The Cairns Day 8 – 2019

Looking along the soutearrain passage as it makes a right-angle turn and enters the broch entrance passageway, which was itself reused as the chamber of the souterrain

Today is Day Eight and Area Supervisor Therese McCormick continues the story at The Cairns…

Cool and calm weather today at The Cairns and work across the whole site continues steadily. Inside the broch, we’ve been working on some of the floor deposits that will allow us to characterise how the internal spaces within the broch were used throughout its lifetime. 

The western room of the broch interior with floor deposits gridded-out for excavation and sampling

Calum, Connor, Mika and Lorna have been making great progress in the north-west quadrant of the broch interior, where you might remember from previous seasons, a series of hearths and associated layers of paving and burnt material have been being steadily uncovered. So far, three large flagstone hearths have been excavated, each one revealing the next underneath. As each flagstone deteriorated and cracked from heat, the inhabitants replaced it with another, and the surface surrounding the hearths was built up in concert with this. So each of these layers represents its own phase of activity within the broch, meaning the inhabitants have helpfully left us a nice sequential story to uncover.

Heat affected centrepiece of the western room of the broch

This season, we’ve uncovered a mounded area of clay, which seems to be packing stones which may represent a more formal hearth arrangement preceding those we’ve already removed. We should be uncovering this feature in the near future, so we look forward to bringing you an update!

The team have been working their way through the layers overlying this promising feature, using a grid to systematically remove the deposits for sampling. All of the sampled material will be sorted through and chemically analysed, which allows us to build a detailed picture of what kinds of activity took place in this area – and how this part of the broch was used over time. This is also revealing a further layer of clay-packed stones in the vicinity of the hearth, possibly another episode of paving. The process has also revealed some interesting artefacts, including a partial stone lamp and several pieces of pottery. The deposits have also been rich in animal bone as well as charcoal, giving us some useful dating evidence for the hearth sequences. 

Gary’s sondage up against the broch wall-face showing a riot of vivid orange and yellow clays

Meanwhile, Gary has begun a sondage at the western edge of the broch interior, between the mysterious pit he uncovered and excavated last year and the broch wall. This is already proving very illuminating, giving us some hints about the nature of the pit which now looks to have been clay-lined. It also shows a thick layer of orange clay up against the broch wall. As it progresses, the sondage will provide a useful window into what we can expect to encounter as we take the broch interior down to its primary surface. 

The souterrain passage gridded-out during excavation

Just through the broch entrance, Holly and Sara have been busy sampling the floor deposits in the souterrain, hoping to establish whether these represent primary or secondary phases of use. The area they’re working on includes a greasy deposit towards the entrance, which may be associated with a deliberate pouring of liquids into the souterrain, in a potentially ritually significant act! 

Outside the broch, the team in Trench Q have been busily taking down rubble deposits to reveal more of the extra-mural village buildings and establish their relationship the main broch structure. 

In the south-west extension, the team are further defining the external structures visible on this side of the broch’s outer wall as well as uncovering potential new features and investigating the deposits revealed in the primary cut for the broch itself.

All this progress bodes well for the weeks ahead, so please stay tuned to see what rewards it all yields!

Thanks to Therese McCormick, Area Supervisor

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