It’s Monday and the weekly routine on site starts again.
There is a new batch of first year UHI students on site ready to begin their first second year module bringing with it a slightly extended weekly brief detailing the findings of last week which include the discovery of the outer ditch around the broch, progress on finding the plateau, or terrace, edge, the steady progress in Trench Q, including the voided pit, and the ongoing excavation of the interior of the broch.
Copper alloy emerging from the outer broch ditch
After briefing, the excavation started and with rested excavators, the finds and discoveries quickly started popping up. In the outer broch ditch (in the south west extension) there have been continuous finds of bone, burnt clay, pottery and a piece of copper alloy, adding to and expanding the material record of the site. In the same south west extension, a furnace bottom was found. This is a ‘plano-convex’ shaped cake of solid iron waste that forms in the bottom of a smelting furnace.
Over in Trench Q the continual trowelling and mattocking revealed what looks like an interior wall face. While it remains unknown what this wall relates to, and how far it extends, it looks nicely built and substantial and may well be part of one of the village buildings that goes with the broch.
The team in the interior of the broch have been exposing more of the occupation layers and further distinguishing the interior divisions, giving something to look forward to over the coming weeks as the occupation layers are excavated.
Lastly the furnace keeps on as ever producing slag and keep the small finds team busy, with it looking ever more likely that it was dismantled before it was covered up.
Overall, it is business as usual on site, with people continuing previous efforts to reveal ever more detail about the nature of occupation though it seems that over the coming week there may well be some new discoveries to report on soon.
We will keep you posted!
Ashley Davis, Placement student, University of Bournemouth.
We have reached the end of week two on site, and I thought I’d give a summarised round-up of what we have been doing recently.
It’s been a great week on site, with lots of lovely sunny weather and we have really enjoyed showing off the site to the many visitors that have been coming round the site. The excavations have been going very nicely, with fairly major progress achieved across all of the areas that we are concentrating on this year.
In the broch, the team led by Ricky, have been made their way through the lowest rubble and then they came down on to a roughly paved surface, and a charcoal rich organic deposit spread across large parts of the western half of the building. It looks like this has been the uppermost occupation remains and is obviously very late use of the broch.
More mystifying has been the discovery of a very large pit-like feature in the south-eastern part of the broch interior that appears to have been back-filled with very large rubble. This pit plummets for nearly a metre in depth and has just today come on to a new different fill deposit, but we have not yet reached the bottom. It may turn out that this feature is some kind of stone-lined, or faced, feature set into the broch floor, perhaps a little like ones discovered in other brochs such as Crosskirk broch in Caithness. Our pit has been in-filled with rubble when the broch was abandoned, but only time will tell what the true nature of this feature is and what lies at its very base!
Another surprise discovery from the broch was yesterday’s little blue glass bead mentioned in Hanneke’s blog-piece. Kevin’s very sharp eyes spotted this lying on the top of our ‘red cell’ in the broch after it had been cleaned for photography. Technically, this is a ‘cobalt blue, truncated bi-conical, glass bead’, and although there are ‘native’ glass beads at this time, it appears that the nearest parallels for our bead are from Roman contexts in Britain. It’s a lovely little find and would typically date to the 1st or 2nd Century AD.
In the south-west extension that we have added to the main trench this year, I must confess that my original intention was to open up the area, do only a little work this year and plan for much more work there next season. However, from the outset, the deposits there have been so tantalising and potentially informative of the earliest plan for the Iron Age settlement that we simply couldn’t resist giving it a good bit more attention. For one thing, the SW extension appears to contain evidence of the way that the Iron Age community went to tremendous efforts to landscape the hill-slope in preparation for the construction of the broch. The natural glacial clay that is present in the trench appears to have been cut into during the Iron Age to create a substantial terrace on which the broch was constructed. This must have entailed the movement of hundreds of tons of earth and clay before even the first course of broch masonry was laid. It really strongly indicates the huge effort that was involved in the building project of the broch!
In addition, the SW extension also unexpectedly contains a large band of dark stony silts in one corner, these appear to be the upper fills of the great ditch that surrounds and encloses the Middle Iron Age period settlement. Today these fills have been coming up trumps in terms of finds as they have been yielding masses of large sherds of beautiful Iron Age pottery rims and bases. I can’t wait to see what else is in these ditch fills over the next couple of weeks!
On the eastern exterior of the broch Paul, Kath and Kathryn have been working in the souterrain, Structure F. The interior soily deposits of this underground passage have been gridded-out for excavation and sampling and so far there has been some intriguing substantial animal bones found in the fill. It’s early days in here, but I think we’re going to find more very interesting deposits and hopefully also solve the mystery of the special aperture that had been created in the roof of the souterrain at its southern end when it was constructed.
Some readers may remember that when we first encountered the in situ stone roof of the souterrain, a special stone setting containing two upside-down, rotary querns had been set up on the roof, and that the holes through these were aligned to the gap in the major roof lintels beneath. We hope that this season excavation and soil chemistry might reveal whether this special aperture was used to pour something into the souterrain, and what that might be. We’ll update you as and when we begin to get a sense of what might have been going on here!
Trench Q is the area to the North and East of the broch, and we anticipate that it ought to contain extramural buildings, a village, surrounding the broch. So far, rather than any obvious sign of substantial village buildings it has been full of rubble and ashy silty soils, masses and masses of soil! There have been interesting things in this Iron Age soil; deer antlers, stone tools and pottery, etc., but no sign of building remains. It looks like they are very much more deeply buried beneath the rubble and ash.
Meanwhile, over in the eastern corner of Trench Q we have encountered an area of modern disturbance, adjacent to a modern pit that we have previously excavated. It appears that this disturbance involved a large amount of very large pieces of rubble being filled into a pit. We can see that there are some massive voids reaching down to about a 1.5 metres below the present surface of the trench. It looks as if next week we may be able to establish what this modern pit hit when it was first dug out, and it looks like it might be a very big voided structure of some kind. We will keep you posted!
Finally, and by no means least, I’d like to extend a big thank you to our Archaeology Short Course students who have joined us on site this week. They began their day with us digging some test pits in the hinterland of the broch. This turned out very well, as they yielded useful insights into the extent of the archaeology on the western side of the broch, and also brought us into contact with the Neolithic mound (a settlement, we suspect) that lies to the north of the main trench. The short course students also helped us carry out some geophysics in the wider landscape and continued to excavate the main trench under Dan Lee’s supervision. Here, they have revealed the fuller extent of Structure E; one of our late Iron Age buildings, and have shown that it is most probably a multi-cellular building or a ‘shamrock’. This is really valuable new information about the site, so thank you to them all for their work this week!
Today was another glorious day at The Cairns. Many visitors have been taking the opportunity to visit the site and enjoy tours by the knowledgeable Martin, Kevin and Ole.
The squad have been working hard and we had various interesting finds today. Kevin spotted a small blue glass bead on the wall of the broch wall in the ‘red cell’. It looked as if it had been wedged between two courses of masonry. Definitely an exciting find!
Charlotte cleaned the metal working furnace and found debris and furnace lining. The team in Trench Q found a very large worked stone and some pottery. Hannah removed a scapula (shoulder blade) from the ditch on the outside of the broch wall. The question in this area is whether the ditch was built before the houses or if the broch developed more organically.
Peter enjoyed some charcoal sampling for carbon dating and Gary made a sketch (planning) as a record of that particular area. I have trowelled down to the natural ‘clay’ and sandstone of what is possibly the upper edge of the terrace created to build the broch. We cleaned the area and a nice clear division between the natural layer and later contexts were revealed.
All in all an enjoyable and exciting day.
Hanneke Booij, MSc Student University of Stirling.
University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Masters student Jim Bright talks us through his role as The Cairns Digital Archaeologist.
“Over the excavation season at The Cairns Project, I’ll be spending time as the ‘on-site digital archaeologist’. That may sound like an unusual term and one of the reasons for this is that, put simply, it is an unusual thing to do.
Quite often, digital work undertaken for archaeological excavations is completed after the dig season has finished. 3D models of finds created using photogrammetry are usually made in the comfort of a warm office or lab after the finds have been categorised, labelled and wrapped up for preservation, or put on display in a museum. 3D models of trenches during an excavation season are sometimes made, however usually this is just a single model of a particular context during excavation.
Being on the excavation site for the entirety of the dig here at The Cairns, enables the opportunity to generate some 3D models of the same trench at different phases, when different contexts are being discovered. Moreover, when a particularly interesting find is discovered, I can be there to make a 3D model just as it’s unearthed. That way, we can get some 3D models out there for everyone to view the day they are found. Recently, I made the model below of what has been termed the ‘Red Cell’. The Red Cell is a small compartment or room, just off from the centre of the broch.
I’ll be posting more models over the season which I will include in future blogs. Some models may appear on the Friends of the Cairns Facebook page and the @thecairnsbroch twitter page, along with the @UHIArchaeology page, all great sources for information about the Cairns project and what we are doing.
I will also be trying out some interesting new techniques for photogrammetry, utilising different software packages and trying out some experimental digital archaeology, so there will be a lot to see and a lot to write about. Indeed there will be much for me to reflect on during my placement here as a Masters degree student at UHI.”
Blog written by Jim Bright, MSc Archaeological Practice student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute
The weather was kinder to us today which meant that the site was a hive of activity.
With many visitors to the site, Ole and Kevin spent much of the day running guided tours, sharing their impressive knowledge of the broch and its associated features.
After yesterday’s introduction to the type of finds that can be expected on site, the students from Stirling University: Stephan, Maria, Bethan and Hanneke were set to work cleaning the exterior of the southern outer wall face of the broch and reported small finds, mainly comprising bone and stone tools. Cleaning is an important component of managing the site as it enables us to see areas of contrast, colour or potential features that become obscured after an area has been exposed to the elements for some time, or compacted due to footfall.
The Cairns has several areas which have suffered from historical collapse and teams have been clearing “shillet” – a mix of shattered stone, soil and rubble from these areas to enable identification of structures underneath. Now that the broch floor is mainly clear of this, Woody and Alex continued the planning and recording of the floor features, a necessary task to complete before any further excavation can continue.
To the north of the site near Trench Q, there is another area of historical collapse. Duncan, one of our eagle-eyed UHI students discovered a fragment of bone pin whilst clearing away more shillet. This was a remarkable find due to the method of “rough trowelling” used to clear away this coarse rubbly deposit.
On a personal level, today has been very exciting. Myself, Paul and Kathryn, all of us UHI students, had the opportunity to plan and grid the souterrain floor and begin the task of gathering 100% of the floor deposits for sampling. The floor was divided into 14 squares known as F1-14 (Structure F is the souterrain) and alternate squares were excavated, material from each square was separated into sample buckets for processing later.
The area that Paul was excavating is directly underneath a (now removed) lintel that was found to contain an aperture that may have been used for pouring a libation into the souterrain. It is hoped that the soil samples may show whether liquids were indeed poured into the opening and what these liquids were. Tantalisingly, during the excavation of his first grid square, Paul discovered a substantial piece of bone, possibly a femur from a yet unknown species. This discovery would correlate with Goodfellow’s 1901 account of bone being discovered nearby in the broch entrance that he had mistaken for a souterrain. The next few days will no doubt reveal more exciting finds in the souterrain deposits.
Blog written by Kath Page second year UHI Archaeology BA Hons student.
Work at Skaill farmstead, Westness, Rousay, got underway last week with some building survey, walkover survey and a workshop with the Rousay Community School.
The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute were joined by the Historic Environment Scotland (HES) survey team to record the remains of the buildings at Skaill farmstead and The Wirk (Norse tower). This is the first phase of the Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Land and Sea: Exploring Island Heritage, Past and Present project – a summer of activities and reaearch.
The HES team produced accurate scaled drawings of the buildings (plans and sections) using a plane table and alidade – a basic but very effective survey method which results in highly accurate scale drawings. At Skaill farmstead, these included features such as the fireplaces, doorways, blocking, alcoves and shelves allowing the different phases of construction to be identified. The house was extended four times to the north as the farm expanded during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the barn, the beautiful corn drying kiln was recorded along with a flue, a grain store, winnowing doors and vents. A dairy was identified at the northern end of the house.
Walkover survey was started around the farmstead with the help of volunteers. Features such as the stone walled enclosures, and earthworks such as banks and terraces were recorded. These sites were mapped with a handheld GPS and help to place the farm buildings into a wider context. An earlier phase of enclosure, perhaps and early hill dyke, was walked on the steep slope above the road.
Ten pupils from the Rousay Community School had a day of activities during the week. This started with a class-based workshop about what archaeologists do, how we know where to look, what we find and what this can tell us. They looked at finds and thought about what you might expect to find below the ground, especially in a farm mound such as that at Skaill, and above the ground in terms of built heritage.
The class then visited Skaill farmstead and after a picnic lunch found out about building recording and photography from the HES team. Pupils traced from the geophysics plot of the farm and we looked at what we could see on the ground. They finished by drawing their own plans of the farm buildings. The weather was kind and a good day was had by all.
We look forward to starting the excavations at Skaill and Swandro next month!
The project has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant and additional funding from the Orkney Islands Council Archaeology Fund.
Dates for the diary:
10-23 July: Excavations at Skaill farm. Test pit weekend/open days 22-23 July. Volunteers and visitors welcome.
3-28 July: Excavations at Swandro coastally eroding site. details available soon.
Volunteers welcome! Please get in touch if you want to take part in the fieldwork at Skaill.
The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute MSc programme includes a professional placement in a commercial or academic organisation.
This provides students with the vital experience of working in the often demanding environment of a large organisation. This year, two of our students, Simon and Charlotte, requested a placement in marketing at the UHI Archaeology Institute to gain experience in the increasingly important world of social media communication.
Simon takes up his story……….
“My name is Simon Gray and I am a current Masters student with the UHI Archaeology Institute and for the last seven years I have spent my summers excavating as part of the team at the Ness of Brodgar.
Over the course of this 2017 season, I will be making a series of short, episodic videos filmed on site documenting the key finds and continuing research of the excavation. Further to this, each video will include interview footage and a real ‘behind the scenes’ perspective to bring across the experience and dynamic of the dig team, many of whom, like myself, return each year as a result of their commitment to and love of the site and the team respectively.
It is my intention for these videos to be uploaded to the UHI Archaeology Institute Youtube channel and shared through social media and as many press outlets as possible in order to relay the story of this season’s excavations to the archaeological community, the local Orcadian population and indeed the wider public.
During the two open days on site, and on a frequent basis throughout the weeks as I spend my time at the Ness, I plan to engage actively with the public in order to factor their thoughts and opinions into my research.”
Charlottes professional placement aims to develop the social media platforms for The Cairns site and increase local engagement through both digital and traditional non-digital marketing routes. Charlotte has already set up @thecairnsbroch Twitter account for The Cairns site and posts on a daily basis live from the site as part of her MSc placement. New tee shirts also now adorn the diggers and local people are being encouraged to visit through leafleting and other initiatives in the local community.
For more information on studying MSc Archaeological Practice at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute see our blog page http://wp.me/p6YR8M-326