Issue 160

Newsletter – Issue 160, September 2006

Outings

The National Museums of Scotland Conservation Unit at Granton
An outing has been arranged to the conservation unit of the National Museums of Scotland on Tuesday 31st October starting at 2.00pm.
A wide range of fascinating techniques are used in conservation and are essential in preparing artefacts for presentation and preserving them for future generations.  Amongst many other current tasks they are working on preserving a log boat from Carpow and on an 18th century ship found off the west coast of Scotland.
The unit is at Granton on the southern wing of West Granton Road between Granton Square and Crow Road West.  It is on the north side of the road to the west of the Lidl store.  The unit has its name on the gate but this does not stand out well.  Once there, report to security at the entrance and then proceed to the car park.
The staff has gone to considerable trouble to accommodate us so it would be nice if we could have a good turn out.

Lectures

We start again on Wednesday, 18th October but there has had to be a change of speaker.  We now have Tam Ward on ‘‘An Unenclosed Platform Site (Bronze Age) at Fruid Reservoir’. As usual lectures are at 7.30pm at 23a Fettes Row.  In November (Tuesday, 14th) we have Dr Alex Hale of RCAHMS on ‘An Archaeological Survey of the Pentland Hills Training Area and Ranges’.

Library

New additions include Pat Dennison’s ‘Holyrood and Canongate: A Thousand Years of History’.

Castlehill, Penicuik

During the excavations we have taken six separate soil samples and these will soon be sent for analysis with the hope that they will throw some light on the use of the site in Iron Age times.
The lack of finds associated with domestic occupation possibly endorses the comment, made on the two cobble tools found, that the site could have been used for leather or hide preparation.  This is a smelly process that even Iron Age folk would probably be loath to live beside.  One other tool, thought originally to be made of pumice, has been termed ‘unconvincing’ by the experts.  It seems not to be pumice but is similar in texture and may originate from an unusual geological formation near Carlops.  Is it just coincidence that the archaeological reports on leather working sites at Brough of Birsay and the Pictish monastery at Portmahomack state that the excavations have both produced pumice tools or does this tool add to the evidence for leather working at Castlehill?
1. Rescue excavation at the Brough of Birsay 1974-82 J.R.Hunter. Antique Mon 4
2. Excavating a parchmenerie-Pictish monastery at Portmahomack. M.Carver and C.Spall PSAS 134.

Dalmeny Estate Mesolithic Dig

The dig took place within the allotted two weeks in a period of very hot weather that made our earlier thoughts of wet sieving unnecessary as the soil was dry to a depth of 0.5m and, when broken up, was generally the consistency of sand.
Some twenty pits were dug, most within the 20 by 20m square L12 which produced the highest number of lithics during field walking in 1997 and 1999.
Two pits, one well to the west and the other to the south, produced virtually no finds suggesting that the Mesolithic activity was probably limited to the raised ground adjacent to the west bank of the River Almond.  Most pits produced lithic tools similar to those found during field walking and on the final day, in a pit on the north side of L12, carbonised hazelnut shells were found.
The analysis of the lithics and the shells will take some time but at least the project, which started almost a decade ago, has produced positive results.  We will have to await the carbon dating of the hazelnut shells before we know whether the site is a contemporary of that at Cramond at 10K B.P.

Our thanks go to Lord Roseberry and his factor, Mr Jonathan Burrow, for their cooperation and for giving access to the field, and also to Dr Catriona Pickard of the Archaeology Dept of the University of Edinburgh for providing the Mesolithic expertise necessary to supervise the dig.

Ground Resistance Survey at Cousland

On Saturday, 23rd September, we started our first survey in conjunction with David Connolly in East Lothian.  Cousland lies on a minor road junction (NT 377 683) to the east of Dalkeith and the archaeological remains are a matter of some debate.
The record in RCAHMS shows a chapel (remains of) near the road junction, a castle (remains of) a little further to the south, then ‘nunnery quarry’ and finally ‘cist with inhumations’.  The house on the corner of the road appears to be called Chapeldyke and the castle looks rather like the remains of a tower house and this is what David suggests it is (with some unusual design features – Ed.)  There is however a substantial wall, partially collapsed, that runs west from the tower.  As it butts on to the tower the assumption is that it is later in date.  This wall then continues southwards for over 100m and looks more like a wall that could surround a large formal garden than anything else – so no great support for the suggestion of a cloister for the nunnery.  A marked ‘step’ in the field probably indicates that the wall turned to the east at its southern end.  If it was a large garden the question is, where is the associated house
The map held by the British Geological Survey, that shows the drift geology of the area, records ‘Bedrock at or near the surface or beneath artificial deposits’. This is borne out by some sections of the tower wall being built on limestone foundations that rise some 0.5m above field level. The whole area has been worked in the past for limestone (and still is); this, plus comments like ‘artificial deposits’ and ‘worked ground’, do not inspire great confidence that ground resistance survey will find anything other than holes that have been dug in the past – or bedrock where they did not dig.

The dimension of the field between the west wall and the tower to the east is about 60m so three standard squares fitted conveniently along the north wall and these were surveyed followed by three more to the south of these and finally one square further to the south at the west end.
Adjacent to the tower there are high resistance lines parallel and at right angles to its wall which could indicate on extension or outbuilding but there are also high resistance lines forming a square, on a different alignment, about 13m to the west.  Five amorphous areas of high resistance further to the south look suspiciously like bedrock but between them is an angular low resistance that runs to the edge of our survey and thus demands our return to find out precisely what shape it is.

EXCAVATIONS AT CARRIDEN 29th July to 26th August 2006

EAFS members assisted Geoff Bailey initially on the clearance of an overgrown area surrounding a water-driven sawmill (including a culvert which incorporated a reused gravestone), and later in cleaning out the wheel pit…  A large collection of slates from a collapsed roof and various metal tools and other items were recovered. The cast iron frame of the wheel survived, unfortunately not intact, along with the drive gears for the saw, and parts of some of the wooden spokes.
During an excavation to the north of the wheel pit three sides of wall foundations were located together with a small quantity of box flue tiles and opus signinum and part of a shale bracelet.  A SW extension to the trench revealed a ditch which had been filled with some worked stone, rubble and flue tiles.  There was also evidence of burning in the area enclosed by the wall foundations.  The structure, possibly a bathhouse, had been cut by a ditch which appeared to be Roman in character.  Efforts to confirm the line of the wall were initially frustrated by a modern pipe trench, but on the last weekend of the dig part of a collapsed opus signinum floor surface and a small flagstone area were revealed together with a few pieces of samian pottery and part of a bronze brooch.  This new area could possibly align with the “ancient concrete floor” reported when the wheel pit was dug in the 1850’s.
The history would appear to be as follows (with acknowledgement to G. Bailey):
1) The bathhouse was constructed probably in the Flavian period, i.e. late 70’s AD, outside a previously unknown fort that probably occupied the area of the annexe.  The ditch that we found in 2002 may be the west ditch to this fort.
2) The bathhouse and the fort were quickly abandoned upon the Roman withdrawal from Scotland.
3) In the early 140’s AD the Roman army returned and built a new fort to the east of the old one.  The site of the old fort was used for industrial activities and the ruins of the old bathhouse were patched up and used for ironworking.
4) In the 150’s AD a decision was taken to enclose the extramural areas within defended annexes along the Antonine Wall.  This meant reducing the areas involved, the old bathhouse was abandoned and the new annexe ditch dug through it, and the earlier fort ditches were backfilled.
There will be no more work at Carriden this year – other than to put some soil over the walls of the bathhouse to help protect them over winter.  There is a possibility of further work next year, depending on the precise nature of the development of the stable block and this will require further discussion with the owner and the architects.  We have done enough work to show the broad history of the building and its nature – so reburial and protection must be the priority.

Our thanks to Geoff for the invitation to help with this unique opportunity, and to the property owners, Tom and Ann, for their exceptional hospitality.

CRAMOND MANAGEMENT GROUP

As part of the Cramond Management Plan, an archaeological evaluation of the Roman fort, bathhouse and 19th century kennels was undertaken by AOC Archaeology Group during the summer.  The three trenches cut in the fort revealed upstanding barrack walls and features relating to the principia.  The trenches in the bathhouse revealed its excellent condition, with no obvious deterioration having taken place since it was covered in 1976.  In the kennels, the deep stratigraphy revealed a building with evidence of successive floor levels, a possible tanning pit, various walls and midden deposits.
The Plan envisages conversion of the kennels into an interpretation centre.  It is sited between the bathhouse and the fort, both of which would be displayed to the public.   As lottery and other funding will be sought for the project, a Visitor Survey has been launched.

DATES FOR YOUR DIARY

Wednesday, 18th October.  Society lecture – Tam Ward on ‘An Unenclosed Platform Site (Bronze Age) at Fruid Reservoir’.
Tuesday, 31st October.  Outing to National Museums of Scotland Conservation Unit at Granton.  Tuesday, 14th November.  Society lecture – Dr Alex Hale of RCAHMS on ‘An Archaeological Survey of the Pentland Hills Training Area and Ranges’.
Saturday, 18th November.  Edinburgh and East Lothian Archaeology Conference.

Wednesday, 13th December.  AGM followed by EAFS Projects Update and Social Evening.