Archaeology The Cairns

The Final Days at The Cairns


The four week dig at The Cairns is now coming to a close. The tremendous hard work of all the students and volunteers has resulted in some amazing finds and has shed a little more light on the life of the people who lived there 2000 years ago.

Before the site was cleaned and covered for another year, the whalebone and red deer antler deposit had to be lifted. Martin Carruthers Site Director takes up the story….

One thing to sort out was just the small matter of recovering the whalebone and red deer antler deposit from the ground! The day progressed well and Carolina and John were able to lift the antlers first.

They are very beautiful and appear to have been shed and not from a butchered deer, so they were probably picked up somewhere in the hill-land to the north of the site and were not from an animal that was hunted and killed.

The whalebone, quern and antlers shortly before being recovered. The ruler gives an indication of the size of the whalebone

The whalebone itself then had to be lifted carefully.We had feared for the integrity of this large, fragile item after seeing that it had some large cracks running up it. But, in the end, we were able to recover it successfully, in three large chunks.It will now be conserved and the pieces put back together in the lab.

Finally, it was the turn of the saddle quern.This very large, beautifully worn stone was a heavy thing to ease out of the ground, even though we had worked around the edges freeing it up from its soily matrix.

The soil, by the way, was a very rich, dark, organic material, profuse with charcoal lumps and almost as greasy and rich as the floor deposits we have worked on inside the broch.

This, perhaps, means we have incipient water-logging on the outside of the broch as well, and can perhaps expect quite spectacular preservation conditions when we excavate more of this area, and further down.

For now, we are simply delighted to have dealt with the items and recovered them safely to study in more detail soon, along with the human remains found with them.

Elsewhere on site, I was busy taking final elevated photographs of the trenches as the rest of the team began the process of spreading out plastic tarps and tyres over the trench to bed it down until next season.

Looking across Trench M – the metalworking area – to the broch in the background

The above area has also been transformed into a photogrammatical record which can be accessed through clicking the picture below (Thanks to Ben Price):