On Monday 12th September 2016, the soil block was delivered to our Finds Lab where it could be assessed by specialist Finds Conservator Will Murray of the Scottish Conservation Studio. The plan was see how it could be carefully excavated and the artefacts conserved.
The soil block was then CT-scanned and x-rayed by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Glasgow, with assistance from Gawain Hammond, Head of the Diagnostic Imaging Unit, and his team. The scan and x-ray provided valuable information and imagery to assist in the recovery of the items from the soil block. The x-ray shows that the bladed artefact is a sword and the gold decorated object is a large spearhead. But the x-ray also shows a pin lying across the handle of the sword.
The subsequent excavation of the soil block was undertaken over two weeks in November 2016 at GUARD Archaeology’s Finds Lab by GUARD Archaeologist Beth Spence, with Will Murray on hand to advise on the conservation of the artefacts.
This excavation is one of the few times such a Bronze Age hoard has been undertaken in laboratory conditions. This is enabling every tiny scrap of artefact to be carefully recovered and recorded. The excavation has recovered, along with the sword and spearhead, a bronze pin and scabbard fittings (a chape to protect the tip of the scabbard and a ring that may have connected the scabbard to a belt.
More than this, the excavation is revealing (and more importantly recovering) extremely fragile organic remains (including what looks like fur-skin and textile fragments) adhering to the bronze and gold artefacts. Finding such organic remains is EXTREMELY unusual, especially in a dry site like the one at Carnoustie (ancient organic remains often only survive in wetland, submerged or very dry conditions). The organic remains also include the sword’s wooden scabbard itself, which is very rare. In fact this is so rare a find, that the Carnoustie example is probably the best preserved Bronze Age wooden scabbard ever found in Britain.
On Friday 9th September 2016, the GUARD Archaeologist monitoring the machine excavation of topsoil noticed something green just underneath the topsoil. Green is a sign of something with copper in it (like bronze) as this is the colour that oxidised copper turns. However, there was also a glint of gold, which is much more unusual (one of the reasons that gold is highly valued is that it doesn’t change colour like bronze or iron). While the green artefact appears to be a blade, the gold is decorated and appears to be part of a socket of another bronze artefact.
Owing to the fragile nature of these remains and that the site was going to be left open for the weekend, our team removed the entire pit (and the surrounding subsoil which it was cut into) as a single 80 kg block of soil. This was then delivered to our Edinburgh Office that same day, where it could be safely stored over the weekend.
Following on from the initial evaluation, a monitored topsoil strip and archaeological excavation was begun on 5th September 2016 by a larger GUARD Archaeology team led by Alan Hunter Blair. This work, undertaken on behalf of Angus Council, was recommended by the Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service (archaeological advisers to Angus Council) after several pits containing prehistoric pottery were unearthed during the earlier evaluation.
The aim of this work is to monitor the machine-excavation of topsoil to establish the full extent of prehistoric features. Our objective is to keep excavating until we have established a 10-20 m wide archaeologically sterile buffer around the limit of any archaeological features uncovered. Only with such a buffer will we be confident that no more archaeology is present.
Between 17th and 19th August 2016, a small GUARD Archaeology team led by Maureen Kilpatrick carried out an archaeological evaluation of ground off Balmachie Road, Carnoustie. This work was undertaken on behalf of Angus Council to address a planning condition related to the development of the land into two football pitches.
Archaeological evaluations are often required for planning developments where there is a potential for unknown archaeology to be encountered and which would otherwise be destroyed by proposed development. Though there were no known archaeological remains within the development area, the Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service (archaeological advisers to Angus Council) considered there was a potential for unknown archaeology given that Neolithic and Bronze Age pits had been encountered nearby. The main aim of the archaeological evaluation was therefore to establish the presence or absence of previously unknown archaeological deposits.
The trial trench evaluation investigated a 5% sample (1,415 m²) of the proposed development area of 2.83 hectares. A total of 15 trenches were excavated by machine excavator under the watchful eyes of the GUARD Archaeologists, with a further 162 m² excavated when archaeological features containing sherds of prehistoric pottery were uncovered. During the evaluation, and subsequent expansion, 19 features of archaeological significance were uncovered, predominantly comprising pits and post-holes, all concentrated within the south-eastern area of the site.