Rhynie, Aberdeenshire

Rhynie, Aberdeenshire
The Craw Stane with Tap o'Noth hillfort in the background (Photo courtesy of Cathy MacIver).

Friday, 28 August 2015

An Fe Obj of Interest

Anyone that's worked on an archaeological site knows the shorthand phrase 'Fe Obj' - which simply means 'Iron Object.'  We save this for all manner of indeterminate rusty objects that most of the time turn out to be indeterminate recent scraps of iron.  However, at Rhynie we have soil conditions that seem amazingly to preserve iron objects (a case in point being our fantastic iron axe-pin from 2012).

Yesterday Irvine (who found our lovely and possibly exotic blue spiral bead) was dutifully working in his ditch sondage when he shouted 'Meggen! Metal!' across the site.  And behold - an Fe Obj! Something odd about one end prompted Daniel and I to look giddy and mutter 'pin-like' a lot.  It isn't another axe-pin, but looks rather like a form called a 'disc-headed pin' - a fantastic example of a 5th-6th century silver disc-headed pin can be found at the British Museum (http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_mla/d/disc-headed_pin.aspx).  There's no way to tell if ours was decorated at all at the moment and it is broken at the tip, too.  Another great find to add to our collection of wonderful and sometimes unique finds collection from the site.

Remember, tomorrow the 29th is our site Open Day and the Pictish pop-up cafe will be in full operation. We will be offering regular tours and there will be a mini-display of some of our finds.  We have a 'sieve the spoil heap' challenge for those wanting to get their hands dirty and for the little ones a special sand box (crafted by Fred) and a chance for them to dig and sieve to find themselves a little treasure to take away. Rhynie is on the A97 and the field is just south of the village.  The brave might drive into the field, but there is also a gate to walk into the field at the southern corner.  You can park in the village by the square and walk up on the big grassy verge. You can also park in the cemetery car park (where there are some Pictish stones on display) and walk up by the field wall.

Diggers enjoying our cafe tent.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Amphorae sherds galore and a special deposit

A busy few days interspersed with lots of heavy rain showers for us here at Rhynie.  All the work is going well.  Although, our annexe ditch that we thought was 'sorted' turns out to have a few tricks up its sleeve yet.  An annoying thing for a ditch that is rather insubstantial and that we are still not sure why it exists.

However, lots of Late Roman Amphorae sherds are popping up particularly in the outer ditch and a mystery fabric has also appeared on site.  We have some inklings of what it might be, but nothing we are willing to commit in writing until approved by our findsmaster Ewan.

Irvine and Alex working on the outer ditch.

The main outer ditch section we are doing this year has been completed and remains only to be drawn and contexts described.  It was a mammoth effort! We kept a close eye on our team of two (Ani and Nicola) to make sure they were safe and also to keep their spirits up after saying 'no, that isn't the bottom' too many times.

Team Outer Ditch have a victory trowel before their post-ex photo.

Work on the palisade continues.  We can definitely see the ghost of planks (although sometimes we debate where it is!), but are still working to clarify how the structure was built.  A long section of the palisade is being excavated in plan and this should help us with that question.

Palisade Park with John, Vanessa, Oskar and (by popular demand) Fred!

One of our most exciting discoveries today has been a deposit of what looks to be a cattle jaw in the base of a large pit that either represents the end of the outer ditch or is dug into the outer ditch terminal.  This pit was packed with large stones - very unusual for our site even though we have lots of huge postholes.  We have a suspicion that the packing might have supported a stone rather than a wooden post, but this needs to be argued out.  Underneath all the packing material and at the very base was the bone.  As Cathy would say - seems to be a bit 'weirdo' (we try to avoid the word ritual sometimes to avoid being a stereotype).  Grace did a great job in her pit/ditch and was rewarded with crumbling teeth! Ah, archaeology.

The bone deposit in the outer ditch terminal/pit.

Don't forget our Open Day on the 29th. Fingers crossed for less hail - but the rainbows today on site were spectacular.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

A windy day and a WooHoo

After pelting rain last night (which some of our team got caught in on the way home from the pub apparently) the trench looked a bit pitted, but fine.  It was good to have a bit more moisture in the features, really, especially as today's main weather condition was WINDY.  Lots of shouting 'what?' across the site accompanied by hand gestures and shielding of eyes from the dusty sands of the trench.

The ditches and palisade under excavation in the desert of REAP and tresses blowing in the wind.
Cathy had a dream last night she was in the desert - only to arrive on site to see it was real.  But we ate jelly beans and the sugar hit made everything OK.

Work continued on all of our main features, with the tricky annexe ditch finally being mastered by Dave, John and Michael.  It is still incredibly difficult to see, even in the section, and the fill is very clean.  We don't believe the annexe was used for domestic structures given the almost complete lack of charcoal in the ditch and in the interior posthole features.  At the moment we are kicking around the theory that it is a livestock enclosure and the numerous posthole alignments are either stalls inside a structure or outside pens of some sort.

In terms of finds today, we had more lovely sherds of Late Roman amphorae and a fantastic blue glass bead the presence of which was announced by a cheery WooHoo from the sieving area.

We also had a great team of helpers from the Aberdeen Young Archaeologists Club who helped to trowel clean an area.  They had a great talk from Monikie Rock Art (http://www.monikierockart.co.uk/)  as well about the realities of trying to carve stone in the Pictish period (one of my favourite things to ponder, personally).

And of course we had the great Rhynie Woman on site making us all fat and happy with Pictish pizza and cake (mmmmm cake....). If you are in the area, you really need to come down next Saturday for the Open Day to experience it for yourself!

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Pot Luck!

A brilliant day back after yesterday's break.  We had lots of visitors to site today and the students were very busy giving tours, but in-between we managed to get quite a bit done.  Ditches are getting close to the bottom and ready for recording.  Other features are just getting started - and the annexe ditch is being difficult playing peek-a-boo.  It looks like is should be there, but keeps disappearing.  This is likely because the fill is redeposited sand which is very similar to the natural soil the ditch was dug into.

A few more finds today.  We have two iron buckles (found near each other so we call it the 'buckle hoard').  Their date is not very easy to figure out based on their shape, but they were found near a lovely handle from a pot.  We believe this to be the handle of an amphora and one of our key pieces of evidence for high status and trade here.  For those with a special interest, it appears to be Late Roman Amphora (once known as B ware), which probably dates to the 6th century AD.

Handle probably from 6th century imported pottery
The Rhynie Woman was on site today as well as Monikie Rock Art doing demonstrations.  There were lots of cinnamon buns (but you had to push Fred out of the way for them) and tasty cookies and coffee - plus the awesome Pictish Pizza! I could barely eat my lunch I was so full of cake (but I still managed it...).


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Pictish pizza

Another productive day with cleaning and work on key features. A few of these turned out to be rather unimpressive (one of the 'horns' of the palisade in particular turned out rather shallow...), but the rest of the site more than makes up for it. Our annexe continues to tease us with possible post holes and 'are they/aren't they making up a building or two' questions. The dry and windy conditions are not particularly good for helping us find the answer at the moment.
Tomorrow marks our day off, but if you are in the area Saturday, we will be hosting some stone carving demonstrations and our friends at Rhynie Woman are putting on a great Pictish pop up cafe in the field. They have the ability to make Pictish pizza! And it is amazing!
We will be putting on tours at 2pm. If you can't make it this Saturday, you can visit the Open Day on the 29th. Now for a well deserved day off. Student diggers likely sleeping in, Oskar will be doing something with technology, Gordon will drink tea and do some heavy thinking and I will do mum duty and some squinting at Lidar data. Good times.
-Meggen

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Beginning to dig into features

Before the update... a beauty shot from Oskar's drone. A few days old but gives you the idea!

Hopefully you can see the annexe to the main triple enclosure ( and look at those lovely palisade postholes inside the palisade slot...).

Today was very productive with most of the site now having gone through its first trowel clean.  Lots more features emerging including arcs of postholes within the annexe.   Nothing forming definite structures as of yet, but we will know more when the plan is finalised and we can get a good overview. We are beginning to look into some of our key features to answer some big questions. Over the inner ditch we are attempting to confirm its phasing and find material in the lower fills for dating.  With the outer ditch we have to tease out its relationship to the annexe.

Morale is good after yesterday's rain.  Gordon stuck a bucket on his head, we ate cake and far too many strawberry laces and had our first head-scratcher finds.  One of these is a little stack of 4 coins - they don't look particularly old (alas!) at initial viewing, which came out of the topsoil.  Likely the contents of someone's pocket a few generations back.  The other was a lovely piece of pottery - a pedestal type base with fluted edges or finger notches.  We are not familiar with this (so have sent photos to the findsmaster).  It doesn't look like our imported pottery.

- Meggen

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Soggy but good

A rather wet day today after blistering sunshine (literally for one of the diggers! Wear sunscreen!) yesterday. We only managed the morning before the rain drove us off site. But things are progressing well and the community talk delivered by Cathy went well last night. (Big shout out to Cathy for that one as Dr GN was still recovering from his eye injury and DR MG had to be on mum duty).
Most of the trench has had a good trowel now and lots of features are emerging. The annexe is well defined apart from one edge, which looks much better from the air than on the ground. We believe we have the entrance to it, which seems to have some 'horns' or extensions coming off of it. There also appear to be a number of interesting things going on inside it and a complex relationship between it and the main fortification features (inner and outer ditches and the palisade) of the main complex. Some fun teasing out of phasing to be done there. Our palisade appears to have an entrance augmented by some impressive architecture as we have large post holes and another slot feature on one side of it. This is great news as one of our objectives this year is to try and get a bit more information on how the different fortifications were built and what they may have looked like. A great start to the week and the weather looks like it will take a good turn for the next few days. At least we should not have a dry dusty trench tomorrow.

Some technical difficulties at the minute means I cannot post Oskar's latest drone photo, but we are working on it!
-Meggen