The Cairns Day Sixteen – 2018

20180626_095904
Looking across the broch with the Pentland Firth in the background

Dr Jo McKenzie has kindly volunteered to write the blog today………….Hello from the beginning of the end – the last week of the Cairns 2018 field season! (and sadly, my last day on site).

Time seems to have gone very quickly, and it doesn’t seem a year since I was last at Cairns sampling the amazing sequence of floor deposits preserved within, especially, the north-eastern quadrant of the broch.

You’ll have seen some of the images of these floors in several of Martin’s posts – beautiful, intricate lenses of material, each tiny layer representing a different episode of activity and deposition by those who were the last before us to spend their days ‘doing stuff’ in the Cairns broch.

I use a technique called soil micromorphology to take small ‘block’ samples which are then used to make microscope slides, allowing us to analyse complex deposit sequences like the broch floors in enormous detail – as outlined in my blog from last year (LINK). Here’s a shot of one of those samples being taken. This tin is just 5×7 cm, but that’s plenty big enough to give us a fantastic sample through the many deposits in this small section through lenses of probable charcoal, burnt peat, burnt stone, bone and much more.

Version 2
A micromorphology ‘Kubiena tin’ through the floor deposits of the north-east quadrant.

We now have a great sequence of samples through these complex deposits, traversing the north-east quadrant and nicely aligned within our 50cm grid (affectionately known as Terence for no good reason, except I suppose that it helps to be able to make a personal apology when you’ve kicked yet another of Terence’s nails out for the umpteenth time that day – as fellow north-east quadrant-ers Ole, Ross and Mike can testify!)

We’ve also been lucky enough to get enough depth of deposit to take a sample close to the large hearth setting in the north-west area of the broch, which is really good news as the closely-packed layers of paving in this area make getting good samples a challenge. Here’s today’s sample extracted, and turned carefully over for the excess material to be carefully shaved off the back of the tin so that the sample can be sealed. A lovely sample of dark, dense carbonised material representing activity around the cracked hearth surface.

Version 2
Extracting a sample from the north-west quadrant hearth

It’s intriguing to spot tiny features within the tin samples which I know will be so interesting to examine in detail under the microscope – fine laminations of material, or inclusions such as charcoal or bone. Here’s an example of what must be pretty much the tiniest bones we find on site – a fish vertebrae, seen adjacent to the tin taken next to the north-west hearth setting, seen here magnified under my small geological viewer.

Image3
A tiny fish vertebra

It’s also been great to see the site making such amazing progress – so many new structures being uncovered outside of the broch with Bobby’s team, and spending these last few days working right alongside the fantastic discoveries still being made inside the well. Above all, it’s been brilliant to get the chance once again to work with the great Cairns team – students, volunteers and old hands alike. I think today must have been the busiest I’ve ever seen the broch interior – and needless to say, there was plenty of archaeology for every pair of hands to tackle!

Roll on next year.

Open Day @thecairnsbroch

Visitors on open day
Some of the visitors touring the site

Today was, indeed, open day and a big thank you to everyone who came along and visited the site. There was a great turn out of visitors and fun was had by all.

One of our MSc students, Ross, even ran sessions for the children on making clay replicas of the well-known ‘Cairns character’ our carved head from an earlier season of the site. It was a privilege and pleasure to share our findings directly with the public, both locals and visitors from further afield.

While some of us led tours and showed visitors around, work continued in the key areas of the site. Within the broch the work of recording the slab floor in the western zone was completed, and by the end of the day this late floor could be lifted to reveal…charcoal rich soils…more floors in other words. Lest you think this is in any way disappointing to us – please be disavowed of that idea. In fact these multiple juxtaposed floors, one after the other, are the glory of the broch for us, and they represent a detailed and insightful record of what sorts of activities were going on in the broch, and they’ll yield lots of information on the chronology and tempo of the occupation in the broch.

The work of lifting the late paving in the broch begins
The work of lifting the late paving in the broch begins

Elsewhere in the broch, in the Northeastern zone, Jo has continued to take micromorphology samples from the floors here, in order to see even more detail of the activities two thousand years ago. In the process she has revealed beautiful, vividly coloured, (bright red, brown and black) thin laminations, or lenses, within the ashy floor deposits. It’s exciting to think what will be revealed in the finer microscopic resolution of her eventual studies.

Vivid multi-coloured soils of the occupation deposits in the broch
Vivid multi-coloured soils of the occupation deposits in the broch

In the well, work also continued on the lower fill deposits, and some startlingly well-preserved wood was recovered. This time brushwood was the order of the day, and a fair amount of it. Some quite long pieces of clearly knife-pruned branches and twigs came out, as well as finer mossy and heathery matter. Essentially, this material looks like lining at the bottom of the well.

Over in area M/Q Bobby’s team are still revealing new wall faces and the relationships between them, in the area immediately to the northeast exterior of the broch. We really are now seeing a clear sense of the busy nature of the settlement and something of its development through time here. One amazing find relates to another find we made way back in week one. You may recall we found a very finely made antler mount with drilled perforations. This piece clearly hafted something like a knife, handle. Well on Friday another piece of the same haft turned up in a close by area. At first we thought this new piece of antler was likely to be the piece from the other side of the handle or haft, and that would have been nice enough. However, it turned out to be a refitting fragment of the same antler mount making the piece very long and quite a curving piece. It now looks like it intended to form one side of the handle of a two handed blade, something like a scythe or a serious cleaver.

In the south extension we drew things to a close for this year. Structure J, the village building constructed up against the broch wall here, is now looking very fine, indeed, thanks to everyone involved and to Sam who took care of this area for several days. We can now see the full outline of, at least one phase, of this building and its’ slightly dumbbell shape. We’ll excavate no further in here this season but we now have the building complete with some of its’ internal fixtures and fittings revealed and we can really explore its history of use and inhabitation in the following season.

For now, we have one week left of this seasons’ excavations. We’ll keep you posted as to how we fare with the key areas that we are working within, and any last week surprises that may yet come our way!

Martin Carruthers, Site Director.

Archaeology Plus Community Project at Blide Trust – a great success

DSC_0159
The test pit in the Blide Trust garden

Last Friday and Saturday 29th & 30th June 2018, archaeologists from the University of the Highlands Archaeology Institute teamed up with members of the Blide Trust to learn more about the history of 54 Victoria Street, Kirkwall – the 18th Century HQ of the Trust.

The first day began with the digging of a test pit in the garden of the house and almost immediately the volunteer archaeologists began to unearth significant finds.

In fact the test pit was a great success with significant assemblages of pottery (modern and early post-medieval), animal bone (some with butchery marks), clay pipe and a possible gun flint were uncovered. Furthermore the team found evidence of undisturbed clay in the base of the trench. This was uneven and appeared to have been truncated, suggesting that the volunteers might have clipped a cut feature such as a pit or ditch (difficult to say conclusively in such a small trench).

DSC_0156
Finds being washed in the dig tent

At the lowest levels, a small piece of worked red sandstone with chisel marks and a sherd of medieval pottery were discovered suggesting medieval and early post-medieval activity on this part of the slope above the eastern side of the street.

Broadly speaking, our small trench indicates that medieval activity occurred this far south of the palace complex, situated just to the north.

Dan Lee, UHI Archaeology Institute Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist said, “Thanks to The Blide Trust for a really good couple of days last week. The set up was perfect and we have great contributions from members and lots of visitors (at least 60). The photo lab worked really well, and we followed up on some of the leads from the archive research, and photographed the building and red sandstone. Thanks for your hospitality and help.”

DSC_0158
The Blide Trust garden

The project continues with staff from Orkney College UHI  leading creative writing, arts and crafts sessions based on the results of the dig. It is hoped that a video will be produced and an exhibition held to explain the project and display the finds and creative work.

More can be found on the community art and archaeology project involving the UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI and the Blide Trust by clicking here.

 

 

Skaill dig, Rousay to start 9th July 2018 – Visitors welcome

20170711_133704
Volunteer archaeologists at Skaill Farmstead in 2017

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have been working at Skaill since 2015 exploring the Viking, Norse and post-medieval archaeology on the Westness Estate, Rousay and this year the dig recommences on Monday 9th July.

The name Skaill suggests that the site under investigation was home to a Norse hall or drinking hall and was perhaps a high status settlement during this period.

Westness was mentioned in the Orkneyinga saga as the home of the powerful Earl Sigurd. The present farm dates from the 18th and 19th Centuries and was caught up in the story of the Rousay clearances.

20170711_135140
Skaill Farm

Located near to Midhowe Broch, the Site Directors, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Dr Jen Mainland and Dan Lee, welcome visitors to the excavation which aims to explore the remarkable deep time represented along the shoreline. There is no need to book and the site is child friendly…so bring along the family to explore the past at this most historic of locations.

The site is open to the public from 9th – 22nd July 2018 (note, the team will not be on-site 14-17 July) ,the site opens at 9.30am each morning and closes at around 4.30pm. Access to the site involves a walk down a steep hill from the car park for Mid Howe Broch and left (south) along the shoreline (15 min walk). The ground is uneven and the path is a little overgrown in places. Archaeologists will be working on site during the week. The Open Day will be on the final weekend 21st-22nd July.

Skaill excavation poster 2018 V1 140618.ai

If we can ask that you do not access from Westness Farm. The location of the site can be found on our interactive map….

If you require any more information then please contact the UHI Archaeology Institute on studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

The Cairns Day Fourteen – 2018

Today we are trying something different….a photoblog by Ole Thoenies….a collection of photographs of the day 5th July 2018.

There are no captions to overload you with information, just images to give you an impression of our day.

Enjoy.

And in slideshow format for those of you with Javascript on your machine….Perhaps we need music in the background? Diane has already suggested ‘Farewell to Stromness’.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Cairns Day Thirteen – 2018

DSC_0247
Looking across the broch to Windwick Bay

It’s Day Thirteen and Conal O’Neill, BA (Hons) Archaeology UHI student steps into the breach to write todays blog post from The Cairns.

As day thirteen of excavations on The Cairns draws to a close the amazingly good weather has remained.

Within the broch, or Structure A, soil sampling continues alongside planning by Therese while Gary continues to dig a large pit. A new addition to the team, at least since I arrived at the start of the week, is Jo, who has been enacting soil micromorphology, where small soil block samples are analysed to provide a detailed assessment of the microscopic floor layers of the broch.

Jo preparing to sample floors in the broch
Jo preparing to sample floors in the broch

Within my own area, of soil sampling within a grid, a worked bone, possibly antler, was discovered. Following the cleaning of the area surrounding the antler it was photographed, however then I was called away to write this blog, so excavating it will sadly have to wait until tomorrow.

Conal's antler object
Conals antler object

In structure J, Sam continues to lower the soil in the corner of the structure, and further tidy it up for photographing. The ditch area, dug by Gary, Iona, has been further cleaned and excavated yielding lots more animal bone and revealing a large lump of slag in the process, which may actually be a furnace base.

Structure J where Sam has been working
Structure J where Sam has been working

In Structure O some high, superficial orthostats (upright stones) were removed to reveal the wall beneath and further excavation has revealed bone, pottery and possible worked bone.

Finally, in Area Q the team is continuing to excavate the trench to the level of Area M eventually forming a ‘super trench’!

Today's blogger Conal digging in the South quadrant of the broch
Todays blogger Conal digging in the south quadrant of the broch

Anyway the hut’s about to be locked up and Bobby’s threatening to lock me in here for the night, so before I become part of The Cairns I’m going to leave!

Cheers.

Conal O’Neill, BA (Hons) Archaeology UHI Student.

!!Stop Press!! Towards the end of the day Dr Scott Timpany arrived on site and told us that he’d managed to identify the wood species of the wooden bowl from the well. It’s made from Alder.

A tiny portion of the wooden bowl under the microscope revealing the structure and identifying it as Alder
A tiny portion of the wooden bowl under the microscope revealing the structure and identifying it as Alder

Meanwhile he has also been out in the landscape near to The Cairns visiting a wetland site where the conditions may allow us to obtain a picture of the ancient environment at the time of the site. There will be a very useful palaeoenvironmental record of hundreds if not thousands of years embedded in this!

Scott's core through the old loch that will help to reveal the environment of the landscape around The Cairns
Scotts core through the old loch that will help to reveal the environment of the landscape around The Cairns

The Cairns Day Twelve – 2018

Roundwood from the well today- possibly birch
Roundwood from the well today – possibly birch

Day Twelve at The Cairns and UHI Archaeology Institute student Gary Lloyd has unearthed something very special so I shall hand over to him to continue the story.

To this point the weather has been extremely cooperative and today was another beautiful day. Though with the sunshine the temptation is to play hooky and go to the beach, work at the site goes on.

For me the day began learning to use the EDM to get reference points for all of the small finds (artefacts) collected today and ended with a real surprise. But for now, I’ll talk about the rest of team.

Beginning at the south extension the team excavating the area of the ditch fill continues to expose animal bone and pottery fragments with Gary uncovering a large fragment of salmon coloured pottery. To the north of the ditch area Sam has been excavating and has now revealed the clearly defined arc of a wall in structure J along with a cache of animal bone.

Area Q-M on site with its myriad walls
Area Q-M on site with its myriad walls

Having spent most of my time in the Broch I hadn’t noticed, until today, the amount of work Bobby’s team has accomplished on the NE side of the site in the Q and M trenches. The maze of wall features is relatively complex and sorting rubble from wall has been quite a challenge. Dagmar, Hannah, Ruby, and Marianne, are working to expose walls at the north side of the trenches. Lindsay and Charlie are drawing back layer 1401 to determine if walls continue from trench M into trench Q and distinct structures are now coming into view including the large Structure (O) just outside the Broch entrance where Henrik has been working.

Multi-coloured ashy occupation deposits inside the broch
Multi-coloured ashy occupation deposits inside the broch

Inside the Broch the deliberate work of sampling the grids laid out on the floors is being carried out by Conal, Caitlin, Ross, and Hamish with samples collected for both chemical and environmental analysis. The floor area Ross has been working on is particularly rich in contrast, promising some valuable data. Martin’s daily expedition down into the well has yielded even more organic material from the silt, including another piece of wood with some bark still intact. The complexity of the hearth area in the NW quadrant is being carefully recorded by Therese.

Roman Glass
Possible Roman glass

Between the hearth and the pit, I had the pleasure of finding a beautiful piece of blue-green, potentially Roman, glass. This glass was discovered in the same layer as the glass bead found by Therese last week. I have to admit it’s the biggest thrill excavating I’ve had to date.

Gary Lloyd, BA (Hons) Archaeology student, UHI, Orkney.