Issue 156

Newsletter – Issue 156, January 2006

The National Museum of Scotland – Prehistory and Early History

The lower floors of the National Museum of Scotland are packed with material relating to the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, the Bronze and Iron Ages and occupation of Scotland by the Picts, Scots and Norse. Through the good offices of Dave Jones we have obtained the services of Mr Crammond to take us round the more interesting items and explain their relevance to us. Mr R D Crammond, CBE, has a great deal of experience as a museum guide and was also a member of the team who planned and set up the museum’s exhibits. This means that we are guaranteed an interesting visit. It is planned to meet at the two fish ponds in the main concourse of the Royal Museum of Scotland at 2.00pm on Thursday, 16th February 2006.

Lectures

Having just heard about military surgery from Professor Kaufman, our lecture programme continues on Wednesday, 15th February with George Mudie on Wester Dalmeny and then on Tuesday, 21st March with Professor David Breeze on The Antonine Wall, A World Heritage Site. Members will notice that the January and March lectures had to be switched.

2006 Society Activities

As they say ‘many a slip …………’, but 2006 looks like being a very busy year. At the Committee meeting this week the number of possible archaeological activities discussed for 2006 was the highest since I have been a member of the Committee – let’s hope they all go ahead.

2005 Retrospection

The past year has seen a number of survey reports published that cast new light on sites of very different ages and their likely remains.
The Corstorphine survey showed clearly the 19th century cottages to the south of the church but, more importantly, indicated high resistance that was earlier in date and could relate to buildings around the 1429 Collegiate church of Sir John Forrester. The survey adjacent to the Dower House showed remains that cannot be reconciled with any O.S. map and probably are buildings that were part of the additions made by the Edinburgh lawyer, Samuel Mitchelson around 1765.
In Dalmeny there are a number of high and low resistance lines, parallel and at right angles to the present road at the western end of the village. This would seem to confirm that there was at least a row of cottages on the other side of the road from the medieval Wester Dalmeny Farm excavated by CFA Archaeology Ltd in 2002 (see February lecture above).

The survey that has the greatest potential for future work was made to the east of Cramond House. The low resistance, measured with our TR/CIA area equipment, along the edge of the raised beach was confirmed to look, in section, very like the Roman fort ditch surveyed some years ago beside the Cramond Estate north walled garden. Edinburgh University made three linear array measurements spaced 5m apart over the edge of the raised beach and all sections looked remarkably similar. This “low” along the raised beach was traced westwards curving through the grounds of Cramond Tower and linking to the pond, which has been shown by Nicholas Holmes’ excavation in 1981 (Site VII) to be a Roman ditch. This looks convincing evidence for the whole ditch to be Roman stretching over 170m east from the ditch alongside the fort, then curving south at the point where the geological map shows the raised beach turning. This turn to the south takes it in the direction of, and roughly collinear with, the Roman ditches found by AOC on the Moray House College site. This area to the east of Cramond House shows some apparently Roman features but confusingly overlain by the parterre garden of the 1680 house. The northwest vicus area of the Roman fort is large and very little is known about it – yet!

Ground Resistance Survey at Lauriston

The survey that we have conducted so far extends 60m east from Cramond Road South and north for 160m from the wall of Lauriston Castle grounds. The area covered, entailing 9600 readings, is expected to have covered the position of the possible Roman cemetery, postulated by Collard and Hunter (PSAS Volume 130). The survey has been made with our TR/CIA area resistance measuring equipment which indicates ground resistance to a depth of about 0.75m. At Cramond in late 2004, with the cooperation of the University of Edinburgh Dept of Geosciences using their resistive linear array equipment, we were able to demonstrate that, where our equipment showed a linear low resistance, the linear array clearly showed a ditch in section. Beside the road at Lauriston we have detected some clear linear low resistances but a question mark currently hangs over what they might look like in section as the earliest that the Dept of Geosciences will be able to help us this year is September or October. The resistive printout also shows some circular high resistance spots surrounded by annulate low resistances. Fraser Hunter has commented that these are “interesting features” but is not prepared to speculate further. In the absence of a linear array or magnetometry survey we are limited in what we can presently do; a survey over the high resistance spots to see whether there is a change in the magnetic susceptibility could be useful but this equipment only detects to shallow depths. This has both pros and cons; if cremation burials are present they may be too deep to be detected, but on the other hand, although the field is now in pasture, aerial photographs show it under cultivation and thus ploughing could have brought higher susceptibility soils from lower levels up to where they can be detected – we will try! It would be encouraging to think that the high spots with low resistance round them and possibly other, quite contrasting but less well defined in shape, features had something to do with the “sepulchre” that John Wood refers to as being on the site on his 1790 book on Cramond. The report of our survey of this site must be with Historic Scotland, as supporters of the project, by March 2006, but we will be able to draw fewer conclusions than we would have hoped. If we can return to Lauriston with Edinburgh University to make linear array surveys later in 2006 an addendum to the March report will need to be published with comment on what the features look like in depth.

Castlehill, Penicuik

The survey that we have conducted so far extends 60m east from Cramond Road South and north for 160m from the wall of Lauriston Castle grounds. The area covered, entailing 9600 readings, is expected to have covered the position of the possible Roman cemetery, postulated by Collard and Hunter (PSAS Volume 130). The survey has been made with our TR/CIA area resistance measuring equipment which indicates ground resistance to a depth of about 0.75m.
At Cramond in late 2004, with the cooperation of the University of Edinburgh Dept of Geosciences using their resistive linear array equipment, we were able to demonstrate that, where our equipment showed a linear low resistance, the linear array clearly showed a ditch in section. Beside the road at Lauriston we have detected some clear linear low resistances but a question mark currently hangs over what they might look like in section as the earliest that the Dept of Geosciences will be able to help us this year is September or October. The resistive printout also shows some circular high resistance spots surrounded by annulate low resistances. Fraser Hunter has commented that these are “interesting features” but is not prepared to speculate further. In the absence of a linear array or magnetometry survey we are limited in what we can presently do; a survey over the high resistance spots to see whether there is a change in the magnetic susceptibility could be useful but this equipment only detects to shallow depths. This has both pros and cons; if cremation burials are present they may be too deep to be detected, but on the other hand, although the field is now in pasture, aerial photographs show it under cultivation and thus ploughing could have brought higher susceptibility soils from lower levels up to where they can be detected – we will try!
It would be encouraging to think that the high spots with low resistance round them and possibly other, quite contrasting but less well defined in shape, features had something to do with the “sepulchre” that John Wood refers to as being on the site on his 1790 book on Cramond.
The report of our survey of this site must be with Historic Scotland, as supporters of the project, by March 2006, but we will be able to draw fewer conclusions than we would have hoped. If we can return to Lauriston with Edinburgh University to make linear array surveys later in 2006 an addendum to the March report will need to be published with comment on what the features look like in depth.

Saracen’s Woundwort

The article in October’s Newsletter on Saracen’s Woundwort has aroused some interest from members. Below are two of the responses –
1)
I was intrigued by Irene Smith’s speculation about any link between the presence of Saracen’s Woundwort and the excavation of Roman sites, but believe that it has no foundation. The web tells me that Senecio fluviatilis was introduced in the 16th century, probably from Germany or the Netherlands. It favours damp places, which probably explains why it grows where it does at Cramond. It is uncommon in Britain, but a map of its distribution shows it to be quite widespread, with no correlation to Roman sites. For example, it is found in Ireland, Shetland and the Isle of Man, areas not noted for Roman occupation.
2)
This tall plant growing at Cramond was first investigated by an EAFS member some years ago. I was surprised by the common name, Saracen’s Woundwort, given to it: this name does not appear in my botany books where the “boring” ‘Broad-leaved Ragwort’ is given. I was not asked to find out about the plant, and being habitually unsure of my abilities kept quiet.
The latinised name Senecio fluviatilis is the one considered correct in my main flora. There are rules in botanical nomenclature for which name is “correct” if a plant has several; other names can be useful if old books are referred to. The plant is described as “introduced”. Habitats are: stream-sides, fens and fen woods (it is classified as a marsh plant); found northwards to Ross, and widely in Europe. A more recent flora says “north to Central Scotland, formerly more common”.
I saw it on a botanical excursion many years ago along the edge of the River Isla, north of Perth, near the Meikleour Beech Hedge. I have looked it up on a map and find that the river to the east of the Bridge of Isla (NO163382 approx.) appears straighter than I remember, and I do not know how far we went. My map says Roman Signal Station just to the north-east: but perhaps more significant, if a Roman connection is suspected, is that to the west is the Inchtuthil Roman Fortress.
The most northerly “dot” in the 1962 plant atlas appears to be inland of Arbroath – that is no further north than the site I saw. There are no “dots” anywhere near as far north as Easter or Wester Ross.
In mid November I went into the library at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, where a librarian was very helpful. Several modern books on medicinal plants mention other Senecio species, and several older books were more limited in scope (besides being arranged in different ways and having no index or contents lists). The first one to prove useful was a translation of a German book, Herbal Drugs & Phytopharmaceuticals, originally by Max Wichtl, translated and edited by N.G. Bisset, published in 1994. Here, under the heading Senecionis herba, was a description of Senecio nemorensis L. subsp. fuchsii. Early in the text was this: ‘There are other (European) species known in Germany as Kreuzkraut and they are used in the same way. During the Middle Ages, they usually bore the collective name “Herba Consolidae Sarraceniacea”.’ There followed the names of several species, including groundsel, with their latinised, French and German names.
The main text related to the named subspecies, which was described as being native in foothills up to alpine regions of Central Europe as far as the Caucasus. The drug comes from the cultivated plants in Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and partly from the wild. The active ingredients are unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids and other chemicals. A liquid extract is haemostyptic, used for gynaecological problems and in hypertrophic gingivitis. In folk medicine, Senecio species are used in menstrual disorders, and against worms and colic.
So whatever use one might think the Romans had for Senecio fluviatilis, it is too risky to try!
Other references I found are as follows:
Flora Scotica W J Hooker 1821. Senecio saracenicus (broad-leaved Groundsel) 3-5ft high, moist meadows and pastures, rare. In a small island on the Clyde a little below Bothwell Bridge. Border of a field near Mugdoch Castle, Glasgow. Bank of Eningtur, a stream flowing into the Don. Between Castle Douglas and New Galloway.
Indigenous Plants of Lanarkshire Rev William Patrick 1831. Broad-leaved Groundsel. Senecio saracenicus. In an ait in the Clyde, a little below Bothwell Bridge, and on the Clyde below Hamilton Bridge.
I realized after returning home that I had not attempted to answer my question “How do they know it is introduced?” I suspect the answer to that may be different for each plant one enquires about. For something thought to have been introduced a long time ago, with each author quoting an earlier one, it could be difficult to satisfy oneself, so perhaps we will just have to believe the books. A French flora published in 1903 by L’abbe H Coste lists its French areas as Lorraine, Meurthe-et-Mosell, Vosges, and its wider distribution as Prusse, Allemagne, Autriche, Transylvanie, Russie.
There is more that could be done at the Botanic Garden library. I came away before I remembered there is a more recent distribution atlas than the one I have. On the question of whether Sennecio fluviatilis, Saracen’s Woundwort, is found more on Roman sites than non-Roman ones, the “dots” could be closely examined, though as each covers a sizeable area, this would only give a general idea. It may be possible to ask the body holding the records from which the maps were made. Now that would be a project! I think I’ll ask a botanist or two.
On the question of why this plant grows in only a certain area of Cramond, you need to remember its requirement for a damp site. And I imagine it has fairly substantial underground parts, which would prevent it from growing in shallow soil. There is no need to imagine it existing only as a seed in the soil, exposed by modern excavation; but it might be interesting to correlate sites and excavation dates and test the idea. For my part I could examine the plant more closely in the next growing season, and perhaps provide a drawing and request for information. Those of you who visit Roman sites could report back. How near to a Roman site is relevant, given that the seeds are wind-distributed, and vegetative fragments can get washed downstream.

DATES FOR YOUR DIARY

Wednesday, 15th February. Society lecture – George Mudie on Wester Dalmeny – all our lectures are at 7.30pm at 23a Fettes Row.
Thursday, 16th February. Members’ outing to The National Museum of Scotland – see above.
Friday, 17th – Sunday, 19th March. The Rhind Lectures 2006 – Paul Bahn on Art on the Rocks. All lectures at the Lecture Theatre, Royal Museum, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, admission free. Friday, 17th March at 6.00pm, Saturday, 18th March at 11.00am, 2.00pm and 3.30pm, and Sunday 19th March at 2.00pm and 3.30pm
Tuesday, 23rd March. Society lecture – change from circulated programme – Professor David Breeze on The Antonine Wall. A World Heritage Site.
Tuesday, 23rd March. Anything for inclusion in end-March Newsletter to editor by today.

EDITOR’S MISCELLANY

Hugh Dinwoodie sent me this extract from Alan Bennett’s book “Untold Stories” –
13 February: The few archaeologists I have come across in my life were shy, retiring and mildly eccentric. The archaeologists on television are loud, unprepossessing and extrovert – their loudness and overenthusiasm to be accounted for, I suppose, by the need to inject some immediacy into a process which, if properly undertaken, is slow, painstaking and, more often than not, dull. Sir Mortimer Wheeler started the rot and then there was Glynn Daniel and his bow ties and today it’s Tony Robinson capering around professing huge excitement because of the (entirely predictable) foundations of a Benedictine priory at Coventry. His enthusiasm is anything but infectious and almost reconciles one to the bulldozer.
And there’s always a spurious time limit, thus making it another version of Ground Force, where a transformation has to be wrought in the space of three days. The timetable of the Resurrection would have just suited the programme-makers…….”
To quote Ian Richardson playing the part of a Prime Minister in a TV serial a few years ago – “You may think that, but I could not possibly comment”!

 

27th January 2006

(Views and opinions expressed in this Newsletter are not necessarily those of the Society, its Committee and Members, or the Editor).