2005 fieldwork Season
We began by removing the turf by hand - using the cut turves to build a fealie (or turf) house which shelters us from the wind during tea breaks! Then began the task of removing up to two metres of windblown sand that covered the site; luckily, a JCB did the job for us and sloped the sides of the trench to make them safe.
We covered the sides with green debris netting and sandbags to stop the loose sand from slipping down into the trench. Then we began trowelling away the the remnants of the windblown sand onto the first archaeological deposit -- a layer of brown sand that partly sealed the eroding building. It contained lots of pot sherds, animal bone, limpet shells and some little rings carved from antler; so even after the building went out of use, people living nearby were dumping rubbish on top of it.
This week's biggest surprise was finding the bones of a human foot and lower leg, running off into the west edge of the trench! We've extended the trench on that side to fully expose the skeleton. The grave is cut through the windblown sand that sealed the building, so it appears to have been dug after it was abandoned. The next step will be to reveal the skeleton, record it and excavate it.
While some of the team began to make measured plan drawings of the exposed stonework and deposits on the mound, the rest shovelled tons of sand away to the west, extending the trench to see if there were any more burials here. None were found, so our skeleton appears to be on its own -- unless there are more burials under the turf farther inland. A gale was forecast for Monday and the excavation staff started work in the morning, but after a few hours we had to give up; the Force 10-11 winds made it too dangerous to continue. Instead, the team went to Haroldswick to look at the excellent Unst Heritage Centre and Unst Boat Haven, while the seas around the island were whipped white by the wind.
Back on site in the following days, we've been removing tumbled stone and the midden-rich sand that formed after the building's abandonment, revealing more and more of the structure in the process. At the centre is a little oval cell, with lumps of bog iron heaped inside one end of it; perhaps it was used to store the raw ore before it was smelted into iron. This might have happened quite late in the sequence, though, because the walls seem to keep going down! To the north and south, more big stone walls are appearing. These seem to define other little cells or rooms, so we seem to have quite a complex building. We hope to be able to see it fully exposed by the beginning of next week.