Day Nine at The Cairns archaeology excavation, South Ronaldsay, Orkney and University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology student Duncan Foxley expertly tracks todays events…..
Another typical Orkney Summer’s day, dawn came early, but with a dour sky. The day brightened gradually, but the dim morning gave those of us working in the broch plenty of time to get to grips with the mixed context we have been working on for the last week within and around a hearth setting in the west of the structure.
The hard clay is best dug before it can dry, and has begun to reveal a series of slabs which appear to make up a formal hearth setting, with some equally substantial paving abutting it. The dense clay setting of these slabs and their size may suggest that this is the original broch hearth surface, but as always only further excavation can say for sure!
Mika, Callum, Lorna and I, under the helpful guidance of Therese, have slowly cleared most of the overlying material, although with extreme care, as such a rich context not only provides samples which contain valuable information about the lives of the Iron age inhabitants of the broch, but also some amazing finds.
In the upper corner of the hearth, Lorna picked out a small shard of glass, possibly Roman in origin due to the colour. Likely having come from a bead, such finds are an excellent tangible reminder of the interconnectivity of the people of Iron age Britain, a fact easily forgotten somewhere as seemingly remote as South Ronaldsay. Meanwhile, Mika has been painstakingly uncovering a smashed pot, found in-situ atop the hearth setting. So far, a sizeable spread has emerged, and hopefully more will follow. Finally, Therese found a copper-alloy ring in fine condition on the edge of Gary’s pit, adding to the building evidence from beads and jewellery of the extent of the local finery.
Just along the wall face, Gary has continued to work on the sondage running from the pit to the broch side. A suspicious lack of stone in the last few inches dug, which are instead composed of orange clay, could among other things potentially represent the end of the lowest stone coursework of the broch, although this will require further investigation. If so, this will provide the first pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel of current excavation, as it is otherwise difficult to infer how far down the floor deposits may run. A bittersweet possibility, although there is no shortage of work to be done in the meantime.
Out with the broch, the ongoing excavation of the south-western extension has continued to produce interesting structural features extending from the partial wall of structure J. What seemed to be a relatively simple rubble overlay was shown through mattocked sondages by Anthea and Deryck to hide wide lintel style flagstones, along with other structural elements. Further up, Sue continued work in a cut pit with an orthostat lining to the south-west end, which seems to be a socket setting of some type. With two weeks left of excavation, some answers will hopefully emerge as to the relationship between these elements and the other structures in the area.
On the other side of the site, the structures in trench Q are continuing to take shape. Bobby’s team, including Helen, Ursula and Alan, have uncovered some flagstones overlying a rubble fill within a structure, and in line with a similar surface which extended over an adjoining structure, suggesting that in a secondary phase both were joined by one floor.
The flagstones also appear to create the entrance to an orthostaic cell in south-west section of the super-structure. Within such a complex architectural palimpsest, features such as this, which tie elements together not only physically but within the stratigraphy, are essential in understanding the story of the site itself. On a site which is defined by construction, destruction and re-use, understanding the sequence of these events will hopefully allow further understanding to be gleaned of the people who once lived within and around the broch.
Thanks to UHI student Duncan Foxley