Issue 157

Newsletter – Issue 157, March 2006

Visit to Mavisbank House

We have made arrangements for a visit to Mavisbank House at 2.30pm on Wednesday, 26th April. Designed for Sir John Clerk by William Adam and built between 1723 and 1727, it was the first Palladian house to be erected in Scotland. In 1973 the interior was destroyed by fire. Such was the historic and architectural importance of the house that the Mavisbank Trust was set up to implement its restoration.

We shall be meeting at the side of the A768 Loanhead to Lasswade road next to Loanhead Farm at the west end of Loanhead. Since the Mavisbank Trust have gone to considerable trouble to organise the visit, I should be grateful if as many folk as possible could turn up.

Lectures

Two more lectures before the Summer break. Wednesday, 19th April – Jim Wilson on British History – the Genetic Picture. Tuesday, 16th May – Mhairi Hastie on Soil Samples.

Castlehill, Penicuik

To date only two visits have been made to the site due to poor weather. The blue tarpaulins covering the trenches were intact and there has been no disturbance to the contexts although a large number of autumn leaves had to be cleared before work proper restarted. The plan is to excavate in four areas but this is going to depend on the amount of labour available – it is hoped to have a weekday dig as well as the Sunday one.

Trench 1 contains what appears to be a hearth but it has not produced any dateable finds. About 4m from the SW end of the trench there is a marked change in the ground slope that may represent the edge of a habitation area – it seems worthwhile extending the trench to see what underlies this step.

Trench 2 has produced two Late Iron Age stone tools and has two paved areas (possibly a hearth and a threshold). This apparent habitation may extend to the NE towards the end of the promontory. To explore this, a new trench (5) has been started on the NE side of Trench 2.

Trench 3 was started last season as a section across the inner bank at the SW end of the site at a point where two parallel low resistance lines, that run the length of the promontory from the ‘castle’, lead to a low resistance area of the bank which may represent an exit from the fort. A lot of work is required as the section will ultimately be 1.5m high.

Trench 6 will be to the N of Trench 1 in an area that showed a significant high resistance in our survey. This must be checked out but, at the moment, it is not top of the priority list.

Maiden Castle

Some time ago EAFS received an email from the Esk Valley Trust, which has purchased Ewan Wood near Loanhead on the north bank of the River Esk. The wood is on a peninsula bordered by a loop in the North Esk. An interesting feature is that at the north end there are two large ramparts on either side of a ditch. There is little information on these but it is likely that they form part of an Iron Age promontory fort.

Given the amount of work still required at Penicuik we are unlikely to take on further work on geophysics or excavation in the near future. An initial problem however is that the ramparts and ditch are buried under a dense layer of vegetation. Removal of this would make it much easier to make plans for the future.

Dalmeny

In 1997 and 1999 we field walked over forty 20 by 20m squares in the field to the west of the Ferryman’s Cottage. The finds varied from comparatively recent pottery, the result of 19th and 20th century midden spreads, to a section of shale bracelet, an odd bit of amphora and lithics. The lithics were recognised as similar to our finds from the Cramond dig in trenches F and G and thus of Mesolithic date.

We have been attempting to get back onto the field having been given outline permission to dig some test pits in the area where most surface finds were picked up. The project was to be set up with the University of Edinburgh Department of Archaeology as they have expertise in Neolithic, which we don’t. Over the intervening years, crop rotation has left no adequate gap between harvesting, ploughing and resowing except for the year when the outbreak of foot and mouth disease precluded us from going onto the field. This year there will be a period of between two and three weeks around the end of August and the beginning of September when we will have access to the field and plans are being made for the joint dig to take place.

The initial task will be to relayout the 20 by 20m grid that was the basis of our field walking and relocate the square of highest lithic finds. It appears that this square, on the rising ground above the River Almond, is at about the same height above sea level as the find site on the old raised beach level of the trench F and G lithics. If the two sites are the same height are they contemporary? It would be a real achievement to find some dating evidence that puts Dalmeny in the same 10,000 year old category as the carbonised hazel nut shells did for Cramond.

Luggate

Last year we were asked if we would make a ground resistance survey over a possible chapel and deserted village site at Luggate in East Lothian. Due to our commitment to the excavation at Penicuik this was seen as an activity for the second half of the year. A range of projects in the latter part of the year have been suggested – surveys are also required at Cousland, at a site known as the ‘Nunnery’, and at Gorebridge, beside the Gore Water, where there were gunpowder mills. Depending on the outcome of the surveys, excavation could follow. Two, at least, of the sites appear to be on the large side so there is activity here to keep us busy for a while, not just the one week in September.

Kittochside

The Society has been asked if it would be interested in conducting a geophysical survey at The Museum of Scottish Country Life, Wester Kittochside. The EAFS committee has agreed to consider this offer, but, in view of the fact that we have, potentially, a full programme up to July (Penicuik), followed by, perhaps, Dalmeny and Luggate (see above), it does not appear, at the moment, that this could be fitted in before September. One thought would be to conduct the survey at Kittochside during September as part of Scottish Archaeology Month, but even this could make September a very busy month. Watch this space!

Shorewatch

There are no plans at present to conduct a further search of the shoreline between South Queensferry and Bo’ness for archaeological features. Further discussion between the Society and Tom Dawson of SCAPE is required before a programme is decided. Meantime, two articles in Scottish Archaeological News relating to Shorewatch are worth reading – SAN, Issue 49, Winter 2005 “A Credit to Archaeology” by Robin Turner, and SAN, Issue 50, Spring 2006, “Responding to Coastal Erosion” by Ronan Toolis.

Ground Resistance Survey at Lauriston

This survey has now been completed, written up and reports despatched by the end of March as required by Historic Scotland. The final session on the site included a survey over some resistance anomalies using a metal detector that also responds to changes in the magnetic susceptibility of the soil. A number of responses were detected but it is not possible to say whether these were due to local changes in soil susceptibility or metallic debris in the field. Being adjacent to the road there is a mixture of rubbish in the field including cans and ring-pulls and these have been trodden into the soil by grazing cattle. We are probably more likely to have detected buried ring-pulls than to have found genuine variations in magnetic susceptibility. Excavation was specifically excluded from our remit so the real cause remains unresolved. A return to the site for further survey will depend on the availability of equipment that would give readings that complement those taken with our ground resistance equipment.

25th March 2006

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