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Week Three (15th – 21st June)

Excavation site diary

Week 3 began with a busy Open Day on Sunday. Despite the blustery weather, many people visited, coming from Bressay and further afield. There was much discussion about how burnt mounds may have been used and great interest in why some Shetland examples are so much more elaborate than those found elsewhere. Many people said that they would be curious to see 'hot stone technology' in action- boding well for the reconstruction and activities planned for the future.

Visitors to the Open Day

Visitors to the Open Day

During the week, the archaeologists continued to excavate the mound with the help of local volunteers Catherine, Vicki, Barbara and Zoe. The work confirmed suspicions that at least one pit has been cut into the top of the mound. This seemed to have occurred long after the burnt mound had gone out of use. It is possible that the pit served as a “tattie store”, and during a survey on West Burra, EASE archaeologists had found another burnt mound which had been specially adapted for storing potatoes. This is not as improbable as it might seem. The mound, comprising mainly of burnt stone, would provide a dry and probably frost-free environment. There may well be other uses to which abandoned burnt mounds have been put, and it is certainly recorded that many were quarried away to provide hardcore for roads.

Excavation through the mound, with the pit on the left hand side of the section

Excavation through the mound, with the pit on the left hand side of the section

A new excavation trench was also begun, placed to cut through one side of the mound down to the old ground surface below. This was intended to provide useful information about the formation of the mound and about the nature of the land surface upon which it was built. It is suspected that this was a boggy area, even in the Bronze Age, but there was simply not the time, nor the resources, to investigate these questions during the original excavation. Digging the trench was started by hand, with Tessa and Amanda doing the hard labour!

The building itself has two passageways. The main one leads inland and at a right angle to the coast edge. At the beach end of this corridor is the tank; at the other end, the hearth cell. Just before reaching the hearth, a second passageway branches off to the right (south). At the end of this second passage are three small cells, and in plan, the passage and rooms look like the stem and leaves of a clover.

Jakob worked within the main passageway and excavated within the hearth cell. He uncovered several layers of paving; as suspected, the floor in this area had to be replaced on numerous occasions due to the damage inflicted by high temperatures. The removal of paving from the passageway in front of the hearth revealed part of a stone-lined drain. This is a very interesting discovery as the drain had not been seen before.

The other, clover-shaped, passageway had been photographed and numbered by Rick last week, and the stonework was now ready to move.

Passageway before dismantling

Reconstruction site diary

The first phase of dismantling the structures took place at the beginning of the week. A large group of local volunteers assembled on site, together with tractors and trailers, ready for the task of moving the stones.

Tractors and trailers

The walls were constructed of several huge boulders, with short stretches of dry-stone walling between them. The first job was to dismantle the smaller walls, and many local volunteers helped to form a crocodile, passing stones from the site up to masonry bags lying on the trailers. Placing the stones in bags helped to keep the elements of each segment of wall together.

The volunteers had soon filled the bags, and next it was the turn of the larger orthostats. These were trussed up with straps and hoisted out of the trench by local farmer David Manson using a mechanical arm attachment to his tractor.

Removing stones from the site

Douglas and Maurice preparing stones for removal from the site

Once the trailers were full, they were drawn by a convoy of tractors to the reconstruction area. Maurice and David were helped by Douglas Coutts, Bernard Redman and Tom to unload the stones at the plot of land next to the newly dug hole. They placed the stones carefully in different locations, keeping masonry from the various segments of walling together, and ensuring that the labels were facing upwards so that they could be easily located once the reconstruction began.

Stones placed at the reconstrction site


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