Issue 155

Newsletter – Issue 155, October 2005

Callendar House, Finds from Recent Excavations

In recent years a number of us have been helping or hindering Geoff Bailey, Keeper of Archaeology and History for Falkirk in the excavation of a number of interesting sites in and around Falkirk. We felt it would be useful if he could display and discuss some of the artefacts found on these sites and on several field walking enterprises. He has kindly agreed to do so. The session will take place at Callendar House, Falkirk at 2.30pm on Thursday, 17th November.


Winter is upon us and our first lecture by Biddy Simpson on Archaeology and the Community – The East Lothian Approach on Wednesday, 19th October may have been and gone before you get this. The next lecture is on Tuesday, 15th November when John Gooder of AOC will be talking on the Cramond Campus Excavations.

Excavation at Castlehill, Penicuik

Little to add to what was reported in the last Newsletter, which was published at the end of the dig season.  On 3rd August we showed the site and the finds to Dr Stephen Carter.  He confirmed that the finds looked Iron Age and that the apparently defensive bank and ditch at the SW end would give credence to a promontory fort.  With regard to the surrounding stone ‘revetment’, he suggested we try to find estate records other than that of Ainslie in 1795.  Perhaps the stone revetment was round the trees on Castlehill Plantation and thus post dates the Iron Age finds by 1700 years.
Having resistance surveyed two further 20 by 20m squares on the slope of the hill towards Cornton earlier this year, all that was found was an angled low resistance line that appears to be a robbed out wall shown on the O.S. map and the Ainslie plan.  The Ainslie plan however shows the circle, assumed to be the castle, touching or slightly intersecting the angled wall line.  This puts the ‘castle’ circle edge well down the slope in a distinctly non-defensive position.  Is this a pointer to the stone circle and the castle being unrelated?  Having said that, the south side of the stone revetment, which is on the edge of Trench 2, seems to form a context on the same level as the two paved areas and the two Iron Age finds.
In addition to the sectioning of the bank and ditch in the 2006 season we have to try and clarify our interpretation of the site – not easy!

Autumn Geophysical Programme

This got off to a flying start with a session in late August in the grounds of Cramond Tower followed on 3rd- 4th September by the survey on the north side of Cramond Kirk which covered the north wall and gate of the Roman fort.  A start has now been made on the area to the north of Lauriston Castle grounds – a big area – definitely ongoing for a while.
a) Cramond Tower
Three 20 by 20m squares, somewhat restricted by trees and dense shrubbery, were laid out and surveyed starting at the fence where the Tower grounds abut the parkland to the east of Cramond House that we surveyed last year.  A low resistance was found that entered the Tower grounds roughly on the alignment that we found low resistance along the line of the old raised beach.  Over the 60m of measurement the low resistance curved round and became distinctly lower where it met the damp area of the pond.  On the basis that the pond is a confirmed Roman ditch, it does not seem unreasonable to project this back east along the raised beach and suggest that the Roman vicus extended some 150m east of Cramond House and was protected by a ditch along its northern side, using the slope on the edge of the raised beach as a natural defence.
b) Kirk Cramond
This survey, our ‘open’ event in Scottish Archaeology Month, covered four 20 by 20m squares and required more than one day in advance of the survey to clear the ground of weeds.  The ground had been much disturbed, firstly at the time that Old St. was closed and the village cottages were razed, and then by trenches dug by the Raes and our own trenches A & B.  It was thus not surprising that no trace was found of the north facing fort wall.  It was hoped that some remnants would give a high resistance line but nothing showed up on the printout.  The drainage ditch on the west side of the road that went out through the north gate still exists in part and a high resistance line extending to the north suggests it carries on for some distance.  There are a number of high resistance areas but they have no recognizable shapes and can only be assumed to be demolition debris.
c) Lauriston
The first five 20 by 20m squares were ground resistance surveyed on 8th October starting with a line of three squares adjacent to the north wall of Lauriston Castle and then starting to step down the field northwards.  A number of aerial photographs are held by RCAHMS and although most only appear to show the effects of recent agriculture, one does show two circular crop marks that are not easily explained by harvesting.  These lie on a line just over 40m from the road and it is estimated that only when we survey square number 15 will we intersect the first of them.  A lot of work still to do.  The first printout is not available yet and we have no confirmation from Edinburgh University whether or not they will be able to magnetometry and linear array resistive measurements over the field – we live in hope.

Saracen’s Woundwort

Visitors to the Roman Bath area at Cramond can’t fail to notice the tall wild herb, Saracen’s Woundwort, growing around the site.
Culpeper’s Herbal has the following to say about it:
‘Saturn owns this herb, and it is of a sober condition, like him.  Among the Germans this herb is preferred before all others of the same quality.  Being boiled in wine and drunk it helps the indisposition of the liver, and freeth the gall from obstructions, whereby it is good for the yellow jaundice and the dropsy, for all inward ulcers, and inward wounds and bruises, likewise for such sores as happen in the privy parts of men and women.’
The herb has the alternative names of ‘Senecio Saracenicus’, ‘Saracen’s Consound’, ‘Senecio fluviatilis’ and ‘Great Broad-leaved Ragwort’.
So why, in Cramond, does it only seem to grow in this restricted area?  Why is it also found near Penrith, Chester and Rochdale?  These are Roman sites.  Does it also flourish near other Roman forts?  And why?
If it is only found where modern excavation has taken place are we looking at a herb growing from seeds that have lain dormant for 1800 years or so, and only now, exposed to light, flourishing
again?  In short, did the Romans introduce this herb to Britain for medicinal purposes?  I would be interested to hear if anyone has any further knowledge of this plant, its origins, and its herbal value, though I would strongly advise against using Culpeper’s recipe without taking professional advice first!