Excavating the Mesolithic

Excavation in progress on the Mesolithic site at Kinloch, Rum, in the 1980s. The site was preserved under a thin skim of ploughsoil, as it is cleaned back it is possible to see the darker colours of the fills in Mesolihtic pits and hollows beginning to show up.

Mesolithic sites rarely make glamorous excavations. All too often they seem to comprise a corner of a muddy field where there is little to be seen except for a strange pattern of discolourations in the subsoil, and possibly some accumulations of broken stone. I spent much of my early career crouching down Continue reading Excavating the Mesolithic

Scatter sites: more than meets the eye

Mesolithic Deeside.
This evocative image by Ali Cameron gives a good idea of the joys of fieldwalking. It is all about finding flints, usually in the rain! Mesolithic Deeside members at work fieldwalking the prolific sites along the River Dee in Aberdeenshire.

I’ve been thinking about lithic scatters a lot recently. For the uninitiated a lithic scatter is a collection of stone tools. They tend to be found on the ground surface, usually across the surface of a ploughed field, but they may also occur in other Continue reading Scatter sites: more than meets the eye

Chocolate: not as Relaxing as You Thought

Archaeology works hard to be inclusive.  Participation involves responsibility, but there are always people on hand to advise. Why then has a well-known company apparently chosen to dive in without forethought?

It can’t have been the Spring Publicity campaign that Cadbury planned. On the face of it, the idea: to encourage families into exploring the outdoors and engaging with heritage, was such a good one. How could it all go so horribly wrong?

Not only have they been encouraging illegal behaviour (the ransacking of archaeological sites is covered by legislation in each of the countries of the United Kingdom), it is also irresponsible. I doubt that they would suggest that kids go out and collect birds’ eggs from nests. So why was it deemed acceptable to Continue reading Chocolate: not as Relaxing as You Thought

Planning problems

The island of Rum
The island of Rum off the west coast of Scotland, from the coast of Morar. Much of my work in the 1980s took place here, all funded by Historic Buildings and Monuments (Scottish Development Department). It was a happy time.

Autumn is the time when you start to think about your plans for the forthcoming year. Many of us have become accustomed to putting together research projects and considering the finance applications that we will need to make in order to run them. I’ve been very lucky, for much of my career I have been able to work Continue reading Planning problems

The limitations of modelling

This low resolution model of Orkney is good for giving a general idea of landscape change towards the end of the Mesolithic, but it does not tell you what the coast looked like in specific places. The models below, however, give an idea of the level of detail that can be reconstructed with more detailed analysis.

 

The submerged landscape touches us all, wherever we work. We need to bring a basic understanding of the original lie of the land to our site analyses. However, therein lies a problem. In many places, current understanding of the past position of the Continue reading The limitations of modelling

The Output of Excavation

The reconstructed broch and surrounding buildings at Old Scatness in Shetland provide a fascinating heritage attraction, but upkeep of the centre is financially demanding for those who run it.

There is always great interest in any excavation that takes place in Orkney. There will be coverage on local radio and in the papers, and it is likely that any Open Day will be popular, together with a steady stream of visitors at other times. Continue reading The Output of Excavation

Summer Digging

Swandro
The vulnerability of coastal sites to erosion by the sea is clearly demonstrated by the Pictish remains at Swandro in Rousay.

One of the curious things about archaeology is that, while it is relatively easy to see the fruits of our labours, it is much harder for people to watch us at work. Most people live within reach of a stone circle, castle, or other archaeological site. Getting to visit an excavation is another matter, especially in these days of Continue reading Summer Digging

The Value of Community Archaeology

The Mound, Loch Fleet, by Telford
This bridge was completed in 1816 under the direction of Thomas Telford. It was designed as a bridge for the road north and to control the ingress of seawater into Loch Fleet.

I spent two days in Inverness at the start of June participating in a meeting to start a review of archaeology across Highland Region. It was organised by ARCH, Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands, and it was a well-attended couple of days with some fascinating papers and lots of good discussion. Continue reading The Value of Community Archaeology