Archaeology The Cairns

The Cairns – June 17th

Site plan2
The Cairns Site Plan


The work to reveal more of the wall framing the corridor leading into the centre of the broch from the entrance has really elucidated a series of previously uncertain relationships within this amazing building.

The wall now is seen to form one side of a passageway that regulated movement within the hub of the broch, at least at one phase in its life.  The finds from the base of the passageway have been coming quite thick and fast.

Martin Carruthers continues….

It’s very pleasing to see the progress that’s been made in the broch this week by Becky and her team.

As well as the beautiful bronze pin from a few days ago there’s been quite a lot of pottery.  To one side, of the walling Colin removed some rubble and found a large square arrangement of upright stones forming something of a box that contains very rich organic material, charcoal, bone, shell, and the like.  It will be interesting to find out what else this contains soon.

Today, Val and Jasmin have been excavating more infill, just a little east of the passageway just discussed, and have been revealing the upper surface of more organic rich deposits, almost certainly occupation material within the broch.

Work on Structure B has also been very illuminating.

Quite soon after beginning work here, James and his diggers established that some big blocks of stone were indeed the westernmost inner wall-face of the broch surviving very well and high set amidst an array of later post-broch structures.

Our aim is to fully excavate these features and be able to free-up the last remaining rubble and infill from within the broch and then work across its entire surface! This will hopefully be accomplished early next week and will be a very impressive sight.

Over by our souterrain, Structure F, Holly and Stephanie continue to reveal more of the large early cellular feature that the souterrain seems to have been cut through during its construction.  Its been interesting to see what predated the souterrain and next week we hope to understand more of this building.

Also next week we plan to do more work on the still roofed portion of the souterrain, in preparation for the main aim of work here this year – the excavation of the floor and occupation within the souterrain.

In our new trench, Trench Q, the team did sterling work this week reducing all the overburden and later soils to reveal the uppermost archaeological traces.

There have been quite profuse finds of pottery, animal bone, including whalebone, and stone tools.

Next week a new batch of diggers arrive to supplement our ranks and at that point I think we will make another big push on excavating some of the upper material here to hopefully reveal some substantial building remains relating to the village that we strongly suspect surrounds the broch.

Trench M and the metalworking building.

The work by Mic and his team in Trench M this week has involved cleaning up and consolidating our knowledge of contextual relationships.

There have been no finds of the wonderful bronze-casting moulds that we have found so many of in previous seasons, however, it has been rewarding in other ways.

We’re building a clearer picture of the phases in this building- its quite complex, but a story is beginning to form of an initial building tucked neatly in behind a boundary wall on the northern side of the settlement.

This building, perhaps a house occupied during the broch period of the site, has received several modifications before going out of use and becoming the basis of metalworking; the furnace and the casting of bronze pins and brooches.

The coppery metal lump visible as a rather shinier mass in the centre of the image.

Interestingly, some of the relatively early features of the building, apparently pre-dating all the jewellery casting and the furnace, also contain evidence of the deposition of metalworking, including a large mass of heat affected copper or copper alloy smelting waste found today.

Perhaps there is indeed a longer pedigree of metalworking in this area and that it was associated with such activities for a long time during its life.

Next week we will continue to peel back layers in this trench to reveal more of the complex history of the building.  Stay with the blog to find out more as we do!

Thanks to Sigurd Towrie and Orkneyjar