Category Archives: 2023 News

The long history of a palaeochannel

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Archaeological artefacts found by GUARD Archaeologists in a palaeochannel at Ferniegair near Hamilton revealed its use as a refuse dump for adjacent Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement.

The palaeochannel after excavation © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

In the beginning the palaeochannel was an open channel of water, a small burn. Archaeobotanical and pollen analyses indicated mixed woodland close by, making the dryer sandy banks of this burn attractive to early prehistoric people.

The earliest use of the north-western bank of the palaeochannel was a small group of features and artefacts radiocarbon dated to the early Neolithic period. Later, a horseshoe-shaped structure with a single entrance and a deposit of domestic debris was in use from the end of the 35th century BC to the middle of the 34th century BC – the middle Neolithic. Its occupation deposit contained flint microblades as well as pottery and pitchstone. A later and more extensive, mixed deposit that covered the structure was associated with numerous stakeholes, probably from windbreaks, and was dated to the early/middle Bronze Age.

both sides of the jet piece © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

One of the most interesting and unusual finds in the lower fill of the palaeochannel was an exotic jet pendant shaped like a claw or possibly a bird’s head, whose material is from Whitby in North Yorkshire. Although difficult to date, it was probably lost in the early Bronze Age.

Over this time not only did the burn gradually fill in with debris, but the environment around it changed too, and by the end the burn no longer functioned as an open channel of water.

This seemingly ordinary camp site area took on an unexpected importance with the occurrence of exotic objects like the jet pendant. In the use of the palaeochannel, successive groups of prehistoric people inadvertently created a reservoir of archaeological finds that have allowed us a glimpse of how they interacted with each other and with their environment across time.

The archaeological work was funded by Robertson Homes and was required as a condition of planning consent by South Lanarkshire Council who are advised on archaeological matters by the West of Scotland Archaeology Service, who considered there to be a potential for hitherto unknown archaeology to be buried at the site.

ARO52: The long history of a palaeochannel at Ferniegair, Hamilton by John James Atkinson is freely available to download from Archaeology Reports Online.

ARO52 cover
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Bronze Age burial rites unearthed

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An early Bronze Age cemetery discovered near Helensburgh by GUARD Archaeology has revealed long-lost secrets of burial rites from Bronze Age Scotland.

Following the excavation by a team of GUARD Archaeologists in 2020, the results of specialist analyses have only just now come to light.

Cist 2 during excavation © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

The oldest of the stone-lined graves, or cists, was dated to 2467-2290 BC. Strangely it contained no human remains, but only fragments of pyre material, which appear to have been sufficient to represent the dead.

The largest of the three cists Cist 1, and Cist 3, were constructed at least three centuries later c. 2140-1930 BC. Both contained the cremated remains each of at least two adults and a child or young person, but with no grave goods.

Cist 3 © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

‘The long span of time between these cist graves indicates the lasting memory of burials here,’ said Iraia Arabaolaza, the principal author of the GUARD excavation report. ‘The reuse of the burial place at different periods may have reinforced land ownership or connections to ancestors.’

The place was then revisited between 50 and 300 years after the cist burials, at a time in the first half of the second millennium BC when the burial rituals had changed again, to that of using a pottery vessel to hold the cremated remains then buried at the bottom of a pit. Most of the cremated remains that were found from this phase of use also included one or two adults and a young person together.

The remains of at least 14 adults and 6 young persons were recovered from the cemetery. The burials contained multiple individuals that had been cremated and then collected together and buried as part of the same rite.

‘The incomplete nature of each of the individual remains suggest that the rite of cremation and burial were more important than keeping/collecting and burying the person as whole,’ said Iraia Arabaolaza. ‘This cemetery complex is not only chronologically diverse, but it also reflects the differences in the burial rites and material culture. The burial of multiple people together, part of the same burial rite and possible part of the same cremation process indicates the importance of the cremation rite and the community rather than the individual and the preservation of its body as a whole.’ 

Layout of the Bronze Age Cist graves and the Neolithic cairn they were cut into © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

The GUARD Archaeologists discovered that this Bronze Age community were not the first people to occupy this site. A late Neolithic kerbed cairn from around 3500 BC and that had once been fronted by an impressive stone façade, had been cut into by the Bronze Age stone cist graves.

And the recovery of flint tools dating from about 5,000 years before even that, around 8,400 BC, indicate that some of Scotland’s earliest inhabitants, during the late Upper Palaeolithic or early Mesolithic periods occupied this site too.

The archaeological work was funded by Bellway Homes and was required as a condition of planning consent by Argyll and Bute Council who are advised on archaeological matters by the West of Scotland Archaeology Service, who considered there to be a potential for hitherto unknown archaeology to be buried at the site.

ARO51: A Bronze Age cemetery, Sawmill Field, Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute by Iraia Arabaolaza is freely available to download from Archaeology Reports Online.

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Insights into Iron Age Sutherland

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A community excavation assisted by GUARD Archaeology has unearthed interesting new evidence for Iron Age lifestyles in Sutherland.

LiDAR view of Aultcraggie roundhouses Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Following last year’s collaboration with Clyne Heritage Society, GUARD Archaeology’s Alan Hunter Blair led a dig of two roundhouses in the uplands around Brora, on the croft of Aultcraggie. The structures were first spotted by chair of the society, Nick Lindsay back in 2022 while walking the hills and confirmed on LiDAR. The team of archaeologists and volunteers returned in May 2023 to investigate after access was kindly granted by those working the croft, Fiona Ross and Allan Grant.

The dig focused on two roundhouses opening up trenches across the walls, floors and entrances of the structures. The aim was to find evidence of how people lived in these buildings. Successive floor layers were revealed from which charcoal was recovered (which will allow us to radiocarbon date the roundhouses). Analysis of soil samples recovered from the floor deposits can also tell us what fuel was being used for fires, what the inhabitants were eating and even potentially what wood was used for the structure and roofing.

Overview of Aultcraggie dig © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

The team of volunteers also recovered numerous flint tools, which may have been used for cutting and processing food, hide working and even as strike-a-lights for fire. Fragments of a saddle quern was found as well as a large pot was found that had been left where it fell on the floor. Specialist analysis of these artefacts will tell us something about the lifestyles of those who lived here, and how this compares with other similar sites in the region and across Scotland. This will provide new insights into Iron Age Sutherland, revealing aspect of life here buried beneath the ground for the last two and bit thousand years.

The dig saw hundreds of visitors and volunteers across the 12-day duration, including pupils from the local Brora Primary School. And as well as providing opportunities for local volunteers to participate in the dig, students from the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews took part, receiving training in archaeological fieldwork to the standards of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, which will contribute towards their degrees.

Uncovering an Aultcraggie roundhouse © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

The results of the dig will be reported on in due course, with a publication to follow once all the artefacts and samples have been analysed and dated.

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Re-engaging Schools with an Old Dig

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Back in 2014, GUARD Archaeology excavated the remains of an eighteenth-century drovers’ inn, Tigh Caol, near Strachur. Following the delivery of the artefacts to the local museum in 2022, Strachur & District Local History Society wanted to re-engage with some of the local schools who were originally involved in the dig. GUARD Archaeology’s Warren Bailie, who directed the excavation of Tigh Caol, visited Strachur Primary School and Kilmodan Primary School in January 2023 along with three members of the society.

Strachur Primary School pupils trying to solve the Tigh Caol jigsaw
School pupils recreating eighteenth century drinking vessels with clay

The school visits enabled the whole schools – 36 children and 8 teachers – to have a closer look at the finds recovered along with the model of the inn created by Jim Conquer, and to learn about how eighteenth-century life might have looked around Strachur. Activities included a Tigh Caol jig saw recreating the inn, a spot the difference activity, and clay modelling – trying to recreate some of the vessels that drovers might have drank from when stopping off at Tigh Caol.

‘It was a great pleasure to revisit the community around Tigh Caol,’ Warren noted, ‘and to teach another group of children about Tigh Caol and the importance of archaeology that lies undiscovered in their local area.’

Cathy Montgomery of Strachur & District Local History Society helping Kilmodan pupils with their paper activities

The dig was instigated and funded by Dr Donald Adamson as part of his post-doctoral research at the University of Glasgow with assistance from Strachur & District Local History Society and GUARD Archaeology.

The results of the excavation and scientific analysis of the assemblage were published in 2015: /reports/2015/ARO17.html

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