Never assume you know what you’re going to find – sites always throw up surprises. SCAPE’s project with the Sanday Archaeology Group in Orkney is a perfect example… who thought we’d find a Bronze Age well during a reconstruction project!
Our Day of Archaeology 2014 was very eventful, and to get an idea of the hive of activity, see a time lapse film of the first two hours on site. The Day came half way through our project on Sanday, where we were working with the local group to relocate a previously excavated Bronze Age site. Local residents had reported structures revealed on a beach after a storm, leading to an emergency evaluation (it was thought that there might be a burial within the stone tank). The excavation had showed the site to be one of only a handful of burnt mounds with surviving structures within them. After the excavation, the sea continued to attack the stone tank, orthostats and a corbelled cell, and the local group wanted to preserve something of the site by moving some of the stones to their newly opened Heritage Centre, away from the sea. The group contacted SCAPE’s Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk Project – and a plan to relocate the stonework was devised as a ShoreDig project.
Before we could transfer the large stone slabs to the Heritage Centre, we had to reveal the masonry from under the beach cobbles. The original excavation had located a corbelled cell buried in the coastal section, but health and safety concerns had prevented full excavation. By the time we started digging in early July, the sea had eroded back the coast edge, allowing access the cell. After getting our Shetland stonemasons, Jim Keddie and Rick Barton, to check the structure, we excavated demolition and backfill material to reveal six steps leading down to an underground chamber.
The prehistoric structure stood three metres high to the top of its corbelled roof. The lower chamber was full of water; and the silt at the bottom of the well was full of remarkably well-preserved organic material (I’ve never seen Bronze Age seaweed before). Part of our Day of Archaeology was spent sampling the organic silts, bagging 100% of the material for future analysis.
Burnt mounds often have a large trough or tank, and in Scotland, some of these tanks are made of large, flat slabs of stone. We excavated the cut for the stone tank, finding that the base was far larger than the size of the tank – and that the four side-stones had been placed on the flat slab at the bottom.
Much of our Day of Archaeology was spent moving the last of the stones to the reconstruction site. We plotted the relative positions of the stones with an EDM; and photographed, numbered and drew all the stones before lifting them. Jo and Ellie from SCAPE worked with Sanday Archaeology Group members to prepare the site so that the stones could be lifted. A second team of local volunteers were ready with tractors, trailers, digger and slings to move the stones off site.
Once the base slab was lifted, we saw that it had been built over an earlier, possibly corbelled, structure, perhaps explaining why such a large stone was used. This was very unexpected, and we managed to capture the moment as part of the filming we were doing for possible inclusion in the next series of Digging for Britain.
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.
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.
Today is Day of Archaeology so let’s sail through this day on our ship with Olaf 🙂
Sculptures from Elblag’s Biennial looks like huge dragons, and are located all around Elbląg. You can walk around city and watch different monument. On my way to work I see just few of them. Art installations gives my home town artistic look.
Church path with beautiful arcs makes everyone feel really medieval. I think It is the most charming place.
At the Museum I usually document artefacts. Measuring, taking pictures, preparations for exhibitions… It takes a lot of time, but work with such beautiful things makes you feel special.
but sometimes…. Olaf is messing with our work… (this picture almost got published in our book) 🙂
Visitors can have guided tours with Museum staff. Olaf and archaeologists talk about different sites and exhibitions in Museum. You can see exhibitions about History of the Goths, The Amber -Truso-Emporium and Elbląg – a recovered testimony of the past.
Museum lessons held in reconstruction of long house on Museum yard are very interesting.
Well… not that interesting for Olaf, who has huge problems with drawing… 😀
Children could play medieval games, learn history and get little bit dirty while making clay pottery. When the weather is nice everyone can see how medieval women made food for their families (and how it tasted).