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Week Four (22nd – 28th June)

Excavation site diary

The removal of walling and paving from inside the structure last week allowed the drain to be fully exposed. It was found to have stone sides along its full length and was probably originally covered with capstones, although few of these survived in position. It was filled with a peaty soil and samples were collected as it is possible that waterlogged plant material or bone might survive.

The drain after excavation

The drain after excavation

On the surface of the mound, volunteers Catherine, Vicki, Moira Smith and Rab Miller carefully exposed the uppermost deposits of burnt stone. These comprised of fist-sized and larger fragments of burnt sandstone which were probably originally collected from the beach. The stone was very crumbly as a result of having been heated up and subsequently quenched. The sandstone used at Cruester would have broken up after being used just a few times. At some other burnt mound sites, harder stones were used which would have survived intact longer and could have been reused on many occasions. The type of stone used has a bearing on the size of the resultant mound, as the quantity of debris produced when using a soft stone such as sandstone would be far greater than when using a harder stone. A larger mound wasn’t necessarily used more often than a smaller one.

Testing how many times the local stone could be used is one of the goals of the experiments that will be conducted at the reconstruction site.

On Friday, the team had some extra help with the excavation when a group of pupils from Bressay Primary School, accompanied by staff, visited and stayed to trowel despite the wet weather!

Bressay Primary School members helping out on site

Bressay Primary School members helping out on site

Several sherds of coarse pottery and some possible quartz implements were recovered. Several large fragments of a flat rimmed pottery vessel were found amongst the burnt stone deposits.

In the trench through the mound, Amanda and Tessa reached the natural deposits underlying the mound. This showed that the mound had built up over peaty soil, which itself had developed over boulder clay. It is likely that this boggy area was specially selected since a water source would have been needed to fill the tank. Placing the tank down into the bog allowed it to naturally fill up with water, which would have seeped in through the joints between the stones. During the excavation in 2000, the team observed this in action and had to empty water out of the tank regularly in order to record how it was constructed.

The tank

The tank

In the interior of the structure, Finn and Jakob excavated further layers of paving in the hearth cell. They located fragments of an earlier hearth setting which appeared to be the earliest version of the hearth found at the site. They also helped to prepare the remaining stonework in readiness for its removal from site.

Reconstruction site diary

Although the first phase of dismantling the site had been a great success, the second and final phase presented some logistical problems. Firstly, some of the orthostats were much larger than those already removed. Secondly, the stonework was buried deeper within the mound, and there was a greater distance from the structure’s edge to some of the walls. Finally, the tank still remained to be removed. It is destined to become the centrepiece of the reconstruction, yet is the most fragile of all the stonework, being constructed out of thin slabs of stone, some of which are cracked.

Two orthostats behind the tank

Stewart Hunter was asked to help with his tracked mechanical digger, as the arm had a longer reach and was more powerful. David Manson and Maurice Anderson were joined by John Scott driving tractors and trailers.

A very large group of helpers assembled on the day of the move, which was fortunately bright and sunny. Work proceeded as before, with the smaller drystone walls being dismantled before the orthostats were strapped up and lifted out. The more fragile slabs were placed directly onto pallets so that they could be driven the mile or so to the reconstruction area by fork-lift.

Removing stones from the site

Moving one of the orthostats

Archaeological site director Graeme Wilson was in attendance throughout to confirm whether areas of walling could be removed and to check for surprises. The only one was finding a second base slab below the ripple-marked bottom of the tank. As this needed to be recorded by the archaeologists, it was left in situ.

Dismantling the tank

It took the entire day to empty the site of stones and transport it to the Heritage Centre, but by the end of the day, the site had been moved safely and sat awaiting reassembly.


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