Category Archives: 2017 News

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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Unearthing an ancient house in Ayrshire

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Archaeologists from GUARD Archaeology Ltd, working for Scottish Water, have uncovered the remains of one of the earliest houses in East Ayrshire. Dating to around the early Neolithic period (3,500-4000 BC), these archaeological remains were uncovered in countryside near Kilmarnock while Scottish Water was working on an ongoing £120M project to upgrade the water mains network between Ayrshire and Glasgow.

Eight areas of archaeology were observed by the GUARD Archaeologists, who were monitoring the excavation works for the new pipeline. These included some prehistoric burnt spreads and pits but of particular note was the discovery of early Neolithic carinated bowl fragments in a number of post-holes forming part of a rectangular building near Hillhouse farm. This rectilinear hall, which measured 14 m in length and 8 m across, belongs to a type of house built by the first farming communities in Scotland.

‘Heavily truncated by millennia of ploughing, only the deepest parts of some of the post-holes survived, arranged in a rectangular plan and containing sherds of early Neolithic pottery, hazelnut shell and charcoal,’ said GUARD Archaeology excavation director Kenneth Green. ‘The width and depth of these post-holes indicated that they once held very large upright timber posts, suggesting that this building was once a large house, probably home to an extended family or group of families.’

Up until this time, during the earlier Mesolithic period (c. 8000-4000 BC), Scotland was inhabited by small groups of hunter gatherers, who led a nomadic lifestyle living off the land. The individuals that built this Neolithic house were some of the earliest communities in Ayrshire to adopt a sedentary lifestyle, clearing areas of forest to establish farms, growing crops such as wheat and barley and raising livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.

‘The pottery recovered from the Neolithic house are sherds of Carinated Bowl, one of the earliest types of pottery vessels ever to be used in Britain’ added Kenneth Green. ‘Traces of milk fat have been found in other carinated bowls found elsewhere in Scotland. Carinated Bowls are distributed across Scotland but very few have been found in the west so Hillhouse represents an important discovery.’

Further post-excavation analyses of the pottery charcoal and environmental samples taken during the excavation may reveal the precise date when the house was occupied and provide other insights that will improve our understanding of the spread of farming settlements across Neolithic Scotland.

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Paisley Abbey Wee Dig

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GUARD Archaeology Ltd are returning to Paisley Abbey on 18 September 2017.

A substantial and well-built stone drain linked to the monastic precinct of Paisley Abbey runs through the park and gardens to the south of the Abbey and close to the River Cart. Previous investigations of the archaeological context of the drain, examining the ground around it, uncovered the remains of cobbled surfaces, stone built walls and a stone-built oven along with artefacts including medieval pottery. The Wee Dig is now looking at a previously unexplored part of the grounds in attempt to unlock some of the mysteries of Paisley Abbey’s medieval past.

A geophysics survey using resistivity will first be carried out. Using the result of this geophysical survey, two trenches will be excavated to uncover what lies beneath.

Come along and join in! The excavation will run over six consecutive days (Monday 18 September to Saturday 23 September 2017) from 10.00-16.00. The training will be hands on with a range of tasks to suit all ages and abilities.

The Wee Dig Project 2017, part of the Year of History, Heritage and Architecture, is managed by Renfrewshire Council and is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Stories, Stones and Bones’ fund. Please note that there will be no access to the drain itself.

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The complex history of a rural medieval building in Aberdeenshire

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Newly published research by GUARD Archaeology has revealed the complex history of a turf and stone-built medieval building. Sherds of pottery obtained from the floor of the structure suggest it was in use during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries AD. However, its construction is similar to other excavated buildings dated to the early medieval period. Radiocarbon dates obtained from several features and deposits ranged from the Bronze Age, through the Iron Age to the medieval period. The structure is an uncommon survivor of medieval rural settlement that is rarely excavated in Scottish archaeology.

In 2013, GUARD Archaeology Ltd in conjunction with Amey and on behalf of Scottish and Southern Energy conducted an archaeological evaluation on an area of ground proposed as part of the expansion of the Kintore Sub-Station, south-west of Kintore, Aberdeenshire. The work exposed the remains of a large rectangular enclosure with an adjacent small building. Further excavation and a topographic survey were undertaken between June and August 2014.

The rareness of the Kintore medieval building is predominantly due to the lack of identification of them in the landscape, the result of their construction using perishable materials such as clay and turf, and changes in land-use which have led to their destruction. Often the stones from these buildings have been systematically removed over time, or the buildings replaced with new structures, or adapted to different uses. The survival of the Kintore building, despite being partially damaged and robbed, might be due to the marginal nature of the ground it sits on, which is very boggy in places and contains a large amount of stone, both above and below ground, which inhibited ploughing that might otherwise have removed all traces of the building.

The wide range of radiocarbon dates obtained, from the second millennium BC to the second millennium AD, might appear to suggest long-lived occupation of the site. However, based on the latest of the radiocarbon dates and fragments of a Scottish Medieval Redware jug found within it, the building appears to have been abandoned post-fifteenth century AD. The lack of evidence of any earlier structures or artefacts relating to the early medieval and prehistoric dates indicates that their presence might be due to other factors, such as the use of (older) peat as a fuel or building resource. Peat deposits are known to exist locally, therefore its use as a fuel and possible building material is not an unreasonable supposition.

Better preserved medieval buildings, such as at Pitcarmick in Perthshire, retain clear divisions between a living end containing a hearth, and byre end with a central drainage slot. No such internal arrangements were apparent at Kintore but soil micromorphology analysis of the soils within the building suggest that there were differences between floor deposits at either end. The west end was associated with domestic activities and the east end was richer in livestock dung, which may indicate the internal division of the house. While there was no central drain within the byre east end of the building, this lay at a lower level than the west end, with the slope aiding drainage if animals were housed there.

The full results of this research, ARO26: The complex history of a rural medieval building in Kintore, Aberdeenshire by Maureen C. Kilpatrick has just been published and is now freely available to download from the ARO website – Archaeology Reports Online.

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Prehistoric settlement and ritual activities at Barassie, South Ayrshire

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Between 2008 and 2012 archaeological excavations at Barassie near Troon revealed Mesolithic pits, early Neolithic structures, middle to late Neolithic pits, and Bronze Age pits and boundary ditches. The results of these excavations were recently published and expands our knowledge of prehistoric settlement along the west coast of central Scotland.

Prior to this work little was known of the site’s archaeological potential. There were no known archaeological remains. Mesolithic artefacts were recorded about 200m to the south and a socketed late Bronze Age axe was discovered to the south-west. North-west of the site, a cinerary urn had been found. However, in recent years several new prehistoric sites had been discovered along the west coast of Scotland on raised beach areas similar to Barassie, such as at Girvan, Ayr Academy and Monkton, so exploratory trenches were made prior to housing developments by Stewart Milne Homes and Lynch Homes.

Subsequent to the excavation, specialist analysis of the finds demonstrates that the raised beach area at Barassie was visited and exploited over six millennia from the Mesolithic period in the eighth millennium BC through to the Bronze Age in the second millennium BC.

Barassie was a favoured place. The archaeological remains from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age were situated on a raised beach with an open aspect to the sea and fresh water sources close at hand. Its slight elevation and other resources including land that was suitable for agriculture and settlement seem to be the main factors that drew prehistoric people to the site repeatedly.


The use of the land and its natural resources altered through time; from a hunter-gatherer economy in the Mesolithic to an agricultural based society in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The evidence for human occupation may have been intermittent across the landscape but the presence of the long boundary ditches during the Bronze Age suggest that the land belonged to individuals who marked the edges of their territory or fields and by doing so were at least attempting to establish a degree of permanence.

Later damage caused by agricultural drainage and ploughing together with the canalisation and re-directing of Barassie Burn has affected the preservation of the archaeological record, providing us with an incomplete picture. This curtailed view of the site has made the understanding and interpretation of the early Neolithic settlement as well as the earlier and later activities occurring on the site difficult. In a palimpsest site such as Barassie even radiocarbon dating results can become double-edged swords. On one hand, they can provide reliable dates for features but they can also highlight the constraints faced by the archaeologist when interpreting a site where there are few recognisable patterns or focal points of activities and structures.

In spite of these issues, this site highlights the importance of settlement over time even at the local level, and the fact that exotic goods from distant places were acquired as part of social interaction and the wider economy of the time. During the Neolithic, Barassie was part of a regional and longer distance system of exchange that promoted actions or beliefs marked by artefacts deposited in pits. Until recently the central west coast area had not received much archaeological input in comparison with other areas of Scotland, and now Barassie can be added to the growing corpus of sites from this region that provide glimpses of a complex past.

Excavation of a Bronze Age plain urn at Barrassie

Excavation of a Bronze Age plain urn at Barrassie

The full results of this research, Prehistoric settlement and ritual activities at Barassie, South Ayrshire by Iraia Arabaolaza was recently published in the Scottish Archaeological Journal (volume 39, 2017).

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Abbots, Kings and Lost Harbours

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ARO25 Cover

Newly published GUARD Archaeology research into the harbour of Cambuskenneth Abbey near Stirling reveals a surprisingly intact medieval stone-built structure on the edge of the Forth along with a significant assemblage of medieval pottery, metalwork and other materials.

In September 2015, GUARD Archaeologist Warren Bailie led community archaeological investigations coinciding with the Inner Forth Festival, Door’s Open Day and Scottish Archaeology Month. Guided by GUARD Archaeology, community volunteers undertook a geophysical survey, hand-excavations, metal-detecting, planning, recording and finds processing. In addition, an independent metal-detecting survey was also conducted by the Scottish Artefact Recovery Group on the Abbot’s Ford, of which a summary of the results is included in this report. Primary school children from St Modan’s, St Ninians and Riverside schools took part in the investigations, as did students from the Scottish Agricultural College. The work was undertaken on behalf of Stirling Council and the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

View of the Carse from Stirling Castle battlements

View of the Carse from Stirling Castle battlements

Cambuskenneth Abbey is situated on the low-lying flood plain or carse of the River Forth, some 1.5 km to the east of Stirling Castle. The abbey is located within a looping meander of the river creating a holm-like setting, on the north bank of the river, a location that gives it some degree of natural protection/isolation as the river flows by on three sides. The main points of access onto the meander, and therefore into the Abbey, do not appear to have been via dry land across the northern neck of the meanders, but via ferries across the western and eastern loop of the river, and a fording point also to the east of the Abbey. Evidence for a link between the western crossing and the Abbey takes the form of an E/W running trackway terminating at the river some 235 m to the west of the Abbey.

A prospect of Stirling from Cambuskenneth Abbey by John Slezer, 1693. Reproduced by permission of the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum

A prospect of Stirling from Cambuskenneth Abbey by John Slezer, 1693. Reproduced by permission of the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum

This part of the river has remained relatively unchanged since probably the later medieval period. The pottery provided a date range from the medieval period and provides a good indication of the type of pottery available. This comprised Scottish post-Medieval Reduced Ware pottery sherds, dating from the late fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, and Scottish Medieval Redware sherds, dating to thirteenth – fifteenth centuries. A fragment of a medieval horseshoe was also recovered from construction layers below two parts of the stepped harbour. None of the in situ built remains were removed during the investigations with only loose masonry material removed, and any apparent deposits were investigated through a series of hand excavated sections. The earliest foundation of the watergate and harbour could therefore potentially be earlier than the material recovered on this occasion suggests.

The medieval harbour along the upper river bank

The medieval harbour along the upper river bank

The evidence from the topographical survey during these investigations suggested that the harbour could not feasibly function using the current mean tide levels. This indicates that the mean levels would have needed to be up to 2 m to 3 m higher than they are today in order for the harbour to be viable. The river level therefore must have changed considerably in recent centuries. Given that the watergate is shown in ruins in Slezer’s engraving of 1697, the harbour may have already been abandoned before this time, especially considering that the Abbey no longer functioned after 1559.

There are obvious above ground undulations identifying two banks/ditches leading in a slight curve from east to west, and these features probably at one time stretched between the east and west river banks, effectively closing off Cambuskenneth from the north. They are likely to have marked the outer precinct of the Abbey, although each may originate from different periods in the Abbey’s history. On Joan Blaeu’s Map of 1654, at least one palisade is shown around the landward side of Cambuskenneth Abbey. It should be noted that Blaeu’s maps were largely based on Timothy Pont’s work of the mid to late sixteenth century, which explains why Blaeu shows Cambuskenneth Abbey intact almost a century after the Reformation. The two curving features in the landscape later became used for a foot track (southern feature) and a carriage track (northern feature), both of which are annotated on the mid-nineteenth century deeds of Hood Farm, (which were kindly shown to the author by Mr Andrew Rennie, current tenant farmer). A pier and ferrying service are also shown leading north and eastwards across and along the Forth River at this point. A pin from a medieval brooch or buckle was recovered from the investigations in this area.

View of the track and harbour, with Stirling Castle visible on the horizon

View of the track leading to the harbour. Stirling Castle lies on the horizon to the right.

 The watergate and harbour served a number of purposes. They would have afforded the Abbey a degree of control over access to the site from the river and it was probably the point where the Abbey received much of its supplies by boat. In a phenomenological sense, the watergate also lay along the E/W sightline between Stirling Castle and Cambuskenneth Abbey, and therefore between these two iconic sites of power in the Medieval period. There is also reference to several monarchs visiting the Abbey, including Edward I and Robert the Bruce, who held his first parliament there in November 1314 after his battlefield victory over Edward II. The Abbey, and therefore its watergate and harbour, played an important role in Stirling’s history.

The full results of this research, ARO25: Abbots, Kings and Lost Harbours: Looking for Cambuskenneth’s Watergate, Stirling by Warren Bailie has just been published and is now freely available to download from the ARO website – Archaeology Reports Online.


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Uncovering an ancient face from Pictland

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facial reconstruction

In 1986, a long cist burial was uncovered at Bridge of Tilt near Blair Atholl in the Highlands. The cist contained the skeleton of a man who had died in his forties. Analyses of his bones suggested that he was used to hard work. The burial was dated to 340 –615 AD and is one of the earliest Pictish graves found so far.

GUARD Archaeology Ltd with support from Historic Environment Scotland are working with several local community groups including Blair Atholl Country Life Museum, Perth Museum and Art Gallery, the Clan Donnachaidh Society, the local Community Council and local primary school to undertake further investigations and analysis based on the burial. As part of this we have worked with a forensic artist Hayley Fisher to create a digital reconstruction of the man. This reconstruction as well as the skeleton is on display as part of ‘Picts and Pixels’ summer exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery which opens on Saturday 20 May.

A sample from the skeleton is currently being assessed for DNA analysis and samples for isotope analysis will be taken to provide information on diet and where the man originated from.

In addition, GUARD Archaeology will be leading fieldwork in Blair Atholl over the weekend of 18 – 21 August 2017. GUARD Archaeologists will be on hand to offer guidance to volunteers on historical research, geophysical survey and trial trenching.

Anyone interested in taking part during the weekend of 18-21 August 2017 should contact Bob Will at GUARD Archaeology or simply turn up on the day.

Location of site

Location of site

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People, Plants, Medicine and Lore

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GUARD Archaeologists offering guidance to one of the volunteers during the previous community work at Bannockburn © Callum Bennets @ Maverick Photo Agency

GUARD Archaeology will be revisiting the battlefield of Bannockburn this year, assisting the National Trust for Scotland’s People, Plants, Medicine and Lore Project at the Bannockburn Battlefield Centre.

This exciting new community project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, forms part of the 2017 celebrations for the “Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology” that explores how our relationship with the natural environment has changed over the last 700 years.

The project will work with local schools, community groups and the general public to put the Bannockburn landscape into context and discover how plants have been used down the generations. There will be practical opportunities to carry out experimental archaeology providing a greater understanding of how plants in the landscape would have been preserved.

A physic garden will also be created in the grounds of the visitor centre which will enable the local community to learn about the importance of cultivating medicinal herbs in the past. Local school pupils will explore the use of physic gardens through storytelling, art and literacy, as well as creating their own traditional remedies safely. They will share their knowledge with the wider community through guided tours and designing information panels. Visitors to the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre will be able to explore the physic garden through observation, smell and touch and gain an appreciation of the knowledge needed by soldiers to survive in their natural environment.

GUARD Archaeologists will be on hand to offer guidance on the excavation of test pits and a metal-detecting survey, as well as a programme of school and volunteer training and activities.

Anyone interested in taking part during the weekend of 25-26 March 2017 should either contact Warren Bailie at GUARD Archaeology or simply turn up on the day.

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