Wednesday, 26 October 2011

NMS Exhibition

Nothing to do with work I’ve been up to today I’m afraid but me venting my excitement about some heritage for anyone in Edinburgh in the next few months. I would strongly recommend going to see ‘Admiral Cochrane, The Real Master and Commander’ at the National Museums Scotland. If you don’t know anything about Cochrane this is a good chance to find out about someone who should be a national hero, as good if not better than Nelson, but I’ve never seen a Cochranes’ column. You can have a look at his real things that he carried into battle and things he was given by some of the grateful nations he helped liberate.  If you liked Master and Commander (the film) or Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey books or indeed if you have an interest in 18th and early 19th century politics (well someone must!) then this is for you.
Cochrane looking rather resplendent in a painting by James Ramsay
The exhibition runs until the 19th of Febuary and its Free so there is no excuse not to go.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Highland Archaeology Festival

Visitors enjoy a tour of Fearn Airfield as part of HAF
I was lucky enough to be brought up in the Highlands but the amount of archaeology even within a few miles of my parents’ house never ceases to amaze me. The Adopt a Monument teem (Cara, Phil and me) have just spent the last week up around the Moray Firth for the Highland Archaeology Festival. To be honest the acronym H.A.F. does not really fill me with excitement as it sounds a bit like a German bacon brand but the events more than make up for a boring name. The festival continues on from the end of Scottish Archaeology Month and the two week program is an extravaganza of site tours, lectures and workshops where you can try anything from Iron Age iron smelting at Applecross to a Landrover Safari of Glencoe. Cara was also running a survey of Rhicullen WWI practice Trenches near Tomich. We spent a day basking in the sunshine photographing, drawing and surveying these rather enigmatic remains.

Phil v’s EDM tripod at Rhicullen
There were also two groups to visit wile ‘up north’ the first near Strathpeffer is a group wishing to adopt the Fairy Stone. This is not a rock with fairs on but a heavy decorated cup marked stone which the Strathpeffer Initiative are making more assessable. The second adoption is a cairn complete with another cup marked stone overlooking the Cromarty firth on the Blackisle.
John (NOSAS) and Cara admiring the Cairn at Mulchaich Farm

The main interest here is defiantly the setting but the cairn is also associated close to some post medieval structures and a large ‘pond’. Rather than dwellings these are thought to form a distillery and one is known historically from the area. It was interesting for me to see what a legal site looks like as most of the sights in this part of the world, from this time, are illicit stills on a tiny scale. You may have to restrain yourself for a little wile but NOSAS (north of Scotland archaeology society) will have the site up and running with a new track soon.  
We also had one other important meeting on Saturday (apart from the HAF conference) and this was with Richard from For the Right Reasons. This is a charity working in Merkinch (a quite deprived area of Inverness). For the right reasons primarily helps thoughts who have suffered with drug and alcohol addiction ( and we hope to get a whole cross section of the Merkinch population involved in some archaeology. Over the next few months we are going to try and update ‘Merkinch Revisited’ (a book) as well as teach residence some new skills and record some of the areas important buildings. This is a rather undervalued bit of Inverness with an interesting history, I’m not sure I agree with Merkinch Revisteds authors that it was the site of a Roman Fortress but who knows what other exiting things we shall find when we go hunting in the archive.

Just one of many exciting feature in the Merkinch

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A Dendrochronology Adventure

As well as its many other useful community roles Archaeology Scotland fulfils Jonathan Wordsworth (Rural Land use Adviser) has also been doing a bit of tree dating for people. On Friday the 7th I went along to give him a hand. So armed with a rucksack full of mysterious rods from the Forestry Commission we set of to a house near Selkirk to drill small holes in trees. The trees we were dating were Sycamores growing over a dry stone structure in a garden. It was hoped that by establishing the age of the trees a terminus ante quem could be gained for the building beneath. Jonathan being experienced in this type of thing had bribed the met office arranging a fantastic sunny day with only a little wind, a useful tip for me after Ardoch.

Jonathan recording

Taking Dendro samples is a bit like taking an archaeological soil sample. So the tree gets a recording sheet (like a contest sheet) with all its vital statistics (height, girth etc.) so lots of measuring and photographing and each drinking straw is labelled ready for it’s core. Taking the samples however is rather different to at an archaeological site were you just put some soil in a bag. The first thing that strikes you about the corer is that it is very thin and the main worry when you start is that you might break it. However the main problem seems to be it getting stuck in the tree as the wait of it pushing down does make it quite difficult to twist out.

Taking a sample

If there is a rotten core in the tree the thread on the corer has nothing to grip and it can be impossible to get out, a big problem on old trees and as might be imagined it makes it had to age to. Luckily though we managed to retrieve the corer each time and get 4 good samples from 3 trees. There is still plenty of work to be done and once the cores have dried out I will hopefully be helping Jonathan in the lab. 

One of the cores fresh from the tree

Soggy Braco and Ardoch Roman Fort

For thoughts of you who have not been to Ardoch Roman fort before now what have you been waiting for? This is one of the best Roman sites in the whole of Scotland and perhaps one of the countries best kept secrets. Having visited the town of Braco twice before starting work with Archaeology Scotland I was delighted to see the breath-taking Roman fort of Ardoch as one of our possible Adopt a Monuments and jumped at the chance Phil give me to help the group hear (he is not as keen on Romans as me but tell anyone). On Thursday the 6th we had a meeting in Braco with the Ardoch Development Trust. The group’s aims fit in very well with Adopt a Monuments in that they wish to raise awareness of the amazing sites in the village.

Ardoch Roman fort on a previous visit showing the huge ramparts still visible.

Not only are they living next to one of the best preserved Roman Forts in Scotland they also have a lovely Iron Age promontory fort just on the other side of the village. Between these lie a surviving pack horse bridge and a rather fine old church tower. After some discussion it was decided we would try and help the group set up a Braco trail taking in many of these sites. We will also help them improve the interpretation at each one and the access, particularly to the Iron Age Fort. It should be said though that members of the group are already doing a grate job of keeping the paths here open and that they are very knowledgeable about their Roman fort. The only aspect of this trip which was not so fantastic was the weather which got rather wet on our wonder round, although apparently this is normal for Braco so remember your wellingtons.

The Free Church tower

The steps leading to the Iron Age Fort that we hope to help update, and (below) the path that will also get some attention.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Penicuik House Training

Here are some pictures from yesterday’s training day at Penicuik House. This fantastic old building is undergoing preservation works to prevent further decline and eventually open up the building to the public. The training day was a looking at buildings archaeology, how this is carried out and to what ends. We also got some tours of the house and saw some of its lovely surviving features. The project has 2 years to run but should be a grate recourse for looking at building development when its dun.  

The House

Archaeology Scotland’s Cat Knops not at all worried by the height of the scaffolding as we stand at roof level looking out across the estate.
The Penicuik House Project are working through the structure this is one of the last an un-excavated parts looking pleasingly like a scene from Indian Jones.   

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Story so far:

I have be working for Archaeology Scotland since the 1st of August so it’s probably best to give you an idea of what has been up to so far. Most of the work I have been doing is directly for the Adopt a Monument team. So far that’s involved chasing up list of contacts for versus places and helping organise the records for our fifty plus sites. Also a couple of desk based assessments on proposed projects in Lanark for Borders Biscuits who sponsor us (yes that’s a biscuit manufacturer, not much to do with archaeology but nice people). The sites were Lanark station and the lovely Old St Kentegerns church (not that I’m bias). The church is thought to have an early historic foundation sometime before 1150. The current remains are from the 13th century and it is surrounded by a fascinating graveyard. If you are in Lanark it’s well worth a look.  

Old St Kentegerns church, Lanark from the east. It is hard to tell the original layout of this building but it seems likely this arch was part of the roodscreen and the altar may have been close to the position from which the photo was taken.
The week 29th August– 2nd September was the launch of Archaeology Month so me and Phil (Adopt a Monument Project Manager and my mentor) were helping out at the Newhailes dig in Musselburgh. I was also helping out Cat (education and outreach) with schools find cleaning.

Me (In the hat and the high vis) talking to some of our smallest visitors at Newhailes as part of the Scottish Archaeology Month launch.
Adopt a Monument have also been out and about visiting Lanark, attending the Built Environment Forum Scotland conference to advertise, a trip to Hungate in York and a fantastic trip to Mull to see an adopt group there. I was involved with the Kildavie group although we have three adopt groups on Mull. Kildavie is a fantastic 18th and 19th century settlement which the group are hoping to open to the public

Iain of HARP recording a possible horizontal mill! at Kildavie one of the Adopted sites on Mull.

View from the ferry on the way to Mull
Lots of other little things going on but that’s the basics a busy week coming up now with training, taking dendrochronology samples and a site visit. I will keep you posted.