings before scattering over a sand and gravel subfloor and then laying down fresh plant litter. She can tell which surfaces were exposed for a length of time while others were covered almost immediately. And her work on the hearth debris indicates that peat turves were probably the main form of fuel on the site.

recording_timbers

Recording timbers in the warehouse

 

Like many archaeologists the majority of my time is spent at my desk, writing reports, editing reports, filling in/updating spreadsheets, and dealing with emails. So it is a pleasure to be able to don my lab coat and spend some time in our warehouse handling waterlogged wood. I am currently writing the report on the structural timbers from the crannog. The majority of the timbers were undressed logs or roundwood stakes, mostly of alder and oak, so most of the recording and sampling was done on the crannog. Samples for dendro and species identification were brought back to the lab but we only brought back complete timbers which displayed interesting carpentry details and were worthy of conservation. I have been completing the recording of these timbers and deciding which ones should be illustrated for the final report. There are some interesting timbers in the assemblage –large horizontal timbers with square mortises, presumably to take vertical posts, but what is the function of the horizontal timbers which have very narrow notches cut diagonally across them? Next week I will be off to the library to look for comparanda and to find explanations for some of the more unusual aspects of the assemblage

Read more about Cults Loch here

 

New Bronze Age finds at the British Museum: When…

So, I’ve just completed 4 hours of looking at one of the new hoards at the British Museum.

To put the next few posts about what I spent that time doing into context we’ll start with ‘when’ the European Bronze Age, and more specifically British Bronze Age, was.

For those that know nothing about the Bronze Age, here’s a couple of links:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/cultures/europe/bronze_age.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronze_Age_Britain

The British Late Bronze Age lasted from 1300-600 BC. This period is broken down in to a small number of phases, based on the bronze objects types, which we call LBA (Late Bronze Age) 1, 2, 3 and 4. These four metalworking phases have been given names taken from sites or finds that somehow best seem to describe what was around at the time. These are Penard, Wilburton, Ewart Park and Llyn Fawr. Of course, there were different things happening all over Britain, and lots of regional traditions in terms of the types of objects they had, and therefore different areas such as southeast England, western England, northern England, Wales and Scotland all have slightly different names for these phases, so as to reflect these local conditions. The phases I’ve mentioned mainly apply to southeast England but are applicable for England as a whole for the most part.

Although many researchers have contributed to this scheme over the years, and certain details have changed significantly, particualrly in light of new scienetific techniques in dating, this basic scheme was laid down as early as 1881 in a wonderfully modern book called ‘ The Ancient Bronze Implements, Weapons and Ornaments, of Great Britain and Ireland’. In the study of bronze objects, new isn’t always better, and I and many others, still use this book today.

The hoard I was invited to look at came from our Late Bronze Age 2 phase, or Ewart Park phase. Some of the objects from this phase have been illustrated below. This phase is characterised, above all else, by the many hundreds of groups or ‘hoards’ of bronze objects, many of which appear in broken or damaged condition, and then buried in the ground.

  Today, many of these hoards are found by metal detectorists, and often end up in a local museum where the objects are identified, not just for dating purposes but also to help tell us a little more about the lives of people at that time.

How do we do that? Essentially, we play a game of snap…