Category Archives: General Archaeology

Experimental Archaeology: Learning about Technologies in the Past

by Susan Kruse (ARCH and NOSAS)

Thanks to funding from Historic Environment Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund, ARCH launched an exciting project ‘Experimental Archaeology: Learning about Technologies in the Past’ in October 2017. The project had three main strands. In the first year, 13 experimental archaeology days and 10 school visits took place where craftspeople demonstrated and explained different technologies used in the past. The workshops were filmed and the edited videos and blogs for each workshop can be accessed on the ARCH website.

Jim Glazzard at the Viking ring silver workshop

In the second year, the objects resulting from these workshops will then be used to create loans boxes which will be freely available to borrow. Our workshop leaders often generously provided more than one object. An archaeologist and teacher will now work together to create learning materials, so that the loans box and videos of the experimental sessions can be used in schools and other groups. The project already has attracted a wide and diverse audience, and we hope that the loans boxes will also contribute to this legacy.

The idea for the project emerged from North Kessock & District Local History Society’s Feats of Clay project, where ARCH helped facilitate a visit by Neil Burridge who demonstrated Bronze Age metalworking. Everyone in the audience was caught up in the excitement of the day, and learned so much about how objects were made, what raw materials were needed, and how craftsmen in the past managed without gauges and modern equipment.

Neil Burridge at the Bronze Metaworking workshop

In the first year 13 workshops took place, one a month, each showcasing a skill from the past, spanning from earliest settlers to more recent times. The workshops were exciting to attend, but were also filmed. Continue reading

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Digging the Pictish Fort at Burghead

by Anji Hancock (NOSAS)

My childhood was spent in Lossiemouth, a mere 8 miles from Burghead. Then, my knowledge of Burghead was a jumbled mix of Druidism, a Roman Well, the burning of the Clavie and the harbour my father’s fishing boat used when the wind was in the wrong direction to get into Lossiemouth harbour. As a child I felt it was definitely a place of history and mystery, but I can’t remember any real historical importance being given to it – well not in Lossiemouth circles anyway! Roll on half a century and Dr. Gordon Noble’s Northern Picts Project and Burghead has become the focus of some recent excavations.

The original fort occupied over 7 acres but, sadly, much of this was destroyed with the building of the town and the re-building of the harbour in the early 19th century. The remaining area of the fort, with the exception of the Coastguard houses and their gardens are scheduled. This means that an excavation in the Coastguard house gardens could be undertaken with only the permission of the owners. Unfortunately, I was unable to take part in these earlier digs when some interesting occupation layers and a coin from the reign of Alfred the Great were uncovered.

However, the word went out on the Northern Picts Facebook page that Gordon and his team from Aberdeen University were returning to dig again. This time permission from Historic Environment Scotland had been received to dig a specified number of test pits and two explorations into the fort wall. Fortunately, Paul and I were able to join the dig for 3 days.

What remains of Burghead fort is sited on 2 levels- the upper and lower enclosures. The upper enclosure is believed to have been for the hierarchy of the community and the lower level for the habitation of the lower classes.

As befitting our lowly status we spent 2 days cleaning, trowelling, deturfing, shovelling and mattocking in the test pits on the lower level. Only one test pit revealed anything of interest in the way of structure. The others bottomed out with a layer of stones. Initially, there were high hopes this might be a deliberate layer of cobbles, but realistically, it was decided that so close to the sea, and with the history of coastal change that has happened in this area, it was more likely to be a natural layer. A visit from a couple of people with geology knowledge confirmed this.

Paul cleaning back a layer of ‘cobblestones’  (Photo Anji Hancock)

One inner wall exploration was on this lower level and the other on the upper level. Cathy MacIver from AOC was contracted to work on the lower level wall. For days she seemed to be moving large rocks and images of my time at Clachtoll came back to me! As she went further into the debris which had been piled up against the lower-fort rampart great care had to be taken to keep the area stable and safe. Her toil was rewarded with a layer of black claggy mud which was believed to be contempory with the occupation of the fort.

Cathy with the copper-alloy finger ring (photo Northern Picts).

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Bobbin Mills in the North of Scotland

by Joanna Gilliatt (Woodland Heritage Researcher, Ancient Woodland Restoration Project)

Introduction

Back in July 2015 there was a NOSAS blog post about the South Kinrara Bobbin Mill, which included pictures of the mill, showed its location on the 1st edition OS map, and identified who ran the mill and when.

Coincidentally, it was this very bobbin mill which had set me off on researching bobbin mills in the north of Scotland, back in August 2014. I had just started work as a volunteer researcher with the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Woodland Restoration project and had spotted the South Kinrara Bobbin Mill on the 1st edition OS map, and decided to find out more about it.

Now I am nearing the end of my bobbin mill research, 3½ years later, so this is a good time to provide an update on my findings.

The Ancient Woodland Restoration project

Ancient woodlands are areas which are shown having woodland cover on the earliest maps (1750 in Scotland) and have had woodland cover continuously ever since. As a result of their longevity, these woodlands tend to have a strong natural and cultural heritage and they provide a home for a complex range of wildlife, including rare species of both plants and animals, with some of these species found exclusively on ancient woodland sites.

Ancient Woodland is increasingly under threat, and the aim of the Ancient Woodland Restoration project (which ran from 2014 to March 2018) was to work to restore areas of ancient woodland which were planted with non-native conifers in the period after the 2nd World War – areas known as PAWS (Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites).

In ten priority areas across the UK, including two in Scotland, Project Officers worked to advise owners and managers about the special characteristics of their woodland, discussed the need for restoration and how to undertake it, and then supported the landowners and managers through the process of restoration.

Volunteer researchers were also involved, as part of the Woodland Heritage strand of the project, with the aim of contributing towards the body of knowledge about the history and cultural significance of our ancient woodlands.

In Scotland ancient woodland is normally considered to consist of remnants of the Caledonian pine forest, with the predominant species being Scots pine. However, upland birch woods contribute 29% of native woodlands in Scotland and many of these upland sites are ancient birch woods. So that’s where my research comes in – contributing to knowledge about the history and cultural significance of the birch woods.

As I come towards the end of my research, I now know that South Kinrara was just one of 88 bobbin mills – and other turning mills which made bobbins – which operated in the north of Scotland (loosely defined as north of Perth) over the 150 years between 1830 and 1980.

Bobbins from Stott Park Bobbin Mill – hazel, birch ash, rowan and alder

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Buntait, Glenurquhart: A Bronze Age Landscape?

by James McComas (NOSAS)

The larger barrow at Buntait – feature ‘X’ on the map below.

Although I have lived in Glen Urquhart for some years, it was only comparatively recently that I first visited Buntait, a hamlet just to the north of the Clava type chambered cairn at Corrimony. This was despite me hearing from a number of local people about the amount of upstanding archaeology that was there. I think I must have presumed that because there are no scheduled monuments there it could not be that interesting – an assumption I will not be making in the future. Later research confirmed that Buntait is in fact full of prehistoric (and post medieval) features – including hut circles, field systems, burnt mounds and rock art. Not only are the field systems extensive and some of the hut circles very well preserved, but also there are a couple of ditched barrow features. Locally, only Garbeg is comparable in terms of prehistoric remains.

Consequently Buntait became the subject of three archaeological field trips in 2017; two led by NOSAS, and one as part of the Archaeology Scotland Summer School planned with the assistance of NOSAS. There were also numerous smaller sorties for quadcopter flying, polecam photogrammetry, rock art recording (for SCRAP) and general investigation.

OS map of Buntait annotated with huts, barrows and buildings in red, cairns in green and dykes in brown. Blue dots show the location of records on Canmore. BM = burnt mound.

NOSAS field visit to Buntait January 2017

“The Glenurqhuart Story” by Alistair Mackell published in 1982, provides a useful if perhaps now outdated introduction:

Not far from the Corrimony Burial Cairn, on Buntait lands, was a settlement of some considerable size where clearly marked hut circles and cairns suggest a community practising primitive agriculture and a boundary wall, which can still be traced, may have served to protect domestic animals from prowling wolves or other marauding wild animals. Some of these circles are 30 feet in diameter and in the centre of at least one, is a depression which may have been a fireplace. These circles are low banks of stones covered with grass or heather about 2 feet high and 4 feet wide at the base. It is difficult to imagine one large roof covering such an expanse, but if so, it would probably have been formed of wattles and thatched with heather or turf, giving, when complete, a dome – shaped appearance. In each case there is a break in the circle at the south east which indicates the entrance. In other parts of Scotland where these structures have been carefully examined, hearth paving stones have been discovered, but we are unable to reconstruct much of the everyday life of the people of these long bygone days, and we can merely conjecture that they combined hunting with their primitive agriculture, for the Highlands were rich in wildlife.

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Jim Bone: Aerial Photography of Archaeological Sites

Jim was a founder member of NOSAS, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018. He was known in the Highlands for providing important aerial photos of numerous archaeological sites over many years. Sadly, Jim died on June 16th, after a long and wearisome illness. His extensive collection of aerial photographs has been gifted to NOSAS and will form the JS Bone Collection, in his memory. This is the story he wrote of himself, in the months before he died. (Introduction revised Sep 2018).

Aerial photograph of Mulchaich, Ross-shire. The settlement , distillery and chambered cairn at Mulchaich were the subject of NOSAS projects between 2009 and 2013. See the blog post.

It appears to me that people can be divided into two categories – those who love flying, and those who do not.  Brought up in close proximity to Prestwick Airport, I recall watching aircraft there, and determined that I would one day find out more about aviation.  Inspired by a selection of Biggles books, I joined the local ATC (Air Training Corps) squadron, enabling me to sample flight for the first time in 1950 in an elderly Anson.  Military aircraft have a distinctive odour of aluminium and oil, complemented in this case by an off-putting whiff of vomit, but I enjoyed this first ‘air experience’ flight along the Ayrshire coast.  For the next flight, I borrowed a folding camera, and tried a few shots through the rather scratched Perspex window.  Surprisingly, the results came out quite clearly, and another interest was born.

Going to University in Glasgow, I lost no time in finding the HQ of the University Air Squadron (GUAS), and was fortunate enough to be accepted as a Cadet Pilot in the RAFVR.  This offered a high standard of flying training, during 1953-7, provided by experienced RAF instructors at Scone Airfield outside Perth.  Our Chipmunk aircraft was state of the art at that time, but cameras were not encouraged on training sorties.  At the end of my four years, I asked if I could take a camera with me on a dual flight with my instructor, having noticed some archaeological sites which I wanted to photograph.  By opening the hood, I was able to take quite a good shot of a hill fort to the south of Perth, which presaged further attempts in later years.  The Squadron experience qualified me for a Preliminary Flying Badge – a sort of junior wings – and allowed me to apply for a Private Pilot’s Licence, costing a very reasonable ten shillings, when I left the unit. Continue reading

Monuments of Remembrance: Inverness War Memorial, Cavell Gardens

by Marion Ruscoe (NOSAS)

In November public focus is on remembrance as we commemorate the dead from conflicts of WW1 onwards and that focus centres on the many war memorials scattered throughout the country.

Inverness War memorial (NH66481 44506; HER MHG15630) is sited at Cavell Gardens on the River Ness and at the east end of the Infirmary Bridge. It consists of a red sandstone Celtic cross on a stepped plinth with two walls extending to either side with panels containing plaques with the names of the dead of conflicts from WW1. The wings have terminal pillars surmounted by lamps. The memorial was designed by J. Hinton Gall and carved by D & A Davidson of Academy Street.

The best view of the memorial is from the opposite bank of the river

The Burgh Coat of Arms is carved on the front of the plinth below the shaft of the cross, and below that is the inscription:

TO THE
GLORIOUS MEMORY
OF THE MEN OF THE BURGH
AND PARISH OF INVERNESS
WHO LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES
IN THE GREAT WAR
1914-1918

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A few disconnected thoughts after the NOSAS trip to Tiree June 2017

by John Wombell (NOSAS)

Intertidal track ways on the Caolas peninsular

One of the intertidal track ways at Poll a Chrosan, Caolas

This is the first time that I have been aware of such features anywhere in the highlands or on other Scottish islands.  The Caolas track ways are all about 2m wide where stones have been shifted left and right through the intertidal boulder spreads and outcrops to avoid lengthy routes around the hags over the soft and fragile swards of the saltings on the high water mark.

On the east side of Fadamull islet which is connected to the main island by a tombolo (a gravel bar covered at high tide) we found 7 cleared boat landing places most of which were connected to a naturally clear beach where boats could be pulled right up out of the water by a cleared track way that ran parallel to the shore.    Otherwise the cleared landing places stopped short of the high tide mark – all rather strange as we don’t know what they were for.   There are more than a dozen short lengths of seaweed drying walls on the islet but only one possible burning pit.  Our thinking meantime is that the cleared landings were used to beach heavily laden small boats stacked to the gunwales with seaweed after which they were unloaded into carts or panniers using the intertidal track way off the sterns of the boats.  Smart thinking as taking heavy wet seaweed off the sides of a small boat and staggering up a rocky beach with it would not have been very efficient.  Whether this arrangement was purely associated with burning seaweed to produce kelp (soda ash) or for landing seaweed to be used as manure we don’t know.  A bit of both maybe?  Possibly also associated with the time when the iodine factory was functioning and calling for large supplies of seaweed.

Cleared boat landing places Fadamull islet Caolas

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