Swartigill Dig Season Ends

DCIM111MEDIADJI_0012.JPG

Rick Barton summarises the dig season at Swartigill.

“Another season of excavation at the Swartigill Burn has ended. The day excavation seems to have flown by so quickly, and we have made a great deal of progress towards defining the form of the structures in the trench.

More of the capstones over the possible drain feature are now visible, and they are very chunky! Elsewhere, things are becoming increasingly complex, and it seems that whenever we peel back the alluvium we come straight down onto rubble and structural features!

However, we are starting to see the shape of a sub-rectangular building, which appears to match the feature identified within the geophysics! We love it when a plan comes together. A peaty layer overlays the rubble in the centre of the trench and dark

A peaty layer overlays the rubble in the centre of the trench and dark charcoal-rich deposits sealed the structural remains within the western quarter. We are hopeful that these deposits will yield some useful datable material and environmental evidence relating to the abandonment of the site.

Our most interesting find of the season so far was recovered from a rubble layers within the south-east end of the trench. Meg Sinclair, one of our experienced volunteer archaeologists, recovered a beautifully shaped whetstone, a stone tool used for sharpening metal objects. This artefact tapers to one end and shows signs of wear along its edges. There is also a small dimple on one side of its narrow end, possibly where the owner had begun to drill a hole to hang the object from their belt. As you can see in the photo, the two pieces of this object fit together perfectly.

003

Our very own Scott Timpany from the UHI Archaeology Institute has been exploring the soils across the flood plain. The results of his exploration will hopefully give us an insight into the environment at Swartigill during the Iron Age, how the soils around the site formed and how it changed through time.

We finished sampling and recording the site for this year on Sunday the 30th. Bobby Friel, an experienced freelance archaeologist working with us on this project, managed to obtain some last minute elevated photographs of the site before it was covered and protected. You can see from the photo that a structure is really starting to take shape, and looking more and more intriguing all the time.

010

Thanks to the Yarrows Heritage Trust for inviting us back to work with them on this fascinating project. Thanks also to everyone who came to see us and to all our volunteer archaeologists who helped us excavate the site in what were at times very challenging conditions. These projects would not be possible without you.

Special thanks to Islay Macleod for her tireless efforts to make the excavation happen and her drive to take the project forward in the future.

Watch this space for more information on the site as we begin to get into the post-excavation.”

Rick Barton 2017

Exciting Find at Swartigill

DSC_0069

It goes without saying that the most exciting finds of any archaeological dig are made in the final few days of activity.

And so it was on the final weekend of the dig at the Iron Age site at Swartigill, when a most intriguing object emerged from the earth…an object that perhaps sheds some light on the function of the site.

Rick Barton, Project Officer, takes up the story………….

“What a difference a day makes! We are now starting to define more of the structural features in the trench, which has involved the removal of substantial quantities of rubble infill and alluvium. More of the capstones from the possible drain feature in Structure A are now visible, and they are very chunky!

While we are beginning to clarify the shape of a structure in this part of the trench, elsewhere, things are becoming increasingly complex. It seems that wherever we peel back the alluvium we come straight down onto rubble or possible structural features!

 

004
Meg Sinclair examining the hone she found.

Our most interesting find of the season so far was recovered from some of the rubble layers within the south-east end of the trench. Meg Sinclair, one of our experienced volunteer archaeologists, recovered a beautifully shaped hone, a fine-grained stone used for sharpening metal objects. This artefact tapers to one end and shows signs of wear along its edges. There is also a small dimple at its narrow end, possibly where the owner had begun to drill a hole to hang the object from their belt. This intriguing object was found in two pieces which fit together perfectly.

 

As we drew towards the end of this season’s excavations, we focussed on recording the archaeological features, sampling soil deposits and cleaning the site for the final photographs.

Our very own Scott Timpany from the UHI Archaeology Institute was also on site over the weekend with his coring equipment, investigating the peat and soils around the dig site. This will hopefully give us an insight into the environment at Swartigill during the Iron Age, and how it changed through time.

We were working on the site right until the last minute on Sunday to ensure that we maximised our time there and cover the site to protect the archaeology from the elements.” Rick Barton 2017

 

DSC_10060
Thanks to all the volunteers who helped with the dig.

 


The Swartigill excavation is a joint community project involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Yarrows Heritage Trust.

Swartigill Friday

Day Five 2The Swartigill dig is a community dig. This means that local people are involved at all stages of the process and local volunteers receive basic training in archaeological methods and help with the actual dig.

Today, local school children joined us in the field. As part of a wider school project, they were shown the features that had been discovered so far and then helped with the dig itself…discovering a little about the people who worked and lived on the site nearly two thousand years ago.

Rick Barton takes up the story….

“Yesterday (Thursday), we made a great deal of progress. The weather was kind and the sun even came out for a few hours. We have started removing rubble infill from the structure at the north end of the trench (which I’ve started calling Structure A).

Day FiveThe shape is starting to appear with the revetment wall on the north-west side continuing to curve slightly to the south to meet up with the big boulders that we saw just after stripping. Bobby recovered a single fragment of pottery, a rim shed, from that rubble deposit.

Volunteers are taking down the mineralised soil overlaying the rubble to the south of Structure A and it seems to be fairly sterile. Starting to reveal more wall lines or possible revetments within the centre of the trench, running on an east-west alignment.

Meanwhile, in the south-east corner, we have boxed out a sondage to investigate the stonework poking through the subsoil, where it appears to match the anomaly on the geophysics. This stonework is well built from substantial blocks, forming a wall on a roughly north-south alignment with rubble spread to the east in the trench.

There is a very black layer forming between some of the rubble, but it doesn’t seem to be organic. Looks like either very degraded stone (that black material that seems to turn to dust) or a scene of manganese panning (though I’ve never seen it so consistent).”

Dr Scott Timpany is arriving tonight and will be taking peat and soil samples from around the site to help determine the form of the local landscape in the Iron Age period.


The Swartigill excavation is a joint community project involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Yarrows Heritage Trust.

Written by Rick Barton 2017. Photographs by Robert Friel.

Swartigill Update

DCIM107MEDIADJI_0010.JPG

Following brief interruptions due to the weather, the Swartigill community dig is now progressing well.

Project Officer, Rick Barton, is managing the site on day to day basis and takes up the story so far….

“Monday was a bit disrupted by the snow, but we got a good afternoon’s work in and made some good progress defining the rest of the rubble and possible structural features in the north end of the trench. As you can see in the photo, there are numerous possible wall lines and linear features showing through. These could be revetment walls, secondary structural features or just very well organised rubble at this stage, but I think you’ll agree that it’s looking more and more complex all the time.

image00015Tuesday we opened up the slit trench to the east of the site from 2015 and continued excavating a sondage to the south of the main conglomeration of features. Interestingly we are starting to get some structural features coming through in there too. The bit of wall-like structure that you saw in the north end of the slit trench in 2015 looks like it is in a rough alignment of stonework heading toward the northeast and seems to match up very well with the resistance survey in this area. This is

Day Four aThe wall-like structure that you saw in the north end of the slit trench in 2015 looks like it is in a rough alignment of stonework heading toward the northeast and seems to match up very well with the resistance survey in this area. This is interesting since it suggests that potentially, the geophysics is right and we may have a large sub-circular feature appearing in that area.

We spent most of Wednesday cleaning the site for photographs, and I placed geo-ref points around the trench so we can use aerial shots for planning the rubble in the centre of that jumble of features.

Day Four b

So, the plan for today (Thursday) is to start removing the rubble and really examine the mineralised soil and underlying colluvium/alluvium that seems to be covering everything, so we can really start to see what’s happening to the south and south-east areas of the trench.”

Written by Rick Barton 2017. Photographs by Robert Friel.


The Swartigill excavation is a joint community project involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Yarrows Heritage Trust.

Swartigill Day Two & Three

Day Two

Working in the Highlands and Islands of  Scotland, you soon develop a healthy respect for the weather. It has the habit of reversing a trend pretty rapidly and frustrating all your best-laid plans. One day may be bright and sunny and the next, driving snow.

Despite everyone’s best intentions, it was obvious by around 9.00am on Day Two that the dig could not continue. The whole area took on the characteristics of a well-shaken snow globe as the cold combined with the snow to make conditions impossible. Health and safety issues became paramount so the team decided that discretion was the better part of valour and retreated back to a snug cottage to analyse the results from Day One.

Day three, however, dawned cold and only slightly cloudy allowing the team to progress well with the dig. Community volunteers arrived and soon the plan for the day was in place.

A few people have asked, “How do we know where to dig?” It’s a good question. In the past archaeologists had to trust to luck to a certain extent, but nowadays we have technology on our side in the shape of geophysics. This technology gives us a map of ‘anomalies’ which with an experienced eye can be interpreted to give an indication where to place a trench.

Martin explains the geophysics in this short video….


The Swartigill excavation is a joint community project involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Yarrows Heritage Trust.