Digging Linlithgow’s medieval past

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Digging an archaeological test pit

Buried beneath the back gardens of Linlithgow High Street may be objects or archaeological remains from Linlithgow’s medieval past. A new plan is underway to find out more about this hidden heritage, part of an overall project funded and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, LEADER and West Lothian Council. Volunteers will soon be participating in this investigation, playing an important part in digging up their town’s history.


Digging will take place, over the weekend of 14–16th September 2018. The test pits will measure 1 m by 1 m and will be in selected back gardens of Linlithgow’s High Street. The work will be supervised by experienced archaeologists from GUARD Archaeology, who will guide and train each volunteer in hand excavation, finds discovery and identification, recording of discoveries and dating of artefacts.

Linlithgow from the air

The medieval burgh of Linlithgow is first recorded in the reign of David I (1124-53), when the king granted the ‘church of Linlidcu with chapels and lands inside the burgh and outside, and all rights pertaining to the foresaid church’ to St Andrews Cathedral in 1140 or 1141.

‘The burgh was a long single street, the High Street, forming part of the route westwards from Edinburgh to Stirling and Glasgow, with a shorter arm, Kirkgate, leading northwards to the royal palace and the parish church,’ said Iraia Arabaolaza from GUARD Archaeology. ‘This is an exciting way to find out more about Linlithgow’s history from the core of its medieval town.’

‘We are really excited to be working with GUARD Archaeology to find out what is underneath the streets of Linlithgow,’ added Stuart Kennedy from Linlithgow Heritage Trust. ‘This project is an important part of the lead up to the Museum reopening in 2019 and becoming a real community focused space.’

the project is funded by the organisations above

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A landscape of change on the outskirts of Edinburgh

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Archaeological investigations coupled with historical research of Newcraighall on the south-east edge of Edinburgh reveal a complex story of land use changes from prehistory to the present day.

Between 2011 and 2016, GUARD Archaeology teams led by Alan Hunter Blair undertook a series of surveys and excavations across land that had previously been part of the policies of Brunstane House and and Newhailes House. While the earliest activity encountered comprised groups of pits dating to the late Mesolithic/early Neolithic, late Neolithic and Bronze Age, the majority of features dated from the medieval and post-medieval periods through to modern times.

These included various sized coal pits or shafts, and the foundations of four colliery buildings, arranged around a now infilled mineshaft on the southern site. Elements of a designed landscape associated with Brunstane House included a ha-ha that traversed the northern site. The presence of several large culverts may also have connections with both landscape alterations and the coal-mining industry. Fragments of curved and linear ditches appear to be remnants of earlier field systems dating from the medieval and post-medieval periods and associated with extensive remnants of broad rig cultivation found across the two areas.

The historical research demonstrates the complexities of landownership with evidence of the development of coal mining and coal ownership and the social and economic realities of the times. Examination of papers relating to Brunstane House showed that they had direct bearing on the understanding and dating of the landscaping features and other groundworks, including changes to the estate boundaries and the runrig system. A labourer’s diary from the winter of 1735-6 was an especially interesting find from the point of view of what work was undertaken on the estate, by whom and for how much.

This project shows the value of combining two subject areas together, from their partial bodies of evidence, to produce a much more rounded view of the life of the times from the landowner to the coal miner during the post-medieval and early modern periods.

The full results of this research, which was funded by Barratt & David Wilson Homes East Scotland and Avant Homes, ARO29: Newcraighall, Edinburgh: A landscape of change through its archaeology and history by Alan Hunter Blair and Morag Cross is freely available to download from the ARO website – Archaeology Reports Online.

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Coastal storms and prehistoric hardship on North Uist

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Newly published archaeological research from excavations undertaken at the Udal in North Uist reveals some of the hardships of life in Neolithic and early Bronze Age Scotland. Two burial cairns held the remains of individuals dating to the second millennium BC. Scientific analyses of these individuals demonstrate the dramatic effect that environmental stresses had on the community.

Excavations at the Udal revealed the archaeological remains of two round buildings dating to between 3000 and 2500 BC. Analysis of the artefacts indicates that butchering of animals, pottery-making and quartz tool manufacture took place here.

‘The two houses may have been the last surviving structures of a larger settlement that was covered over by a thick layer of blown sand, like Skara Brae on Orkney,’ said Beverley Ballin Smith of GUARD Archaeology, who has been leading the post-excavation work. ‘The storm that brought the sand covered fields and grazing lands in addition to the village, from dunes to the west. The effects were so severe that the buildings and the farming land had to be abandoned and people moved inland. How long it took the sand to consolidate before it could be used for grazing and agriculture is not known, but marks from an ard plough showed that fields had extended much further west and north than the coastline does today.’

The blown sand was only part of the environmental story as another severe storm later brought a flood that destroyed the new fields by depositing a thick stone and shingle beach across them. By this time the coastal landscape was in flux and was in the process of being dramatically transformed. The archaeological evidence reveals that these environmental hardships had a severe effect on the health of local inhabitants. Scientific analysis of the teeth of two skeletons buried on the site indicated they had suffered a lack of food as children, even periods of starvation, and shell fish such as whelks may have become a staple food stuff.

The accumulation of sand and the flooding episode separated the end of the late Neolithic settlement from the beginning of the early Bronze Age, around 2400 BC. Sometime after the creation of the beach, a burial cairn was built, under which a young man was laid to rest in stone cist. This large round mound of stone and turf was the largest man-made structure on the Udal peninsula. By erecting the cairn, the inhabitants that lived in the area claimed back the landscape as theirs. The monument was meant to be enduring and it lasted approximately 4000 years before coastal erosion threatened it, necessitating its excavation.

‘Our Neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors lived through climate change events such as dramatic sea-level rise and increased storminess, and trauma such as loss of fields, crops and animals. They had to relocate their settlement and houses to safer areas,’ said Beverley. ‘How the inhabitants of the Udal survived during the Bronze Age will be part of the research on the next Udal site – the South mound.’

The Udal is a peninsula off the north coast of North Uist and was the focus of many years of archaeological excavations by the late Iain Crawford. This book is the result of several years of post-excavation work on the smallest of the Udal sites, which was exposed by coastal erosion after an exceptional high tide in 1974. While Iain Crawford completed the fieldwork by 1984 he could not complete the project to publication. After a long illness he died in 2016 at the age of 88. The new book is edited by Beverley Ballin Smith, Publications Manager at GUARD Archaeology, who has spent the last few years analysing the archaeological material recovered from Iain’s excavations.

‘While the archaeology of the Western Isles is as rich, diverse and intriguing as that of the rest of Scotland, it is less well known,’ said Malcolm Burr, Chief Executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. ‘Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and its partners are working hard to see this position change, and this new publication of the smallest of Iain Crawford’s excavations at the Udal site in North Uist, is part of this effort. The excavations at the Udal recovered fragile evidence in the face of erosion by sea, storm and the ravages of time. The story told by these structures and artefacts, however, reflects the earliest centuries of communities’ life experiences on the Udal headland from some six thousand years ago, one of the longest and most fascinating time lines in the archaeology of Scotland. The two Neolithic houses and Bronze Age burial cairn bear testimony to the antiquity and importance of this site.’

Dr Lisa Brown from Historic Environment Scotland said ‘It is great to see these results of the excavation of the Neolithic and Bronze Age remains now published, both as a book and free to download online. Using the most up to date scientific techniques, the author and contributors have been able to provide additional insight into how the earliest communities were living on this peninsular, and how they coped with the changes in the environment which affected their lives. We are pleased to have been able to support this work through our archaeology funding programme.’

This first major publication from the Udal project was launched at Sollas Community Hall in North Uist and was jointly funded by Historic Environment Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The new hardback book, Life on the Edge: The Neolithic and Bronze Age of Iain Crawford’s Udal, North Uist edited by Beverley Ballin Smith is available from Archaeopress Publishing Ltd, at www.archaeopress.com for £25. A free version is also available to download from the same internet address.

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Search for lost Jacobite army camp at Bannockburn House

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Bannockburn House ©Bannockburn House Trust, 2018 – kindly donated by Alistair Thomson

The first survey of a potential site for the Jacobite army camp shortly before the battle of Falkirk is planned for the weekend of 3rd-5th August 2018.

In the summer of 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, arrived in Scotland to raise an army and march towards England to reclaim the throne. On his way south, Charles spent the night of the 14th of September at Bannockburn House near Stirling.

It seems likely that there was a reason that Charles stayed at Bannockburn; perhaps the army command or the Prince himself was aware of the support of the house’s owner Hugh Paterson to the Jacobite cause, or perhaps he had met him in exile in the years after the 1715 rising. It is also possible that the selection of Bannockburn was solely for its practical location, near the road to Edinburgh.

In early January 1746, Charles returned to Bannockburn House following the retreat of the Jacobite army from England. Located so close to Stirling, this mansion made for ideal headquarters for the prince and his staff to prepare for the siege of Stirling.

Even though the city surrendered on January 8th 1746, the attempts of the Jacobite army to take Stirling Castle were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the Hanoverian army, tasked with bringing the Jacobite army to battle, marched from Edinburgh to Falkirk, planning to advance on Stirling.

Contemporary drawing of Jacobite and Hanoverian soldiers from the Penicuik Collection

The Jacobite army set out to meet the Government forces. Although the ensuing battle on 17th January was a victory for the Jacobites, it was clumsy and unsatisfying and marked the beginning of the downturn in their fortunes, which culminated in their defeat at the battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746. The Hanoverian victory resulted in the banning of tartan and the suppression of Gaelic culture across Scotland.

During the Jacobite siege of Stirling, Charles became ill, and he was nursed by Clementine Walkinshaw, the niece of Hugh Paterson, at Bannockburn House. She became the mistress of the Prince and followed him into exile in France in 1752, where they had a daughter Charlotte in 1753, the Prince’s only recognised child. The house itself became forfeit following the defeat of the Jacobite cause.

Contemporary drawing of a Jacobite army camp, from the Penicuik Collection

It is thought that some of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops camped in the grounds of Bannockburn House.  For the first time an organised archaeological survey is planned, by the Community Trust that bought the seventeenth century house and its grounds in late 2017.

‘We hope to establish the location of the camp and to find examples of both daily camp life such as cooking utensils and of the equipment men and horses would have used in battle,’ said Willie McEwan Vice-Chair of Bannockburn House Trust.

View of field where the Jacobite army camp may have been located ©Bannockburn House Trust, 2018


Archaeologists from GUARD Archaeology Ltd will guide metal detectorists and diggers in carrying out the archaeological investigations. Volunteers are invited to come along and help with the archaeological survey of this site, which is adjacent to Bannockburn House. Click here for details and how to apply for a place or here to support the work. This is a unique and exciting opportunity to try and resolve the mystery of where the Jacobite army camped in January 1746 before marching to the battle of Falkirk.

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What pits and post-holes can tell us: recent finds from Balvenie and Newton Mearns

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Recently published research from two sites at opposite ends of Scotland reveals new evidence for Bronze and Iron Age landscapes.

During archaeological investigations in advance of development at the Balvenie Distillery in Moray in 2014 and a housing development at Newton Mearns in East Renfrewshire in 2012, GUARD Archaeologists encountered pits and post-holes. These are relatively common on archaeological sites, and in some cases may be the only evidence of early settlement, but interpretation can be difficult. The post-holes and pits from these two sites were found in the lower contours of their respective upland areas, above 120 m OD. None of these was directly connected with other settlement remains and associated material culture was rare. However, radiocarbon dates reveal these features reflect activities during the Bronze Age and Iron Age periods and indicate that later prehistoric material can be found in upland areas even when significant changes to the landscape have occurred.

The alteration of the local topography at Balvenie, by the construction of a railway line in the nineteenth century and other ground-works in the middle to late twentieth century led to the reshaping of the hill slope. The pits and post-holes that survived indicated that the landscape had been topographically different when used by Bronze Age and Iron Age communities. The evidence indicates the seasonal gathering of hazel nuts for food, the possible cultivation of cereal crops, and certainly the processing of barley and even oats. It seems that barley has a long tradition of cultivation and use in this area and that Glenfiddich barley still plays a major role in the local economy, most significantly for the production of whisky.

The discovery of a pit with material cultural evidence in an area of rough grazing in Newton Mearns increases the sparse number of known prehistoric sites in this area. It is unlikely the area suffered the scale of landscape changes, seen at Balvenie, but changes will have taken place in vegetation cover and in the use of the land. The pit, together with the presence and of clay/daub and a possible quern fragment, indicates that the landscape was settled and used during the early Bronze Age, with nearby hazel, oak and willow woodland. The pit produced one of the earliest radiocarbon dates obtained from this area. Its presence suggests contemporary settlement may be preserved close by.

Through these two limited views of the past, our knowledge of human activities in these upland areas is increased. Even though the material cultural remains were sparse, the environmental evidence provided not only radiocarbon dates but suggest prehistoric landscapes very different to that of today.

The full results of this research, which was funded by William Grant and Sons Distillers Ltd and Stewart Milne Homes, ARO28: What pits and postholes can tell us: recent finds from Balvenie and Newton Mearns by Warren Bailie and Maureen Kilpatrick is freely available to download from the ARO website – Archaeology Reports Online.


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Unearthing prehistoric and early medieval Lothian

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Recently published research by Bob Will of GUARD Archaeology reveals the discovery of the complex history of settlement at a place in the Lothians of Scotland, from the Neolithic through the Bronze Age and Iron Age into the early medieval period.

This work was undertaken at Gogar Mains to the west of Edinburgh in advance of the construction of the Edinburgh Tram Scheme linking Edinburgh Airport with the city centre. Prior to the excavation several prehistoric archaeological sites were known in the immediate vicinity including cropmarks of two possible settlements. Within the wider locality, there is a wide range of known sites, including to the north the ‘Cat Stane’, with its early medieval Romano-British latin inscription and associated long-cist cemetery, as well as prehistoric remains consisting of Neolithic pottery and flint tools. There are also references to another long-cist cemetery to the south while further to the north is the Craigie hillfort and to the west is Huly Hill, an early Bronze Age mound and Iron Age Chariot burial as well as a medieval settlement.

The excavation was initially centred on the concentration of archaeological features revealed during an earlier evaluation. Once the topsoil was stripped, over 150 features were investigated, revealing seven discrete areas of activity that contained a range of botanical and artefactual evidence and radiocarbon dates that demonstrate that the site was in use over a long span of time between the early fourth millennium BC and the eighth century AD.

Neolithic activity was represented by pits containing hazel nutshell, flint tools and pottery sherds from carinated bowls, probably the debris from a Neolithic settlement. More clearly defined evidence for a house structure was apparent in the Bronze Age, in the form of a ring groove with internal post-holes, adjacent to a palisaded enclosure but there was little artefactual evidence and the dating of these structure derives solely from radiocarbon dates. These dates suggest two phases of construction or use of the palisade. There was little evidence for structures within the palisade, although several post-holes may indicate an internal supporting structure, or fence lines indicative of pens for livestock.

Two truncated roundhouses near the north end of the site were dated to the Iron Age. An associated fragment of a miniature quern was recovered; these tend to be found in the east of Scotland during the Iron Age. The final phase of activity on-site comprised the remains of two corn-drying kilns, dated to between the sixth and eighth centuries AD, that survived as oval pits containing considerable quantities of burnt and charred cereal grains. Associated with the better-preserved kiln was a rim sherd of coarse pottery and two fragments from a rough quern.

While the archaeological investigations provided evidence for occupation of this place over a long period of time, it was surprising that little evidence for settlement from the Roman occupation of southern Scotland was encountered, considering the presence nearby of a Roman fort, milestone and temporary camps. The archaeological remains from the excavation nevertheless provide a palimpsest of prehistoric and early medieval occupation and support similar occupation and settlement evidence from the wider region. The early medieval date for the corn-drying kilns provides direct evidence for settlement and agriculture, as well as a domestic setting for the long-cist cemetery at Catstane to the north. Together with another nearby long-cist cemetery to the south and contemporary field boundaries near Gogar Church, the results are combining to gradually fill out a picture of sustained settlement and agriculture in this area of the Lothians during the early medieval period.

The full results of this research, which was funded by the City of Edinburgh Council, Excavations to the West of Gogar Mains, Edinburgh by Bob Will with Heather F. James is freely available to download from the Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports website, published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

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Artefacts from the Castle Midden and Back Walk in Stirling

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Recently published research reveals a range of artefacts recovered from two sites on the edge of the medieval burgh and castle at Stirling.

Material from an eroding midden below the western walls of Stirling Castle was recognised and initially recovered by local volunteers and pupils from Allan’s Primary School over a number of years and led to a programme of artefact recovery supervised by Dr Murray Cook, Stirling Council Archaeologist.

Further south along the western edge of the medieval burgh of Stirling, GUARD Archaeologists recovered artefacts during a watching brief when a section of the Back Walk footpath was repaired.

This section of footpath runs behind Cowane’s Hospital next to the Church of the Holy Rude and on the perceived line of the Stirling town wall, which was constructed sometime in the sixteenth century.

Over 2000 artefacts in total were recovered; they included medieval and post-medieval pottery, a misshapen musket ball, as well as modern glass and ceramics. Subsequent post-excavation analyses of these artefacts were co-ordinated by GUARD Archaeology Ltd.

The material seems to have been deposited as rubbish simply by dumping it over the edge of the crag and certainly the small abraded nature of even the ‘modern’ pottery would suggest that the material had been moved or re-deposited over time after the initial discard.

Among the medieval and post-medieval assemblages are examples of the main pottery fabric types found in Scotland, as well as imported material from England and mainland Europe. These give an indication of the importance of local pottery production as well as further away trade links to the burghers of Stirling throughout the centuries. Numerous clay tobacco pipe fragments were also recovered from both sites, mainly of post-1850 date, but the assemblage includes four bowls from the seventeenth century.

One of the more unusual artefacts to be recovered from the Back Walk was a WWI military belt buckle. The military buckle is from the Austrian army and has the double headed imperial eagle and the Austrian coat of arms and is one that was standard issue during WWI.

‘Unfortunately, the buckle was a stray find so we don’t know how it got to the Back Walk, whether it was lost or thrown out,’ said report author Bob Will from GUARD Archaeology. ‘Stirling Castle was an important working military barracks at the time with a military prison and hospital therefore the buckle could have come from a prisoner or it could have been picked up by a British soldier serving at the front. As this year commemorates the centenary of the end of WWI the buckle reminds us that the war had far reaching affects throughout the country.’

The full results of this research, which was funded by Stirling Council, ARO27: The Artefacts from Castle Midden and Back Walk, Stirling by Bob Will is freely available to download from the ARO website – Archaeology Reports Online.

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GUARD Archaeology nominated for 2018 Current Archaeology Award

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The results of one of GUARD Archaeology’s community archaeology projects, undertaken with the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society has been nominated in the Research Project of the Year category in the 2018 Current Archaeology Awards.

Rheged rediscovered: uncovering a lost British kingdom in Galloway was published earlier this year in Current Archaeology 327 and summarises the results of the Galloway Picts Project at Trusty’s Hill in Gallloway, which revealed a royal stronghold that lay at the heart of a lost Dark Age kingdom that was once pre-eminent in northern Britain.

The full results of this work – The Lost Dark Age Kingdom of Rheged: The Discovery of a Royal Stronghold at Trusty’s Hill, Galloway – was published by Oxbow as a hardback book. It is also available as an ebook, either as an Epub (e.g. for kindle readers etc) or PDF (for any device).

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Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders Archaeology Conference 2017

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GUARD Archaeology are pleased to be sponsoring this year’s Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders Archaeology Conference on Saturday 18 November 2017, to be held at Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh. Organised by the Archaeology Officers of East Lothian Council, the City of Edinburgh Council and Scottish Borders Council, this conference includes updates on recent archaeological work in East Lothian, Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders.

One of the lectures will be given by GUARD Archaeology’s Publications Manager, Beverley Ballin Smith. Beverley’s presentation concerns four sites distributed across south-east Scotland that generally produced limited evidence of prehistoric activities. That evidence is as slight as a single radiocarbon date, or an isolated pit or three, with occasional sherds of pottery. The occurrence of these features and material cultural evidence in landscapes as diverse as a hill top or a flood plain indicates that prehistoric peoples explored and moved everywhere, and left, in some cases, only ephemeral traces of their activities.

The problem for us today is to try to understand those peripheral activities from the evidence that survives. By asking questions, such as why there, and looking at the landscape and its changes in slightly more detail, it may help us to understand the movement of perhaps small groups of people away from areas of permanent settlement and into hinterland or more remote areas. The evidence left behind is often isolated, slight but also intriguing, and there are no easy answers to its interpretation. What we can acknowledge is that significant landscape changes such as modern windfarm erections and housing developments, as well as quarry extensions, are exposing these features for study in locations that otherwise would have remained undisturbed.

The examples Beverley will discuss include GUARD Archaeology discoveries at Newcraighall on the southeastern outskirt of Edinburgh, Soutra Hill overlooking East Lothian, Edston near Peebles and Quixwood in the Lammermuirs, part of a growing number of non-settlement sites that indicate camps, burial rituals, collection of natural resources, and perhaps even hunting. We have enough evidence to start to ask questions, to look at it regionally, and to see if patterns occur that aid greater understanding.

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Relieving Floods, Revealing History: Early Prehistoric Activity at Knocknagael

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Research undertaken by GUARD Archaeology, published in Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports, has revealed how prehistoric occupation of the Scottish Highlands changed over millennia. GUARD Archaeologists, led by Maureen Kilpatrick, undertook a programme of archaeological work in 2009 and 2010 prior to the construction of a flood-relief channel at Knocknagael Farm, south-west of Inverness, which revealed a series of prehistoric pits, hearths, fire-spots and structural features. Finds included sherds from a Neolithic bowl and a Bronze Age cordoned urn. Palaeo-botanical remains were present in many features and included the carbonised remains of cereal grains. Radiocarbon dating revealed that activity at the site ranged from the seventh millennium BC to the first millennium AD. The archaeological work was funded by Highland Council.

The work here adds to a growing list of prehistoric evidence from Inverness and its surroundings, with the Culduthel Valley particularly rich in archaeological sites. Indeed, the Late Mesolithic date obtained from Knocknagael is one of the earliest from the Culduthel Valley and adds to the growing evidence for Mesolithic activity within this area. While no Mesolithic artefacts were recovered from Knocknagael, the carbonised assemblage suggests the exploitation of local woodland resources for fuel and food.

Pits were the most common feature at Knocknagael, with very few structural remains recovered. Despite this, several of the excavated pits contained material which could suggest that by the early fourth millennium BC, a more settled occupation involving crop and animal husbandry was present. The presence of pottery fragments in several pits may also indicate a more settled form of habitation. However, the actual location of this settlement is unknown at present; the nearest known Neolithic dated building is a Late Neolithic rectangular timber structure at Raigmore.

‘Isolated pits and pit-clusters are a common feature on archaeological sites, and are often the only evidence of early settlement,’ said GUARD Project Officer Maureen Kilpatrick who led the fieldwork. ‘They have been described as either domestic in function or as a means of ritual (structured) deposition. More recently, however, it has been suggested that even domestic actions can have ritualistic connotations and that their use can be interpreted as neither wholly ceremonial nor completely mundane. Pit deposition may have been used as a means of creating memory at a location of importance over a long period. This prolonged association is highlighted by the fact that at Knocknagael, the features encompassed a wide range in date from the Mesolithic through to the Iron Age, suggesting the re-use of the site over millennia. This similar re-use of a site was also found at the Neolithic pit-alignment site at Eweford in East Lothian, where activity spanned several centuries, suggesting that places were revisited and repeatedly modified by individuals.’

The absence of any obvious structural features may suggest that more permanent occupation was located elsewhere within the wider locale. Pit-clusters are often found alongside other features including hearths and post-holes, which is comparable to Knocknagael. However, by the Iron Age it seems that the main focus of settlement was located to the immediate east, at Culduthel Farm where a number of large roundhouses with both domestic and industrial functions have been excavated. The analysis of the archaeological features at Knocknagael Farm nevertheless revealed that the Culduthel Valley was populated from as early as the seventh millennium BC, with evidence suggesting that more settled occupation was present from the fourth millennium BC onwards.

The full results of this research, Relieving Floods, Revealing History: Early Prehistoric Activity at Knocknagael Farm, Inverness by Maureen Kilpatrick was published as Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports 64.

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