Rhynie Excavations Season 4 (2016)

By Cathy MacIver (on behalf of the REAP Project Team)

A fourth season of excavation took place at the Craw Stane, Rhynie over August – September 2016. The project was led by REAP Project Directors Dr Gordon Noble, University of Aberdeen and Dr Meggen Gondek, University of Chester.

Aerial photographs and geophysical surveys had identified curvilinear enclosures around the Craw Stane, one of the few symbol stones remaining in situ in Scotland (Plate 1).


Plate 1: Craw Stane with Tap O ‘Noth hillfort (©Cathy MacIver)

Previous seasons of work at the Craw Stane (one of seven Class I Pictish symbol stones from the area) in 2011, 2012 and 2015 had demonstrated that these enclosures took the form of an inner and outer ditch and a later palisade structure with associated postholes.

Excavations in past seasons had revealed a number of high status objects including fragments of Late Roman Amphora, glass beads, metal pins, glass vessel fragments and evidence of metal working in the form of metal working tongs, slag (metal working waste) and clay moulds for metal objects. The features date the site to the early medieval period and radiocarbon dates from the ditches and other internal features confirmed a relatively short 5th-6th C construction, occupation and abandonment of the site.


Plate 2: Rough draft of the excavations from 2011, 2012 and 2015. A work in progress!

The 2016 excavations aimed to investigate areas of the site that hadn’t been looked at before, continuing to use the successful strip and map approach employed in previous years. This involved 4 large areas or trenches (Plate 3) where the topsoil was removed by machine and watched by archaeologists. The areas were then cleaned by hand by a team of archaeologists, students and volunteers, using hoes, krafses and eventually trowels. This made archaeological features more visible and easier to record. Plans of the site were created using DGPS (accurate to the nearest cm) and aerial photography using a drone. Areas with more complexity were drawn by hand.


Plate 3: Aerial view of the 2016 trenches

A sample of features including slots through inner, outer and palisade ditches, palisade postholes and other pits/possible postholes were then chosen for excavation. The rest of the features were left recorded but untouched for future generations to investigate.

The palisade excavations were really interesting, revealing more about the construction of the large palisade fence that was likely to be the latest phase of enclosure on the site. The shadows of the planks and posts that made up the substantial fence were visible in areas of the foundation trench (Plate 4). Palisade postholes set back from the foundation trench were also investigated. These are part of the superstructure of the palisade, perhaps supporting a substantial walkway. Some of the postholes had visible post pipes (the area within a posthole where the post has rotted away) and others had animal bone packed into the post pipes (Plate 5), a sign that posts had been removed and material deliberately deposited in them.


Plate 4: Shadows of planks at the base of the foundation trench

Plate 5:Palisade posthole mid-excavation with stones and cattle bone packed into the post pipe

Plate 5: Palisade posthole mid-excavation with stones and cattle bone packed into the post pipe

The outer ditch in particular had some interesting finds. In previous seasons dumps of material had been identified in different areas of the ditches, implying they had been filled in with waste and midden material. The 2016 slots through the ditch identified further dumps of material, particularly metal working waste, including a large number of clay moulds, which highlight the activities going on at this site (Plates 6-7). The finds and evidence of activities demonstrate that this is a high status site in the early medieval period.



Plates 6-7: Juudit holding a fragment of a stone crucible stand, Dan holding crucible fragments. Deposited in different areas of the outer ditch.

Mould Magic: It can be difficult to explain to people why we get so excited about moulds as sometimes they aren’t much to look at.  Almost all the moulds we have found have been clay two-part moulds.  These types of moulds have to be broken to get out the metal object, which is why they are in fragments.  Since they are ‘one use only’ objects, the clay is not fired as hard as when making pottery, usually, which also means they fragments can break down and decay more easily than pots.  Despite all these issues, we have amassed a great collection of moulds.  Most are for the shafts of pins, probably to hold clothing.  The most exciting moulds show us the pin head, which helps us identify what type of pin it was.  We have to be very careful with the moulds as too much handling or brushing can break or remove the detail.  Once in a while we get a real gem without too much handling!

Meggen Gondek (from http://reaparch.blogspot.co.uk/)

Summary of the finds from Rhynie this year in the draft Data Structure Report:

208 clay moulds (99 diagnostic or complicated); 11 coarse stone tools; 151 crucible frags (min); 16 crucible stands; 1 glass bead; 8 glass fragments; 11 lithics; 1 Fe metal blade; 2 Cu pin; 1 Cu sword pommel; 7 Fe pin fragments?; 1 large Fe object; 11 LRA sherds; and 9 stone ingot moulds.

Other areas investigated included a reopened area by the Craw Stane. This was targeted to further understand a complex of features that had been difficult to identify in previous seasons. A series of postholes, a curvilinear ditch and several possible beam slots were identified and thought to form severely truncated components of a structure. The structure was confirmed to post-date the inner and outer ditches but its function remains unclear due to truncation and the shallow nature of these features. Its location so close to the Craw Stane could imply that significant activities happened here or important people lived here? Your guess is as good as ours until we can do further analyses!


Plate 8: Trench 4 – the structure over the inner and outer ditch by the Craw Stane

The 2016 season produced a lot of new information about the site, improving our understanding of the palisade structure and possible building at the Craw Stane. The chronology of the site was refined in places and the theory that the ditches were filled in, often with waste material, when the site was still in use was confirmed. The excavations produced lots of interesting artefacts which now need to be conserved, examined and analysed. The finds will hopefully tell us more about the status of the individuals who lived and worked here, the processes going on at the site and the trade links this community had with the wider world. A programme of post-excavation work is already underway to help us further understand the environmental evidence, the material culture, the processes going on at the site and the chronology. The site is currently being written up, with all the new data from 2016 being incorporated into previous seasons work. Stay posted for more information over the coming months.

Plate 9: GIS plan of Rhynie enclosures (March 2017).

You can find out more about REAP here: (http://reaparch.blogspot.co.uk/)

Northern Picts: https://www.facebook.com/groups/NorthernPicts/

Thanks to all our staff, students and volunteers who worked on the project. Thanks to HES funding some of the season. Special thanks to Rhynie Woman, (the best collaborators a project could have!) who fed and entertained us! Find out more about Rhynie Woman here: https://www.facebook.com/RhynieWomanOnline/

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