The Cairns Day Eight – 2018

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Under the blazing sun!

Martin Carruthers, Site Director and Programme Leader for MSc Archaeological Practice at the UHI Archaeology Institute takes up the story of Day Eight at The Cairns….

Martin here again with a today’s update, and what a cracking day today was! The sun shone down on us as we dug. In fact, it was one of those days when you feel bad about wishing it wasn’t quite so warm and dry, and sunny! In the full glare of the of the sun we made good progress across the site.

Over in the south extension Linda’s team have really started to work down the edge of the ditch, and it’s nice to see the profile start to emerge of this once very substantial enclosure. Also in this area Angus and Paul have been revealing more details of the building that crouches in the lee of the revetment. This building will, we hope, be one of the village buildings that allows us to test whether our broch village was founded at the very same time as the broch itself or sometime after.

The slab floor and hearth base in the western interior of the broch
The slab floor and hearth base in the western interior of the broch

Within the broch, Rick’s team have been recording the flag stone floor and hearth in the western area/room of the interior. This occupation level pertains to late use of the western zone and probably dates to sometime around the Mid 2nd Century AD. Soon the team will be able to lift this horizon and see what lies beneath. They strongly suspect there’ll be another hearth for one thing, but also that more rich floor deposits are awaiting our investigation.

details of the Broch wall-chamber A6 revealed
Details of the broch wall chamber A6 revealed

Colin, Anthea and Deryck have further defined the newly emerged wall cell (‘A6’) within the northern segment of broch wall. It’s looking very nice with its mixed construction of coursed masonry and upright stone panels, and it’s much better preserved than we had expected, considering the damage it had received from above during a later Iron Age stone robbing episode. There also appears to be in situ floor/occupation deposits remaining within the base of the chamber. That’s great for ultimately giving us more information about the use of the chamber.

Looking down the staircase into the well inside the broch during excavation
Looking down the staircase into the well inside the broch during excavation

Also in the broch today we really started to excavate the subterranean feature in the northern interior of the broch. This type feature is known in the literature as a well, but there are various reasons for suggesting that something more is going on with these fascinating underground structures. Our ‘well’ is very nicely preserved, entirely intact in fact, and was completely sealed when we first discovered it. The entrance is very well built and flush with the broch floor level in this area. A very steep set of steps lead downwards and in an anti-clockwise direction to the partly rock cut chamber below. The structure is quite a substantial cavity about 2 metres deep in total as far as we can tell.

Today we began the arduous process of excavating and sampling (100% recovery) the deep and very silty fill. It’s very wet, loose and prone to a suction effect that makes it difficult to make headway. Nevertheless, we hope this will be a very worthwhile exercise and that we can recover pollen, and lots of other environmental information. Additionally, you never know what else may be in there in terms of artefacts. We’ll keep you posted…

Part of the long wall face in area Q-M under excavation
Part of the long wall face in area Q-M under excavation

In Area Q/M in the Northern area of the site, Bobby’s team have also been making very good progress revealing a beautiful flagstone floor associated with Structure K in one area. Meanwhile, towards the eastern end of Area Q/M various walls out the front and north of the broch exterior that have seemed quite disparate and bitty are now starting to come together very nicely, and they seem to be tracing the outline of a whopper of a building.

It looks very like one particularly long and sinuous stretch of walling represents a major building and part of the broch village complex, perhaps a type of building seen in other broch villages such as the one at Gurness in West Mainland, Orkney, which was itself an impressive and substantial structure close to the front of the broch and designed to be appreciated and to impress.

We’ll bring you updates and further images from these and other developments as they emerge!

Martin Carruthers, Site Director.

3 thoughts on “The Cairns Day Eight – 2018

  1. Bernie Bell June 28, 2018 / 2:05 am

    “A very steep set of steps lead downwards and in an anti-clockwise direction to the partly rock cut chamber below. The structure is quite a substantial cavity about 2 metres deep in total as far as we can tell.”
    Echoes of Mine Howe?

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  2. Betsy Chittenden June 28, 2018 / 2:44 am

    Is there an overall site map that could assist us in following where the various portions of the site are? It would really help us Ness fans if we could keep track of where Area Q, M, etc. are. Thanks for your consideration!

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  3. Moira Meek June 28, 2018 / 3:20 am

    Thank you very much for keeping us up to date on how things are progressing, it all sounds very exciting.
    I am no longer able to take part on digs but still very interested.
    Good luck and enjoy the good weather while it lasts.

    Thank again Moira

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