Archaeology The Cairns Dig Diary 2019

The Cairns Day Three – 2019

Looking northwards across the broch, down-slope to the village

Today is the turn of University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute student Alana to write the daily blog from The Cairns…..

The weather on The Cairns today has been good, a little windy at times but mainly very sunny. While working on a southern section of the broch outer wall (adjacent to Later Iron Age building E), I had quite a few finds, mainly shards of animal bones and a cattle tooth. A significant part of the work in this area is intended to reveal more of the outer wall face of the broch.

Just a few of the pottery sherds and deer antler objects from today

In this area of the broch we think that the builders of the late Iron Age building had pulled away much of the broch masonry, filled the gap in with rubble and paved it over, however, before today we were unsure as to exactly where this truncation had occurred.

Looking south across the site today, over the village settlement towards the broch

Towards the end of yesterday and more fully throughout today we have uncovered the clear view of exactly how and where the broch was dismantled. Happily, however, the lower part of the broch wall seems to remain intact and it will require further excavation to establish how far round the broch wall the late Iron Age/Pictish disturbance extends.

A small pot lid from the southern section of the enclosure ditch

We used mattocks to remove the silty layer of rubble and allow a clearer look at the wall, revealing more settled layers of soil beneath. In the material against the broch, small voids appeared giving an indication that loose rubble was hurriedly banked against the outside of broch. The clear evidence of later people tampering with the outside of the broch wall, is really interesting to observe and made me wonder why they dismantled this part of the wall before filling it in and paving over the top of it!

Maurits, one of our students from Leiden University with the worked antler he found today

To the south of the broch there are different parts being excavated. One group is working to uncover whether a formation of rocks could possibly be the foundations of another wall of a possible building. In the southeast corner of the trench another group are working to excavate the enclosure ditch revealing part of the natural glacial clay that the ditch was originally cut through.

A significant number of small-finds, mostly consisting of animal bones, burnt stone and charcoal have been uncovered alongside pieces of pottery and a lovely piece of worked antler. This latter object has been pared down to make an amazingly regular square section. Towards the north, north east end of the broch a group has been photo cleaning rubble filling Structure Q, one of the big buildings outside the front of the broch. In so doing they are attempting to establish how far the known walls of this building extends.

Dealing with the rubble infill of Structure O

Another group of diggers in Structure O have been taking soil samples of charcoal from the lovely soft soil infill of the building. Amongst the riot of walls in the northern slope of the site they are attempting to establish if one of the walls is part of an existing structure or the start of another structure entirely. While this has been going on all the many small-finds found today have been surveyed in using a total-station.

Today’s blogger, Alana, reviewing her work on the disturbed area of the broch wall.

Thanks to Alana S A Smith, Year 1 Archaeology student, Moray College UHI.


  1. What a great place to be having small glimpses into the past ,a sort of time travel that takes you back to the moment when that Antler or pot lid were last put their,great finds I look forward to every day I read the diary.

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