Monthly Archives: February 2017

Discovery of Rare Bronze Age Weapon Hoard

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The Bronze Age Hoard as it was first revealed during excavations at Carnoustie © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

GUARD Archaeologists have recently recovered a very rare and internationally significant hoard of metalwork that is a major addition to Scottish Late Bronze Age archaeology.

A bronze spearhead decorated with gold was found alongside a bronze sword, pin and scabbard fittings in a pit close to a Bronze Age settlement excavated by a team of GUARD Archaeologists led by Alan Hunter Blair, on behalf of Angus Council in advance of their development of two football pitches at Carnoustie.

Each individual object in the hoard is significant but the presence of gold ornament on the spearhead makes this an exceptional group. Within Britain and Ireland, only a handful of such spearheads are known – among them a weapon hoard found in 1963 at Pyotdykes Farm to the west of Dundee. These two weapon hoards from Angus – found only a few kilometres apart – hint at the wealth of the local warrior society during the centuries around 1000-800 BC.

There are two more aspects that elevate the Carnoustie discovery to international significance. The first aspect is the extremely rare survival of organic remains. A leather and wooden scabbard encased the Carnoustie sword and is probably the best preserved Late Bronze Age sword scabbard ever found in Britain. Fur skin survives around the spearhead, and textile around the pin and scabbard. Such organic remains rarely survive on dryland sites.

The second aspect is that the hoard is not an isolated find but was buried within a Late Bronze Age settlement, which means that once the excavation has been completed it will be possible to study the archaeological context of the hoard, revealing new insights into the local Bronze Age community that buried it. Not least of which was the longevity of settlement here. For the excavation has also revealed the largest Neolithic hall so far found in Scotland, a building dating to around 4000 BC and that may have been as old to the people who buried the weapon hoard, as they are to us.

‘It is very unusual to recover such artefacts in a modern archaeological excavation, which can reveal so much about the context of its burial. Owing to the fragile nature of these remains when we first discovered them, our team removed the entire pit, and the surrounding subsoil which it was cut into, as a single 80 kg block of soil,’ said GUARD Project Officer Alan Hunter Blair. ‘This was then delivered to our Finds Lab where it was assessed by a specialist Finds Conservator to plan how it could be carefully excavated and the artefacts conserved.’

‘Organic evidence like Bronze Age wooden scabbards rarely survive so this just underlines how extraordinary these finds are,’ said GUARD Project Officer, Beth Spence, who undertook the excavation of the hoard in GUARD Archaeology’s Finds Lab along with Conservator Will Murray from the Scottish Conservation Studio.

Along with the hoard, the GUARD Archaeology team have discovered around 1000 archaeological features, among them the remains of up to 12 sub-circular houses that probably date to the Bronze Age along with the remains of 2 rectilinear halls that likely date to the Neolithic period. Some of the other archaeology on site consists of clusters of large pits containing discarded, broken pots and lithic artefacts. It is unclear yet if the archaeological remains comprise a settlement that lasted from the Neolithic until the Late Bronze Age or if it comprises several settlements built upon the same site but separated in time by many centuries.

Claire Herbert of ACAS, Archaeological advisers to Angus Council, said ‘The archaeology uncovered at Carnoustie is undoubtedly of national and international significance, and will certainly further enhance our knowledge of the prehistory of this area, providing an invaluable opportunity to learn more about how people in Angus lived in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.’

Angus Council communities convener Donald Morrison added: ‘It is clear that Carnoustie was as much a hive of activity in Neolithic and Bronze Age times as it is now. The discoveries made on land destined for sporting development have given us a fascinating insight into our Angus forebears and I look forward to learning more about our local prehistory.’

Vice convener Jeanette Gaul said: ‘To make such a find while preparing to create sports facilities for Carnoustie came as a huge surprise to us all. We’ve since learned it is of national and, indeed, international importance. But I am pleased that the archaeologists have involved local young people in the excavation project and are offering us all an insight into Angus’ distant past.’

In tandem with the excavation, GUARD Archaeology have brought community benefits and added value to the work by providing tours and presentations for local schools, including Carnoustie High School and Monifieth High School. Work experience for two students (from Carnoustie High School and Brechin High School) was also provided. Each of the students were trained in core skills in archaeology and were provided with a bespoke training plan and an archaeology skills passport for potential future careers in archaeology. In addition, GUARD Archaeology provided employment throughout the contract for a recently graduated archaeologist from Dundee. Throughout the project GUARD Archaeology have strived to use local suppliers and resources so that as much of the contract value as possible goes back into the local economy.

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Student Placements at GUARD Archaeology

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Rhiannon Lanosky MacFarlane (left) and Rebecca Loew (right) now working for GUARD Archaeology Ltd © GUARD Archaeology Ltd

As a Chartered Institute for Archaeologists Registered Organisation we not only take very seriously the training of our own staff, all of whose training needs are assessed via an annual skills audit, personal development plans and a continuing professional development log. But we also take very seriously the training of the next generation of archaeologists and our long-standing relationship with the Department of Archaeology at the University of Glasgow helps make this possible. Our training policy caters for early career archaeologists, volunteers and placement students entering the profession with limited experience and/or skills within the heritage sector (Pathway to PCIfA). Since 2011, we have taken on 9 student placements, several of whom have gone on to find employment with us and other archaeology companies.

‘It was the option of a work placement and research report as opposed to a dissertation that first brought me to the University of Glasgow’, said one of this year’s student placements, Rhiannon Lanosky MacFarlane. ‘I knew that as a student coming from another discipline I did not have the practical experience most others did when coming into the MLitt Material Culture and Artefacts Studies programme. In my seven week placement with GUARD Archaeology I was able to contribute to various ongoing projects acquiring a variety of skills – survey and field walking, evaluation, finds processing and cataloguing, flotation, and artefact illustration, all processes that are necessary when analysing a site. One project stayed with me, and I was fortunate enough that GUARD Archaeology allowed me to use it for my research report. While on placement I had begun cleaning the ceramic assemblage from GUARD Archaeology’s ongoing excavation of Partick Castle in Glasgow. From there I began illustrating the finds, through traditional and digital means. As I became familiar with the assemblage I wondered if it would be possible for me to reconstruct some of the pottery. With the skill sets I learned on placement I was able to build upon that knowledge, teaching myself photogrammetry and 3D animation. Combined with the luck of finding the sherds within the large assemblage, I was able to create a 3D reconstruction of a near complete medieval vessel from Partick Castle.’

‘While I am still learning, I feel this opportunity has given me much more than any classroom could’, added Rhiannon. ‘It gives the student the chance to choose how they learn, and what they want to focus on, whether it be commercial archaeology or in a museum. I came into the placement knowing the direction I wanted to pursue. I did it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but now there is so much more that I am interested in.’

Another student at the University of Glasgow’s Material Culture and Artefact Studies programme who took a placement at GUARD Archaeology this summer was Rebecca Loew. Originally from Wisconsin in the USA Rebecca was drawn to the programme precisely because there was an option to participate in a work placement. ‘The GUARD Archaeology staff were welcoming and willing to teach us about all of the different aspects of being an archaeologist’, said Rebecca. ‘The work varied from walkover surveys assessing how future developments might impact sites, to washing and cataloguing artefacts as part of the post-excavation process. We shadowed a member of staff as they went to schools to teach children about local archaeology and shadowed another member of staff during an evaluation, helping to record archaeology as it was being unearthed. I will forever be grateful to GUARD Archaeology for making this such an enjoyable experience and taking the time to teach me more about the profession that I am just starting out in.’

At the heart of GUARD Archaeology’s training policy is a recognition that our staff members and the next generation of archaeologists are central to our success and therefore our success is directly related to the level of investment we make in their futures.

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Excavation of a post-medieval inn at Wilkhouse, Sutherland

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Photograph from air of Wilkhouse. The inn is at the top left and consists of two linked buildings. It has a large enclosure around it, which runs off photograph and indeed under the 1870s railway line. There is a late 18th century dwelling and enclosure below this. The Kintradwell broch stands on the raised beach at the bottom.

GUARD Archaeology will soon be undertaking an excavation in partnership with Clyne Heritage Societyand the University of Glasgow at the site of an inn just north of Brora in Sutherland.

This excavation seeks to investigate the remains of the inn here, which was in operation in the eighteenth century, and is believed to have been subject to the Clearances in the early nineteenth century.

The inn was identified as being of interest by Dr Donald Adamson, Chairman of GUARD Archaeology and honorary research affiliate, during his fieldwork for his University of Glasgow PhD thesis ‘Commercialisation, Change and Continuity: An Archaeological Study of Rural Commercial Practice in the Scottish Highlands’. A similar excavation outside Strachur was carried out in 2014, and you can see the results of this at archaeology Reports Online (ARO 17: Tigh Caol) available at

The excavation will be taking place over 2 weeks from Monday 22 May 2017 to Friday 2 June 2017.

The excavation will be directed by Warren Bailie of GUARD Archaeology, who directed the excavation at Strachur. Along with members of Clyne Heritage Society, many of whom have excavation experience through the society’s outstanding work at the sixteenth century salt works at Brora, archaeology students and local volunteers will be taking part.

There is one more available space for a student volunteer.

Any archaeology student interested in taking part should contact Warren Bailie by 28 February 2017.

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