Tag Archives: archaeology

Old routes through Ross-shire: Luib, near Achnasheen, to Scardroy in Strathconon

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

A six mile stretch of rough moorland, west of Achnasheen, is traversed by what was once a well made road generally 3 metres in width. Although it has fallen into disuse and is travelled only by the occasional walker, possibly doing a coast to coast trip, the road today is very distinct and forms a pleasant days’ ramble, especially when combined with an outward journey to Achnasheen on the Kyle of Lochalsh train (with homeward transport parked at Scardroy). But what are the origins of the road? and why did it fall out of use?

A route through Strathconon to Loch Carron had been in existence for centuries; it linked the east and west coast lands of the Clan Mackenzie. The Roy map of 1750 has the road passing NW from Scardroy to Luib on Loch Gowan, 3kms west of Achnasheen, and the first mention of an Inn at Luib, or Luibgargan as it is sometimes known, is on the Dorret map of 1750. A 1798 list of householders has John Macdonald, described as “vintner”, residing there and in 1814 Donald Sage passed this way: “Leaving Attadale in the morning I breakfasted at Luibgargan, proceeded on foot down Strathconan and rested during the night at Garve” (Memorabilia Domestica, Donald Sage, 1899 p191). Both the road and the Inn appear on other early maps too, the Ainslie map of 1789, Arrowsmith of 1807 and Thomson of 1830. It also appears on a Strathconon estate map of 1825 where it is annotated “the road from Loch Carron”. So quite clearly this was a route of some importance; how did it come to be abandoned?

Dorret Map

Dorret Map 1750 (detail; click on map for wider view)

Ainslie Map 1789

Ainslie Map 1789 (detail; click on map for wider view)

Continue reading

Pictish Burial Practices and Remains

by Roland Spencer-Jones (NOSAS)

These notes are in preparation for NOSAS field trips to two recognised Pictish cemeteries in the Highland region –

  • Garbeg near Drumnadrochit on Saturday 1st November 2014. See Highland Council HER, RCAHMS Canmore
  • Whitebridge near Foyers on Sunday March 8th 2015. See HER, RCAHMS Canmore

(See also separate post about Garbeg and Whitebridge cemeteries).

The Picts, those most elusive of early medieval Scottish peoples, seem to have disposed of their dead in a variety of ways. Remains that can still be found in the landscape include cremations, simple burials in the ground, long cist burials, burials under cairns, and burials under round and square barrows. It is also probably true that disposal was achieved by exposure and excarnation – practices continuing from pre-history. What remains unclear is how any of these contemporaneous burial practices were chosen for a specific individual or group.

An Artist's Impression of Pictish Barrows

An Artist’s Impression of Pictish Barrows by Alan Braby

Continue reading

Excavations at Rhynie 2014

by Cathy MacIver (Rhynie Community Archaeologist, CMS Archaeology)

Earlier in September the Village Square in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire was a bustling hive of activity. Archaeologists, artists and locals got together for a week-long celebration of heritage and hospitality during the Art and Artefact Project (funded by HLF). This project was a collaboration between Dr Gordon Noble (University of Aberdeen) and Rhynie Woman, a local artists collective. The project capitalised on the research and fieldwork undertaken in and around Rhynie since 2005 by Gordon (Aberdeen) and Meggen (Chester) as part of the Rhynie Environs Archaeology Project (REAP). This work looked at the Craw Stane, the site of an in situ Pictish Symbol Stone and associated high status settlement as well as nearby square barrows with high status burials, including a female stone lined cist burial.

Following on from the success of the Pop-up Pictish café run by Daisy and Debbie during the 2013 season the Rhynie Woman collective applied for funding for a weeklong event in 2014. The project consisted of: a variety of art workshops; a Curiosity Café, displaying art created in and of the village; a programme of excavation to explore the Pictish past in Rhynie itself; an ever welcome stream of home baking and meals and hospitality for the archaeologists staying in Rhynie.

The archaeological side of the project consisted of a transect of 1 by 1m or 2 by 2m test pit excavations between the Village Square and the Surgery. This was to explore the find spots and concentrations of activity marked on the old OS map from 1866. This map marked the location of several symbol stones, human remains and an urn which had been discovered when the current main road was put through Rhynie. In addition to the Craw Stane, which is still in its original position to the south of the village, many other Pictish symbol stones have been found in and around Rhynie and are on display. We hoped to investigate the context for some of these stones in the area we were digging.

Craw Stone, Rhynie

Craw Stone, Rhynie

Our initial test pits in the Village Green and nearby gardens produced a lot of material from the 19th century (pottery, an old track, a couple of possible structures and a hard packed surface that was probably the original square surface). The depth of material covering these deposits suggests that the green has been used over a long period and several attempts to level the area have been made by the introduction and spreading of material.

The excitement started to build a couple of days into the project. By this time we had opened several test pits in gardens further to the south nearer the stone findspots. One test pit contained a large post or stone hole (possibly the socket for one of our stones??). This hole was surrounded by a low, rough cobbled structure foundation, possibly the base for a turf built wall. Another test pit in a neighbouring garden uncovered the remains of cairn material. This could be linked to the cairn reputed to have been at the site of one of the symbol stones. A quick glance over the wall showed a freshly harvested field and the rest of the low natural rise we were situated on, flat, open, inviting……

Continue reading

Belladrum Excavation, 31st August – 7th September 2014

by Roland Spencer-Jones (NOSAS)

The Belladrum drama has a Prologue and two Acts, three main protagonists, and a horde (sic) of extras.

The Prologue:

Enter first Joe Gibbs, landowner at Belladrum and host to the annual August Tartan Heart Festival.

During clearing his fields after the Festival, he employs a metal detectorist to identify and get rid of all the left-behind tent pegs. Enter next that said detectorist, Eric Soane, who in August 2009 scanned the site and discovered a scatter of Roman denarii and some mediaeval coins. Enter third, Fraser Hunter, a principal Curator at the National Museum of Scotland, with an interest in hoards and Roman coins. He excavated the site in October 2012 to see if there were any more coins and to identify any obvious archaeology. Enter last, the cast of thousands – well, maybe 20-30 – human diggers from around Scotland.

On their knees in Trench 1

On their knees in Trench 1

There are two possible narratives, Fraser says. The coins were a hoard, a cache. Someone in the Iron Age wanted to find a good safe place to store his (presumably his) treasure. Or, second narrative,  these scattered coins were a votive offering to the gods. There is evidence from other sites such as Birnie, Fraser says, that the hoards of coins do seem to have been placed in special previously holy places.

And, why place the coins here? Birnie and Rhynie had hoards placed within settlement areas. Is there evidence of that at Belladrum? Or, if the coins were a votive offering, what was there at the time to focus the offering? A spring? An ancient site? And, most intriguingly, why 1000 years later were some mediaeval coins placed in the same area?

Continue reading

Highland Hillforts

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

The Atlas of Hillforts in Britain and Ireland project

Hillforts are one of the most prominent types of prehistoric monument seen across many parts of Britain and Ireland, and this hillfort project has recently been set up with the aim of producing a paper atlas and an online searchable atlas linked to Google Earth. It is a collaborative four year project between the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, and contributions from members of the public, either as individuals or as part of local field groups, are welcome.

Several members of NOSAS were interested in this project and a field day took place in May which nine attended. We visited three forts in the Drumnadrochit area which James McComas had suggested. The day was a great success even though the weather didn’t exactly co-operate and the overall impression was “damp” to say the least! The three forts of Dun Scriben, Craig Mony (Craigmonie) and An Torr were very different from each other – we took photos, made rough sketches and filled in the (reputedly) tortuous form provided on the website. The form proved to be not as formidable as we had anticipated and has been submitted to Strat Halliday who is the Scottish and Irish end of the project. If any members are interested in participating in the project or in joining the next NOSAS field day please contact Meryl Marshall.

More information about the project is available on the website

http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/hillforts-atlas.html

The form to fill in is available at

http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/files/hillforts/survey%20pro-forma%20web%20final%20v2.pdf

and notes and guidelines are at

http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/files/hillforts/survey%20notes%20for%20guidance%20web%20final%20v2.pdf

Producing drawings of hillforts

A drawing or sketch of a site, even if it is not precisely to scale, gives so much more information than a written description. Ideally it would be good to produce a plane-table drawing but this is not always a convenient method as it is time consuming and involves carrying heavy equipment to remote and inaccessible places. So when doing the recent surveys at Drumnadrochit we experimented with several methods of survey: using tape and offset, pacing and GPS waymarks. A draft sketch on permatrace was produced but, as usual, it was a bit messy – the words “dog’s breakfast” came to mind! A tidy final drawing was needed, so using a further piece of permatrace and a 4H pencil, I traced the site using hachuring as per RCAHMS guidelines, with annotations to clarify some of the features; I then scanned the result, see sketch of Craig Mony Fort. For me this method of drawing up is new and I have not perfected the technique yet, but Ian Parker of RCAHMS was helpful in giving advice and suggestions, and also his own drawing below.

Craig Mony Fort Meryl Marshall

Craig Mony, Drumnadrochit, by Meryl Marshall

Craig Mony, Drumnadrochit, by Ian Parker

Craig Mony, Drumnadrochit, by Ian Parker

Continue reading

Cromarty Medieval Burgh Dig 2014: A Volunteer’s Perspective

by Rosemary Jones (NOSAS)

The 2013 dig had been great fun, so we offered our help for 2014. Bob was set to work, using a mattock, a draw hoe and a barrow, though not necessarily in that order. For me, the choice was a little harder: my back is troublesome, but I had been told to keep active, so I was asked to tidy up one of the uncovered 2013 trenches so that it could be photographed. Eventually Paul, the finds ‘cataloguer’, told me he didn’t want my offering of several fish bones, which was all I could find for the first few days. Michael joined me to uncover more of the trench, more tidying. Then things looked up: med pot appeared and half of a glazed, ceramic spindle whorl – I was on a roll. In the wall was what appeared to be part of a quern, then another (which wasn’t). I moved onto another trench to do some trowelling where I uncovered a whole quern stone.

Meanwhile my original trench was in danger from Bob and Dave: their dug area had impinged on one longitudinal wall. Hours later there was no trench, just a vast uncovered area, out of which a total of 5 pieces of quern stone were removed, 3 of which fitted together. Why anyone would break such an object is a mystery, but several such broken, and at least one unbroken, were found incorporated into the walls of the buildings. Likewise, Bob, among others, found a broken iron pot with a large stone on top of it, under what appeared to be the entrance to one of the medieval houses. Why would anyone break an iron pot? I can see that you could bury broken pottery, to avoid having to explain how it came to be in such a state, but iron?

Pieces of Quern Stone Cromarty

Pieces of quern stone (Bob Jones)

Continue reading

Cnoc Tigh and Tarlogie Dun Excavations (Iron Age Round Houses)

by David Findlay (NOSAS)

These excavations, in April and July 2014, were led by Candy Hatherley and form part of the University of Aberdeen Northern Picts Project. Cnoc Tigh (see also our earlier blog entry) and Tarlogie Dun are Iron Age round houses situated on the north coast of the Tarbat Peninsula in Easter Ross. They are both on the high ground about 200m back from the coast giving them spectacular views across the Dornoch Firth to Sutherland and up the Sutherland coast. Neither site is naturally defensive and, though both have watercourses to one side creating a gorge and a steep bank to the sea on another side, that still leaves two sides open to the surrounding countryside.

The NOSAS Team Tarlogie Looking N April 2014 P1030613

The NOSAS team at Tarlogie, looking N (David Findlay)

They differ from the three duns excavated by the Aberdeen University Team in 2013 in that these were all on the south side of the Tarbat Peninsular and were relatively defensible due to the natural features, although Tarrel is overlooked by the cliff on the landward side.

Both Cnoc Tigh and Tarlogie appear to date from about 400 BC with occupation at Tarlogie lasting for 800 years to about 400AD. I do not know of any dates yet for the latest occupancy at Cnoc Tigh although I understand that suitable charcoal samples have been taken for dating.

The 2014 excavations at both sites reveal severely robbed and damaged stone walls; there are discernible facing walls in a few locations but largely only the fill remains. Both sites show a lot of evidence of the structures changing with time.

Continue reading