Tag Archives: neolithic archaeology

Tarradale Archaeological Project – Findings to Date

by Dr. Eric Grant (NOSAS)

Background to the project. The Tarradale Archaeological Project started as a private initiative around 2008 and was incorporated as an approved NOSAS research project in 2011. The Tarradale archaeological project aims to investigate and record the surviving archaeological evidence of the multi-period archaeological landscape of the Tarradale area and to interpret the chronological development of settlement and resource utilisation in the study area. The main activity of the project so far has been field walking which has been very successful and as data has been collected and analysed the parameters of the project have moved and the aims extended.

Aerial photo of Tarradale area with Tarradale house in the foreground. Tarradale Castle (destroyed 1308) was probably located above and below the steep bank in the field immediately below Tarradale House. ). (Picture by courtesy of Jim bone).

Aerial photo of Tarradale area with Tarradale house in the foreground. Tarradale Castle (destroyed 1308) was probably located above and below the steep bank in the field immediately below Tarradale House.. (Picture by courtesy of Jim bone).

1. Location and extent of the Tarradale study area. The study area comprises about 750 hectares of mainly agricultural land at the eastern end of the parish of Urray on the northern side of the inner Beauly Firth in Ross-shire. Historically the area was co-terminous with the old landholding unit of Tarradale  estate and the ecclesiastical parish of Gilchrist or Tarradale, which was a separate parish until becoming amalgamated with the parish of Urray in the late 16th The historical centre of Tarradale was the old parish church, now surviving only as a mausoleum at Gilchrist. Following the building (or rebuilding) of Tarradale House in the 17th century, Tarradale House became the administrative centre (caput) of the estate.

A large part of the area is raised estuarine beaches and that area today is flat or gently undulating high-quality agricultural land that is regularly ploughed. To the north of the former raised beaches the land rises towards the Mulbuie Ridge as undulating hillside mainly covered with boulder clay. Apart from Gilchrist Chapel and some standing stones probably erected in the Bronze Age, there are few visible archaeological monuments in the area that is intensively ploughed, although aerial photographs show cropmarks that can be interpreted as ring ditches, pits and enclosures. This contrasts with the more upland and less intensively cultivated area where there are standing monuments including Tarradale chambered cairn and an indeterminate feature which has been called a henge but is better referred to with the more general term of earthwork.

Tarradale chambered cairn

Tarradale chambered cairn

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Carn Glas – A Life in Seven Acts

by Roland Spencer-Jones (NOSAS)

DSC_0008 The Opening of the Cairn 12.10.15

The Opening of the Cairn 12.10.15

Carn Glas is one of a cluster of six Neolithic cairns at the base of the Black Isle in Ross-shire. A trio of local archaeology groups have collaborated with the Adopt-a-Monument team of Archaeology Scotland in its restoration. The opening party for the “new” cairn happened during Highland’s Archaeology Fortnight, on October 12th. Why did it need restoring? Well, it’s a story in Seven acts:

Act One started with the construction of a Cromarty-Orkney-type chambered cairn approximately 3600 BC, as the Neolithic farming package developed in the area. The passages of the chamber at the heart of the huge cairn were aligned north-west to south-east. They consisted of an entrance passage to the south-east, leading to a middle chamber, leading to an inner chamber. An excavation over two seasons by Tony Woodham in 1955-6 produced a series of artefacts dating to this period – a leaf-shaped Neolithic arrowhead, other flints, and numerous pottery shards.

Neolithic Arrowhead from 1956 excavation

Neolithic Arrowhead from 1956 excavation    (c) National Museums of Scotland

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Exploring High Pasture Cave with NOSAS

by Karen Clarke (NOSAS)

As part of a NOSAS trip organised by Beth Beresford to explore the exceptional archaeology of the Scottish Island of Skye Martin Wildgoose, and George Kozikowski guided us through Uamh an Ard Achadh (Cave of the High Field or High Pasture Cave).  Situated on the Broadford to Torrin road, it has been the focus of late Bronze and early Iron Age archaeological research.  Our guides were key members of the excavation team.  Since reading Martin Wildgoose’s excellent article in Skye Magazine 2011/2012 and hearing his colleague Steven Birch speak on the subject (both of which are major references for this blog and an article in the forthcoming NOSAS Newsletter) visiting this unique location has long been on my wish list.  It certainly proved to be one of the high-lights of an excellent weekend exploring diverse terrains across Skye with timelines extending over thousands of years as described in Martin Wildgoose’s recent blog post for NOSAS.

I am neither a geologist nor an archaeologist but enthusiastic about both disciplines and will try to do the cave justice from a civilian perspective.  I remain mindful that High Pasture Cave (HPC) was a burial place where the remains of three humans and a number of animals including, cattle, deer and a high ratio of pigs were placed.  With respect to HPC’s location within the wider landscape Martin Wildgoose emphasised how it lies within a natural amphitheatre as shown in my photograph.

High Pasture Cave Natural Amphitheatre

Martin Wildgoose’s sketch depicts how it might have appeared c600BC.  Note the pathway to the cave entrance, also the horseshoe shaped midden (rubbish tip) which contained deposits of discarded shells and other detritus.

HPC Sketch Martin Wildgoose

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Rubh’ an Dunain, Skye: 8000 Years of History

by Martin Wildgoose

ap glenbrittle

Aerial view of the Rubh’ an Dunain peninsula

Rubh an Dunain James McComas

Members of NOSAS walking towards the tackman’s house on Rubh’ an Dunain. Canna is on the skyline.

A warm sunny Sunday in early June saw NOSAS members gathering in the Glenbrittle campsite, at the foot of the Cuillin Mountains. The view south was spectacular, Canna seemed unusually close and South Uist and Barra lay in the haze on the horizon. Close at hand the Rubha an Dunain peninsular stretched out to the left of the bay with a ribbon of made-up path promising an easy walk to the point where 8000 years of Skye’s history lies exposed to view. Just an hour and a half later the group paused to enjoying a mid-morning coffee prior to crossing the Slochd Dubh (Black Hollow) where a late 18th century wall marks the boundary between Clan MacAskill and Clan MacLeod – but more of that later.

The first people to leave tangible evidence of their stay on the peninsula were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who travelled throughout the islands off the west coast of Scotland on a seasonal round, in pursuit of food and tool resources. A site excavated at Kinloch on Rum (HER MHG 3987) between 1984 and 1986*, only a day’s boat journey away to the south west, may be the winter base for these pioneers. A small rock shelter (HER MHG4898) at Rubh an Dunain, partially excavated in 1932 by W Lindsay Scott**, contained many worked stone tools and the debris from their manufacture – evidence of repeated visits to the site during this period. Additionally a recently recorded lithic scatter on a terrace close to Loch na h-Airde shows that more sites of this period await discovery (the day in fact finished with NOSAS members happily picking fragments of worked bloodstone and mudstone out of a nearby burn).

Rock Shelter Rubh an Dunain James McComas

Martin points towards Loch na h-Airde from just outside the rock shelter.

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Highland Henge Trail

by Roland Spencer-Jones (NOSAS)

Henges in Highland seem to be a bit different from other UK henges. Smaller, later, less flamboyant. More akin to the quiet steady Highland temperament, perhaps.

A henge is usually defined as a circular enclosure, surrounded by a ditch, surrounded by a bank, with one or two entrances. They can be, but don’t need to be, associated with internal burials, or standing stones, or posts. They are generally a varied lot. Although the earliest known UK henge is at Stenness in Orkney, approx 3100BC at the start of the later Neolithic, the biggest and most spectacular henges in the UK are dated to 4-500 years later, around the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. They are part of that fundamental change from square or rectangular monuments in the early Neolithic to a variety of round monuments in the later Neolithic.

The "reedy" Achility henge

The “reedy” Achility henge

What seems special about the Highland henges is that when they’ve been dated they turn out to be middle to late Bronze Age, ie 1500-1300BC. Radiocarbon dates have been obtained from excavated henges at Pullyhour, Portree and Lairg. The latter two sites are now built over. The latest known henge is the Hill of Tuach in Aberdeenshire, dated to approx 1000BC.

This blog is meant to enthuse you to take to the roads and do the Highland Henge Trail. It’ll take you round 10 of the best henges that Highland has to offer. The clickable numbers take you to the relevant entry in the Highland Council’s Historic Environment Record (HER). And please note that although there is a “Right to Roam”, you should still be respectful of the landowner’s rights and property as you access these sites. Close gates, etc and respect the shooting season.

Culbokie henge

Culbokie henge

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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?

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Rhu Arisaig – Neolithic hide and seek

by Ken Bowker (NOSAS)

map

In the autumn of 2012, Jean and I were asked, because of our experience in survey and archaeology, to join Elizabeth and Allan MacDonald and half a dozen others from Arisaig, about twelve miles north of where we live, in order to do a walkover survey of the Rhu Peninsula, a virtually- deserted five by three miles stretch of very rough ground immediately south of Arisaig. Many people will know this area by the winding coastal road that runs along the north side of the peninsula and round the western tip to the old ferry pier at the end of the public road. Beyond this a track continues for a mile or more to the only two permanently-inhabited houses on Rhu. The ferry to the Small Isles berthed here in the days of sail because the way into Arisaig harbour was, and still is, very dangerous, with huge areas of drying reefs.

Cup marked stone

Cup marked stone

The current 1:25000 OS maps mark only a dozen or so features on Rhu Arisaig. In January 2014, as the survey restarted, we had over three hundred on the list, mostly townships, shielings, feannagan, cairns, enclosure walls and the like. But there is relatively little of real note on the peninsula, probably because until very recently it was too inaccessible even for the Antiquarians, with the one exception of the Reverend Jolly, who specialised in looking for cup-marked stones on his days off, and in 1885 very accurately recorded one of the very few west coast examples at Gaodeil, on the eastern border of our survey area.

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