Tag Archives: radiocarbon dates

The Rosemarkie Caves Project

by Simon Gunn (NOSAS)

The subterranean section of NOSAS, the Rosemarkie Caves Project (RCP), is planning more work in the caves this year (2015). The RCP was set up to research the archaeology of the caves on the Moray Firth coast near Rosemarkie.

The group started its work in 2006 with a weekend excavation of Learnie 2B when evidence was found of occupation and leatherwork in the 19th century, probably by summer travellers. This was followed by a more ambitious 14 day dig at Cairds’ Cave in 2010, when we confirmed that the cave had been excavated 100 years before by local doctor William MacLean. Through analysis of bone and charcoal, the cave was found to have been in use as far back as 300BC, the time of Alexander the Great.

2006 dig at Learnie 2B

2006 dig at Learnie 2B

Outside Cairds' Cave in 2010

Outside Cairds’ Cave in 2010

There are 19 caves on this 2.5 mile stretch of coastline, they have been high and dry for over 4000 years and apart from interest by RCP and Dr MacLean, their archaeological potential has never been explored. Since 2010, the RCP members have surveyed all 19 caves and then in 2013 started a program of test-pitting. The purpose of this was to get a feel for the archaeology that might be there, but mainly to find deep samples of bone and charcoal for dating which would ascertain in which periods the caves were used and to find out, if possible, the earliest occupation.
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Bronze Age Beaker and Cist Burial in Drumnadrochit

by James McComas (NOSAS)

Go to foot of post for discoveries at the Compass Housing Development 2017 -2018.

Drumnadrochit, by Loch Ness. On the flat former croft land between the Rivers Coilte and Enrick a new NHS Medical Centre is under construction. In January 2015 workers on the site removed a large stone slab. Beneath the slab, undisturbed for perhaps 4000 years, were the crouched remains of an individual resting in a stone lined cist, approximately 0.7 metres deep.

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Burial Cist in Drumnadrochit (Courtesy of Mary Peteranna/ AOC)

Initially Highland Council archaeologists assessed the site, concluding it was probably bronze age.  A skull and possible femur were clearly visible, but there were no obvious sign of grave goods. However it was still clearly an significant discovery. Nothing similar had been found in Drumnadrochit before, and whilst there is a profusion of archaeological sites in the area, nothing of this antiquity is known to have been found in the flat lands around Urquhart Bay. The next step was for NHS Highland to appoint an archaeologist to excavate the burial.

I called in briefly to the site several days later to find that the archaeologists appointed were well known to NOSAS – Mary Peteranna, now of AOC, and Steve Birch. Steve was kind enough to give me a brief rundown on what they had found.  It was apparently a fairly typical stone lined cist burial of the early bronze age. The large cap stone, which had been removed by digger when clearing the area, had possibly already been broken in antiquity. There was a thickness of several cm of gravel above the cap stone before digging work began.

The cist during excavation (Courtesy of Mary Peteranna/ AOC)

The cist during excavation (Courtesy of Mary Peteranna/ AOC)

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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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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

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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……

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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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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.

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