Archaeology The Cairns Dig Diary 2017

The Cairns Day Fifteen 2017

Visitors are taken on a tour on open day, while in the foreground the team excavated a section of the ditch
Open Day: Visitors are taken on a tour of the site, while in the foreground the team excavate a section of the ditch

Today was our open day on site and we had a very good turn out from the public whom we very much hope enjoyed the many tours that were undertaken of the site.

The presence of lots of visitors always lends the site a slightly festive atmosphere and all of us on site really enjoy interacting with the public and showing off the site and the wonderful artefacts that have been discovered.  Many of us were giving tours and we’d like to thank everyone who came along for making it such a fun and cheerful day.

The tours took many of us into show-and-tell mode on site, nevertheless, archaeological work in many areas of the site progressed unabated.

In Trench Q, Dave and the team have been continuing to reveal wall-tops, related to the village surrounding the broch, although how contemporary these are with the broch at this stage will remain unclear for some time.  Interestingly, the soily deposits that they are excavating are full of antler-working waste.  There are trimmed off-cuts of antler coming out thick and fast.  This waste is probably from making combs, pins, and tools of a variety of types, examples of which we have found from elsewhere on the site.  Also recovered from around here was a small bronze chain-link!

Hanneke excavating in the terrace cut around the broch exterior
Hanneke excavating in the terrace cut around the broch exterior

In the ditch, over in the SW extension, the finds have also been coming thick and fast.  Even though we’re really still in quite high deposits (relative to the likely fuller depth of the ditch), the volume of animal bone, including cattle, sheep, pig, deer, and many others, has been quite amazing, and these have been big chunks of large beasts.  This has included horn cores, other large skull fragments, and deer antler.  The ditch was obviously a receptacle for lots of midden, with large unabraided (freshly broken) pieces of pottery  and stone tools to add to the litany of discarded materials.


The green stained bronze chain link from site today, lifted on a soil block to preserve the object
The green stained bronze chain link, lifted on a soil block to preserve the object.


However, based on other sites of the Scottish Atlantic Iron Age, the placement of specific types of waste within ditches seems to have happened in particular locations around the circumference of enclosures, and this appears to have been governed by ideological schemes that are reflected in the patterning of deposits.  It will therefore be very interesting to compare what types of material we have in our section, over a lateral part of the ditch, with those from other sites, such as the wonderful Mine Howe site excavated in East Mainland, Orkney by UHI Archaeologists a few years ago.

Another lovely little item that came up today was a highly polished cattle tooth.  This has seen some serious modification of one its surfaces in the past, so much so, that all the normal wavy, ‘corrugated’ surface of the tooth has been worn down to a smooth high sheen polish.  This must have been some sort of burnisher. However, it is a wonderfully beautiful little item in its own right.


The late hearth in the western area of the broch
The late hearth in the western area of the broch


Inside the broch, in the western interior, the late hearth has been fully revealed and recorded, ready for lifting early next week.  It will be very interesting to see what lies beneath this, especially as the entire hearth is raised up, mounded above the level of the surrounding flag floor as if it is sitting on top of something more substantial beneath.   I have a suspicion that this might turn out to be an earlier (hopefully well-preserved) hearth.  We’ll keep you informed.  Menwhile, Alex has exposed more of the in situ articulated cat bones ready for lifting and sampling the soil from around the body.  This will happen next week.

The forthcoming week is our last week of the season this year, however if previous seasons are anything to go by there may well yet be a few surprises in store for us and some lovely finds!  Keep checking out our blog for details…

Martin Carruthers.

1 comment

  1. That first photograph is just right. It encapsulates the dig. There’s a good impression of the position of the broch – on the slope, looking out to sea. There are diggers, digging, with buckets for soil and trays for finds, and visitors being very interested whilst the guide explains and points at things. A dig – in one image. V. good.

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