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2007 Fieldwork Season

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Week 3:

This week we’ve been digging through the deposits that lie underneath Structures 2, 3 and 4.  They’re quite deep – over half a metre in places – and consist of dumps of midden and rubble.  Some of these midden deposits are ashy, the remains of domestic fires; others, especially to the north, are packed with marine shells and animal bone.  We’ve had some exciting finds this week from the midden:  a tiny blue glass bead, and two pieces of worked shale that might have come from bangles. 

We also found another hearth, just at the edge of the eroded section – in fact, erosion had nibbled at its north-eastern edge, but it was mostly intact.  Stones around the edges formed an circular setting that was filled and packed with yellow clay.  The top of the clay was scorched red from the heat.  Around this hearth were thick spreads of salmon-pink, ashy hearth waste that probably built up through its use.  The hearth sat on earlier, trampled deposits of hearth waste that must have accumulated from another, earlier hearth – one already lost to erosion.

Meanwhile, Sheelagh and Labhaoise (aka Lab Sieve) have set up the flotation tank by a nearby burn and begun wet-sieving all the bulk samples from this year.  Jan, Les, Harry, Rowena and Carole all form part of the crack sieving team on different days.

On the Saturday, we held an open day, and over 70 visitors came along to see the archaeology.

Off site, the best news of the week was the reappearance of Olivia’s cat, Sylvie, who ran away on the second day of the dig, leaving a worried owner and a bereaved brother.  She was eventually found tucked up in a barn near the dig accommodation, having had a nice rural holiday.  The people of Unst have been really kind, looking out for her and asking after her, and there was general relief when the wayward moggie turned up.

First sight of the site. A curving iron object found in the midden under Structure 3.

A curving iron object found in the midden under Structure 3.

All hands digging the midden dumps. Sheelagh and her sieving set-up  under inspection.

All hands digging the midden dumps.

Sheelagh and her sieving set-up under inspection.

Jan and Amanda take visitors on  tour. A feisty sea during the open day.

Jan and Amanda take visitors on tour.

A feisty sea during the open day.

Week 4

In our last few days of digging the site, we’ve come down onto yet another cell!  We’ve called it Structure 5; it lies underneath Structures 2, 3 and 4, under about 60 centimetres of midden and rubble.  The hearth and the salmon-pink ashy hearth waste we found last week both lie inside it, over a floor made of thick paving slabs.  A wall standing over a metre high defines the south end of Structure 5, although this is a later insertion, because the paving runs beneath it.  Another wall, much robbed out, curves around to define the cell on the north and west.

We’ve found more thick dumps of midden lying over and against the north wall of Structure 5.  This midden contains lots of pottery, marine shells, fish bone and animal bone, including two small perforated bones that might have been toggles for clothing.

During the last few days, we’ve had Rick Barton and Jim Keddie on site again, together with Helen Bradley from CSA. They started working on the reconstruction.  As we did our last bits of digging and recording, they began putting back the elements of Structure 1 we had taken away:  the second-phase hearth, the paved floor and part of the wall.  Then we covered over the paving and walls belonging to Structure 5 and built up the ground level again, and Jim and Rick replaced the walls of Structures 2, 3 and 4.  Rick had carefully recorded the positions of major stones, numbering them, taking photographs and relating them to our drawings so that they could be replaced exactly. 

By the end of Friday, the cells were looking like their old selves.  We put clay on top of the walls to help hold them together and covered the clay with turf.  More turf went across the excavation trench, around the walls and inside the cells.  We hope that the turf will knit well during the remaining summer months and help protect the building from extreme weather in the months and years to come. 

It was a sad moment when we walked away from the site for the last time, and an even sadder one when the rest of the team had to say goodbye to the Unst members.  But it felt good to leave the site on view, and some of us might be lucky enough to work with the Unst folk again…..

Davie surveys in some finds. Les works in Structure 5.

Davie surveys in some finds.

Les works in Structure 5.

Carole and Labhaoise replacing  turves. Rick slaps clay on top of a wall.

Carole and Labhaoise replacing turves.

Rick slaps clay on top of a wall.

That sea is awfully close…. The team haul a boulder into place.

Jim Keddie working on the reconstruction

The team haul a boulder into place.

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