Lammermuir hills

Training School – Well that was the day that was!

At the beginning off this day one of the team working with me at the Rampart Scotland fieldschool asked if this was a normal day, to which I replied, yes.   What I meant of course was that every day is different.  And even within a single project, every day, every hour can be a diverse mix of new and old, familiar and challenges.  Best of all is working with and helping to train people who have a real passion.  Perhaps this means that ater 30 years of digging, I still have that spark that makes me proud to be an archaeologist.   With the chance to document this event in Day of Archaeology, the originators (who I can’t thank enough) and those that have helped make it happen (who I also must take my hat off to)  I am happy to share one day in my life …   are you sitting comfortably!   Then I’ll begin.   But first I best tuck into some coffee and cake!

The morning started with a shock, as I forgot that we started at 8am, so it was quickly feed the hens, feed the cats, make breakfast for my wife (who has discovered the joys of a bad back – courtesy of our last excavation!)  who also runs Past Horizons.  No time to feed myself, as I jumped into the minibus and drove through the side roads of East Lothian in Scotland to our project – White Castle hillfort on the edge of the Lammermuir hills.  We troop out the van and stroll to each trench, discussing what we will do today, and why.  The process is as important as the digging.  One trech is to be planned, another cleaned for photography, yet another must investigate and sample a layer with charcoal.  And of course the ditch needs cleaned and recorded and topographic survey must continue.  Everyone splits off to their tasks and trenches, smiles tell me that Murray Cook and I are doing something right.

To us there is not such thing as a bad question or a stupid one – they all mean we are discussing and always have time to explore a concept, whether it is long distance trade of bronze and raw materials to the names and locations of supposed Irona Age tribes in Scotland around the 1st century AD.  Then why not use the spectacular view across the Lothian plain before us to talk about 18th century agricultural improvements and farming techniques.   It all matters.

That is a steep rampart!

That is a steep rampart!

Suddenly trench 13 runs across with exciting news – what could it be?  Well it turns out it was a fragment of cremated bone coming out of the charcoal.   Only 4mm long and they spotted it, how about that for keen eyes.  They soon find more, and we discuss what it could mean and a variety of ‘right’ answers.  Talking seems to be half the fun of archaeology in this environment.

Trench to nowhere. The ancient road must be here!

Trench to nowhere. The ancient road must be here!

Soon, another car turns up, with three students (or ex students) from Edinburgh University, they are sset to work on a new trench in the deep bracken (an invasive and damaging fern like plant) .  They want to learn to draw and dig, survey and section, plan and record – they will be the new archaeologists – so for them, the training is more detailed, more structured.

The council archaeologists turn up for a visit as I try again to connect to the internet and post another message from the hill – to no avail –   but Murray and I then spend an hour with them, touring each trench, discussing future strategies and even mutual support in coming years.   They have useful comments to make – and sometimes it pays to listen rather than talk (or perhaps I am just growing up).

Tea break comes and goes, and the hut platform becomes a platform, with no trace of a hut  (yet)  but plenty of sign of root damage to sub surface archaeology.  It looks like it has been put through a cement mixer and then poured back onto the site.   Useful to know for monument management plans.   We start to discuss the next year already, and the next, while talking of other projects to come, and projects we have remembered fondly.

Trench 17 - the dinky ditch!

Trench 17 - the dinky ditch!

All too soon, it is 1pm, and time to head off to Edinburgh, however, I decide to go home, with a twist.  We wind and drive deeper into the hills and point to castles and cairns, standing stones and sheepfolds, that each tell a millennia old story of people and place.  Back at base, we clean and prepare for the big city, which gives me just enough time to check BAJR jobs, answer some emails and even help out a poor woman, who needed a trowel in Cornwall ASAP!  –  no worries.   Then I collate the Open day rota for Saturday ( only 15 people at a time, bussed up from the nearest village) phone up and email confirmations just in time for the team to arrive at my house and it is off to Edinburgh.

Team on the National Museum of Scotland steps

Team on the National Museum of Scotland steps

The newly renovated museum is stunning and I let them off the lead in a stunning, sunny Edinburgh.  Time to meet at 6pm, when I will take them on a mini archaeo-tour and then to some of my favourite watering holes.  Bannermans, Whistlebinkies and the Pear tree.    Although I am only on the orange juice it does not matter, and I get to listen to their stories and lives, their reasons for coming and what they hope to get out of it, from real knowledge to pure simple fun.  And why not, archaeology should be fun, archaeology can produce amazing new evidence and still remain fun.

I tell them about another couple of local projects and a TV link up to a live event with the amazing Archaeology Scotland that is happening over the next month as well as some other education events. The best thing about them is that I can’t wait o learn, and from the team (who are so mixed in what they do in real life) I absorb hints, suggestions and ideas.

Well hello.. so you are archaeologists

Well hello.. so you are archaeologists

Edinburgh trip allows us to bond more to learn about each other, which in a way is just as important as any iron age ditch.   WE even find that the locals can be overly friendly.

Heading back to base, I head off with the boys, and we discuss everything ranging from poor superman jokes to Pictish identity and broch building, then turn again to what could make the fieldschool better.   The conversation is easy and enjoyable.

As I finish off this piece, I am back home, its late, I am tired but I am happy.!  Now…  I wonder what will happen tomorrow…. oh yes…  there is an open day.

The beginning of the day…


Just shot a video of the office I work in (above) and then its on to the real work! I am currently making changes to some of my chapters which is involving redoing images and carrying out new analyses in GIS.  For those of you who don’t know what GIS is, it stands for Geographical Information Systems and you can manipulate data to display it spatially.  So for example, I am creating maps of old routeways through East Lothian and how these correspond to the archaeological evidence.  Is it possible that these routes were in existence prior to the Medieval period? Where they are best preserved, they traverse the Uplands (in this case, the Lammermuirs), which is almost devoid of later prehistoric settlement evidence.

As you can see, there seems to be an interesting correlation between the routeways and early prehistoric monuments.  The darker areas indicate the higher ground where most of the sites survive.  Do the routeways simply pass by these monuments because they are ‘markers’ or is it because these are familiar routes that have been traversed over for thousands of years? I am still deciding!

The sites have been plotted using CANMORE which is the public online database run by the RCAHMS and has been an invaluable resource for my PhD.  CANMORE give accurate grid references for these sites however to put them into a GIS, these figures have to be converted into eastings and northings.  These are also based on the same OS grid system but are six figure grid references.  So for example, a site in my are might have the grid reference NT123 345.  To convert that into eastings and northings, it would be 312300 634500.  Each grid square has numbers preceding it, in this case 3 and 6, and then the appropriate number of ‘0s’ are added to make it six-figure.

I’ll let you know how it goes later!

(Early routeways based on Roy’s Military Survey Map (1747-1755) and

Graham, A. 1951 An old road in the Lammermuirs Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 83: 198-206

Graham, A. 1962 More old roads in the Lammermuirs Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 93: 217-35

Morning in Scotland

After a day of scorching sun, followed by a day of damp rain, we now wake to a day of white cloud.   perfect!

The Rampart Scotland fieldschool is into day 4.

18 folk from around the world, Canada, USA, Australia, Manchester , and local volunteers are working on the  iron age fort of Whitecastle in the foothills of the Lammermuirs in South East Scotland.

White Castle View

White Castle View

Off to site now, and some survey, erosion checking and digging…   I will keep you up to date.   But first off, I need to finish my coffee  and check my emails.   You see, I also run BAJR.   !    but that is another story.