by Jonathan Wordsworth
As part of the cataloguing the JSBone aerial photographs (see earlier blog post) donated to North of Scotland Archaeological Society, a team of NoSAS members have been identifying the sites revealed on these images. Occasionally some intriguing queries arise. One such site came up recently and was from a photograph taken near Braelangwell on the Black Isle. Here on an image from 2012, a series of small circular mounds were revealed. Initial thoughts were that these might be the remains of an unknown barrow cemetery similar to that excavated at Tarradale. While the density and similar size of the circles did cause some scepticism on their origin, searching on earlier Google Earth satellite views showed similar features were visible at least as far back as 2004.
Andy Hickie of Avoch Heritage was sufficiently intrigued by these, as he had previously identified a site of interest nearby the year before, that he agreed to fly his drone over these features, before processing to enhance the images through RTF software. His results can be seen below.
After processing, the possible barrows can all be seen to be circular and more critically to lie above the diagonal lines making the position of field drains across this field, confirming they are in fact modern features. They are, in fact, the remains of a series of cattle feed rings where bales of hay or silage are stored in metal holders. In wet conditions, the stock eating round these create the pattern we see here.
Further confirmation of the modernity of these mounds is confirmed by looking at earlier OS maps where this field is shown as improved grassland or arable ground and would have been subject to a regular crop rotation including ploughing over many years – see for example
Ross-shire and Cromartyshire – Cromartyshire LXXVIII.1 (Combined) Surveyed 1872
Similar example of cattle feed rings masquerading as archaeological sites can be seen on another of the JSBone images.
Here again circles again can be seen with a central mound and again in quite a large density, but critically they are placed over the central large ring-ditched feature, which a look again at earlier OS maps shows was the site of buildings when surveyed by the OS in 1875 (R&C LXIV.16 –https://maps.nls.uk/view/75117415). In the field to the right, the circles can be seen again lying over broad linear ditches that are almost certainly the remains of broad rig cultivation that has been largely ploughed out but still survives as hollow lines within the modern field.
However not all circles are the results of feed rings!
The large circle outside the steading is clearly the remains of a horse mill used for threshing corn , a common feature on many improved farms in the 19th and early 20th century, but note in the enclosure to the right a series of low circles, partly obscured by more recent vehicle tracks. A more careful look shows these to be arranged in lines, flattened and raised above the surrounding ground. Some 30-40 of them are shown here and these are almost certainly the remains of stone footings for corn stacks prior to their being ground in the horse mill over the winter.
Thanks to Elisabeth Blackburn for selecting the Braelangwell photo, Andy Hickie for his excellent photos and image processing and Roland Spencer-Jones and Meryl Marshall for discussing some of these images.
 The ring-ditched feature, MHG55319, is of significant but separate interest and potentially of much earlier date, given that Druim Mor, MHG14145, to the E (left), is one of the richest areas of cupmarked stones in the locality.
Jonathan and team, it’s great to see these images being interrogated and deciphered. Keep up the good work!