Archaeology The Cairns Dig Diary 2018

The Cairns Day One 2018

Part of the team forms a human chain to move tyres out of the trench
Part of the team forms a human chain to move tyres out of the trench

Welcome back everyone to the daily blog for The Cairns excavations from me, Martin Carruthers the site director!

It’s absolutely fantastic to back on site and be able to share our findings with you once more. Each day of the project we’ll be bringing you updates and perspectives from different members of the team.

We welcome back many familiar faces to take part once again in the project and we also say hello to an equal number of new faces to the site. Altogether the team already shows great promise in terms of good humour and commitment, necessary qualities in these very opening stages of the work, as well as beyond.

In the broch
In the broch

Today was the first day of the new season, and although a little advance party of us took a lot of the covers off the trench last week we nevertheless had a lot more tidying up of the site to do today with the big team. After site introduction and the obligatory health and safety briefings, it was onwards to moving the tyres out of the fenced area of the site and gathering up weathered fragments of plastic to generally neaten up things.

Cleaning trench area Q
Cleaning trench area Q

Early in the afternoon we were able to actually start the job of cleaning the surface of the trench bringing it up to good condition for the start of excavation proper. The wonderful thing is that even in the midst of this house-keeping activity we made some lovely finds! Whilst cleaning up in the broch, Therese found a lovely little piece of worked bone, a pierced and shaped antler mount of some kind.

Meanwhile, over in Bobby’s area, that’s the belt of settlement lying to the North of the broch (Trench area Q) the clean-up brought to light another beautiful antler mount, this time most of a handle for a large blade. You can clearly see the perforations for rivets that would have held this antler plate in place on the tang of an iron blade, probably a chunky knife. This is all quite unbelievably exciting for day one and essentially a clean-up job!

Over in this year’s trench extension on the Southern side of the site the work to clean over the newly revealed deposits was also going well. It looks very much like here we have the upper fills of the great ditch that encircles the broch period settlement. The deposits today were gratifyingly full of animal bone, shell, and pieces of pottery, boding well for the richness of these ditch-fills.

Looking down the entrance of the broch into the interior where the covers where being removed
Looking down the entrance to the broch into the interior where the covers are being removed

Tomorrow, we’ll press on with the site cleaning and then really start to get our teeth into the deposits and features. We’ll keep you posted on how we get on!


  1. Greetings,
    I’m going to enjoy your blog this summer. I intended to come to the Orkneys in September on a walking tour. Instead I’m in the hospital with a seriously broken leg! Drat!!!
    In 2016, I completely a museology program at the university of Washington in the USA. For my practicicum, I worked with 200 bone, stone and carved mudstone artifacts from around 2700 years ago. I’m especially interested in the proposed Theory of marine migration from Asia into America. These artifacts are housed in tiny museum on Lopez Island north of Seattle. I also spent time at sea in the late 70’s as a geophysicist. The possibility of using seismic research tools for archaeology fascinates me.
    You will be a bright light in my day! Cheers.
    Carrie carpenter

  2. I was up in Orkney last week for 4 days visiting various archaeological sites and just turned up at the site last Monday on spec. I had read Martin’s excellent article in the Orkney Archeology Review Number 3. Despite them working hard to remove tyres and tarpaulins, Martin and Kevin made the time to answer my questions and allowed me to take pics of the amazing site. If you are in Orkney between now and the end of July, take the opportunity to visit this amazing new site and leave a donation for their dig funds. Grant Bruce, Aberdeen

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