Issue 170

September 2008

Society Activities

Lectures
Our first lecture of the 2008/09 winter season is on Wednesday, 15th October when we have Helen Bradley on Adopt-a-Monument – 7.30pm at 23a Fettes Row.

Excavations at Cramond Roman Fort

Excavations are now well under way at Cramond under the direction of Martin Cook of AOC Archaeology. These have been very well supported by EAFS members throughout. After removal of the marker setts and gravel, and initial machining to remove the overburden, re-excavation and cleaning of A & V Rae’s trenches of Room B and part of Room A has proceeded well. In Room B (nearer the church) it was found that the Rae’s had excavated to well below Roman floor levels but the surprise here was the discovery of a small quantity of lithics, including flint and chert blades and cores. Roman finds were sparse except from the adjacent Via Principalis, where some pottery was recovered, and the W end where a stamped mortarium handle and a small bronze scent urn were found. There was also part of a bread oven in this area. The tank in the floor of the W doorway was re-excavated.
The areas of Room A excavated had not been dug to similar levels, resulting in the recovery of significant quantities of Roman material, including stamped samian ware. A further stone-lined box was found set into the floor and its contents have been sampled. A series of small hearths, one with a small scrap of lead, were also found. A major find was an iron knife blade.
Part of the East Granary was machine excavated with no trace of Roman structures, although a large amount of disarticulated human bone came to light, indicating a possible medieval or earlier burial site. Excavation is ongoing and has revealed a possible stone-flagged floor. Some remains of Cramond House stables comprising stalls and a cobbled surface were also uncovered.
The excavation is now in its final phase and will continue until Sunday, 28th September. Following completion of the excavation there will be large quantities of finds to be processed. It is intended that finds washing will be carried out at the Maltings, Riverside, Cramond at times to be arranged.

Penicuik

As reported in the last Newsletter the dig season is now completed but there are three related items that are worth recording.
Firstly we now have the result of the C14 dating of the charcoal that was in the lens of the dark sandy material overlying the hearth in Trench 2. The radiocarbon age is quoted as ‘BP’ where ‘before present’ is defined as prior to 1950. The date given by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre is 2150±30; the error figure is at a confidence level of one sigma. Using the Oxford Radiocarbon calibration programme, which has some peculiar peaks in the Iron Age, gives a wider spread of dates with the two main peaks at about 350 and 200 B.C.
Fraser Hunter suggested that the stone tools found close by were late Iron Age; we await his comments on whether the site might span 400 years or whether the tools might be earlier.
Secondly, a soil sample taken from beside the Trench 2 hearth at the end of the season is now being wet sieved, courtesy of AOC. This sample was dark/sandy and could contain charcoal and burnt bone. We await the sieving report and must then decide what action is required.

Ogilface Castle

We did not expect to return to Ogilface but the report that the dig, by Armadale Academy, some years ago, had uncovered steps leading downwards had left us wondering whether they had been detected in the resistance survey. The area survey we carried out would not indicate that a particular patch of raised resistance headed down. With the cooperation of Dr Peter Morris using his resistive linear array, that does indicate depth, a transect was made across the middle of the ‘tower’ outline shown in the area resistive survey. The printout of the section showed a high resistance angled downwards but apparently going nowhere.
A possible interpretation is that the high resistance square detected in the area survey is the outline of a tower house that had a semi-basement room into which the steps led. Cramond Tower is virtually the same dimensions as the high resistance square at Ogilface and had a semi-basement room 5 feet below ground level with stone steps leading down into it. Was there a standard design for Scottish tower houses?

Acrehead

The ground resistance survey over the abandoned farm, scheduled for 9th August, was rained off but took place the following day. The two printouts of the surveys over the same area but with different probe spacings (0.5 and 1.0m) differ and could indicate by their deeper foundations which parts formed the older part of the building. We hope the survey will add useful information to the Scottish Rural Past project.

Dalmeny

The field to the west of the River Almond has now been cleared of its crop and Dr Catriona Pickard is in contact with the estate factor to arrange access. No date for the start of the Mesolithic dig has yet been agreed, but it will be soon.

CARRIDEN BATHHOUSE 2008 (from Geoff Bailey)

Excavation in late July, before the worst of our summer weather began, clarified our discoveries of two years ago. Gone is the mysterious defensive ditch that sliced through the Roman bathhouse – it’s simply a latrine drain now. I say simply, but this is quite a find (really!), for no other bathhouse in Scotland has such a large shit channel. If you take a look at Bearsden or Bar Hill, both of which are on display to the public, you’ll see that they have rather small drains. Carriden is more reminiscent of that on show at Housesteads. Unfortunately in our case the stone lining was robbed out in the 12th century (accounting for our previous mistake with its late date). So, does this tell us something of the size of the unit based at Carriden? Or was it a cultural thing? Well, maybe a bit of both – but more likely it was simply a result of its location adjacent to an ample supply of water and a ravine to take away the waste (raw sewage) – no bathing on the beach!
The latrine had a paved stone floor made of thick slabs of smooth yellow coloured sandstone – beautiful to trowel. This was necessary to make it easy to clean the area – all that smelly stuff that missed its prime target! A post-hole adjacent to the latrine drain contained a small pot with quite a thick base. This is an unusual vessel and can best be identified as a piss pot – the heavy base reducing the chance of it falling over in use. One of the well-dressed walls had collapsed over the floor after the roof had fallen in. The roof was made of another type of sandstone – one that was easy to cleave into thin slabs.
The adjacent room had a hypocaust with the stubs of two monolithic supports still in place. A large offset on the south wall also provided support for the raised flagstone floor – sadly also robbed out in the 12th century, probably for the construction of a parish church. Large lumps of the opus signinum floor that would have covered these flags were found, as were large quantities of ceramic box flue tiles. These again hint at the quality of the original building. The tiles have two basic designs for their keying marks – a curving S-shape and an X. Such designs usually act as the signatures of their makers and I think we can confidently say that there were two principal artisans at work here. One of the brick/tile fragments made for the flue had an animal print on it – and is currently being looked at for us by the staff at Edinburgh Zoo.
Much to our surprise and delight the stone structures of the bathhouse survived to at least five courses of masonry within the courtyard of the 1818 stable block. These show that the building had a stone element some 26m long. Poorer quality foundations east of this suggest a timber extension for a dressing/exercise room such as appears at Bearsden (to which this is comparable in size).
However, the real sign of the quality of our structure was the unexpected find of a voussoir of the type previously discovered two miles to the west at Bridgeness. This type of roof vaulting stone was used in conjunction with tiles to form hot air channels in the ceiling! Only four are known from Scotland (one from Bridgeness and two lost ones at Melrose).
The best part of the dig was undoubtedly the company and I would like to take this opportunity once again to thank EAFS members for all their hard work. Without you this would not have happened.

SCOTLAND’S RURAL PAST – PENTLAND HILLS SURVEY GROUP

A small group of volunteers (including members of Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society) is undertaking a survey project in association with Scotland’s Rural Past (SRP), www.scotlandsruralpast.org.uk and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). The aim is to record the wide variety of ruined farmhouses and other structures found throughout the Pentland Hills and, with the aid of documentary evidence, to try and identify the families who lived and worked in these buildings, and to recreate a picture of the historical and social landscape of the Pentland Hills in the 18th and 19th centuries. So far surveys have been carried out at Bavelaw Estate, at Threipmuir, a farmhouse built by Sir Charles Scott in 1773/4 with its horse driven threshing machine, at Craigentarrie, an early farm with records dated back to 1618 but probably rebuilt in the 18th century, at Capelaw, a farmhouse perhaps dating back to 1709 when the common lands were divided, and at Kirkton Cottage, built in the 1850’s for last occupants of Capelaw farm. A small exhibition of the work done so far was on display at Harlaw House Rangers Centre throughout September as part of Scottish Archaeology Month. We are extremely grateful to the landowners and farmers for granting us access to their sites and also to the Pentland rangers and the RCAHMS and SRP staff for all their support and training.

Editor:
Brian Tait,
E-mail: brikath16@hotmail.com.
(Views and opinions expressed in this Newsletter are not necessarily those of the Society, its Committee and Members, or the Editor).