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2006 Fieldwork Season

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Week 3:
Mike gives a site tour on the open day. The chopping block or anvil in Structure 2.

Mike gives a site tour on the open day.

The chopping block or anvil in Structure 2.

The week started off with an open day, which brought a record 114 visitors to view the excavations.  Members of the team took turns giving tours and showing visitors some of the artefacts we’ve found. 

It’s looking more and more like Structure 2, the little central cell, was some kind of workshop.  Last year we found a heap of bog iron or industrial waste inside it, along with dumps of ash and midden.  Below all of that was a massive stone block with a flat surface, set onto the yellow clay floor against one side of the cell.  We found several stone tools that had been used as hammers and chopping implements nearby, and it seems likely that the stone was used as a chopping block, anvil or some other working surface.

Neil holding the first of our two painted pebbles. Structure 1 on a sunny day.

Neil holding the first of our two painted pebbles.

Structure 1 on a sunny day.

Neil, while cleaning up the yellow clay floor around the chopping block, made this week’s star find:  a painted pebble!  It is a smooth, white, quartzite stone, its surface marked with little squiqqles and arcs in a reddish-brown pigment, probably applied with a brush.  Only about 30 painted pebbles have ever been found, all of them in Shetland, Orkney, Caithness and the Western Isles.  They are a uniquely late Iron Age/ Pictish kind of art, and they may have been charm stones.  Later in the week, Neil outdid himself by finding yet another painted pebble, this one below the paved floor in Structure 3.

As if the finds on site weren’t exciting enough, our days are regularly punctuated by sightings of an otter that lives a little farther down the beach.  We often see her going back and forth from her burrow to the water to fish and bring back breakfast for her babies.  One day this week, she hopped out of the surf onto a rock at low tide, just opposite our excavation trench, and calmly munched a fish.

Week 4

We’ve only had a couple of days to finish digging and recording this week before we have to close up the site.  Structure 1 is looking particularly beautiful, with its paved floor and the big upright stones set like teeth around the edges that form the wall.  We’ve spent many days carefully excavating a big heap made up of layer after layer of hearth waste – pink, black, orange and dark brown – which also contained many large sherds of pottery.  The likely source of all this burnt sediment and broken pottery lay just to the west, on the other side of an internal wall formed of orthostatic (upright) slabs.  It was a perfect little hearth, built of slabs set flat into a thick deposit of yellow clay.  The clay and the stones were scorched pink from the heat.

At the north end of the trench, we’ve discovered another cell or room that lay to the north of Structure 3, on the other side of a cross-wall.  This room (Structure 4) also had a yellow clay floor, but no paving.  An orthostat at its north end might have marked the doorway into it.

The paved floor of Structure 1, with the hearth set against the upright stone on left. Charlotte excavating in Structure 1, with the dump of hearth waste and pottery in the foreground. Lucy plans inside the newly discovered Structure 4.

The paved floor of Structure 1, with the hearth set against the upright stone on left.

Charlotte excavating in Structure 1, with the dump of hearth waste and pottery in the foreground.

Lucy plans inside the newly discovered Structure 4.

By Wednesday, we had done all that time allowed and it was time to fill the site in.  We had hoped to finish excavating this year, but there is still more to discover here.  The floor levels in Structures 2, 3 and 4 are sitting above layers of rubble, burnt sediment and midden, which indicate an earlier phase of activity on the site – perhaps a collapsed building with associated occupation deposits.

So once again we covered the archaeology with breathable geotextile and protected it with sandbags, before bringing in the JCB to seal it all beneath a thick layer of sand.  We have been dumping spoil and some of last year’s backfill onto the beach, against the eroding face, and have created a berm about four metres wide.  We’re hoping that this, along with the turf and fishing nets we replaced across the top of the site, will protect it during the winter to come, so that we can return for one final season of excavation and discover the remaining secrets of this fantastic site.

The paved floor of Structure 1, with the hearth set against the uPutting the site to bed for another year. The JCB backfills the site.

Putting the site to bed for another year.

The JCB backfills the site.

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