Rhynie, Aberdeenshire

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

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Archive reports updated

Slowly but surely we are getting to grips with all the paperwork, photographs and drawings from the 2013 excavations.  The first thing we'll do is create a summary document called a 'Data Structure Report'.  You can see two of our previous DSR documents up on our webpage now - check out the 'About REAP' page on the blog (look right!).   We now have both 2011 and 2012 up. (They are what we call interim reports and can be a bit heavy on the data side of things - for die-hards only!) We'll work on some more user-friendly text for the website, too.

We've also recently heard of a new initiative by the Huntly Writers group - apparently the project inspired some creative juices and poems and  stories are being written (hopefully not about bad dancing...).  We're looking forward to reading some of them and maybe getting to post up one or two (or a link). 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Over 3000 hits!

Both Gordon and I are a little bit addicted to the 'stats' function on our blog website - we are so pleased at the interest in the site and our activities.  Over the 2 weeks of digging and blogging, we have had over 3000 views of the website!!  Most of our hits are from the UK with the USA coming in at 2nd place - but we also have viewers in Russia, Japan, Iceland, Sweden... the list goes on and on!

The trowel is packed away (for now...)

We departed site on Sunday a little later than planned (those last minute jobs of drawing and recording always seem to take a lot longer than you think!).  I pulled into the drive in Chester just after midnight on Monday morning. 

Now we begin the process of putting all the pieces of our excavation work together to create the story of what we think was going on in the field.  Scanning and digitising drawings, sorting through the context sheets, doing some research on our finds - it should all come together in the next month or so and we'll have our 'Data Structure Report' ready.  We are hoping to revamp our website a bit in the coming months, too, so that there will be more information about the project, some more pictures and for those interested in the technical side of things, online versions of our interim reports. 

In the meantime we have great memories (mostly documented by Hayley and her great photos on the Rhynie Woman facebook page!) of our two weeks in Rhynie and the fantastic enthusiasm and energy of everyone in the village and our other visitors. We'll keep trying to post when we get some new information or update the site. Thank you Rhynie!

Dancing in the street at Rhynie - that was one long strip the willow line! I'm still exhausted!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The last full day of work.

There was a big to-do list at the start of the day, but we have made good progress and feel we'll be ready to close down our site tomorrow.  Today was a recording day - lots of drawing, context sheets, checking of drawings and context sheets and cleaning for final photographs.  We've finally managed to get a decent shot of both of our square barrows.  Since the barrow ditches are quite shallow, the

Jennifer recording the cist.
dry weather has made them almost impossible to see.  A technique of spraying and kite photo-ing, however, has finally caught them.  Our digging team of Emma, Jennifer, Julia, Orshi, Rachel & Sandra - and of course Oskar and our friends Leaf & Candy who helped us out -  have been amazing.  We could not have asked for a better group to help us this year.

On a mission to plan... Oskar and Sandra work through post-ex planning.

The two square barrows from the kite-cam.
We had an amazing time last night at the ceilidh.  There were talented musicians providing us with music, an original score by Daisy in honour of the diggers and lots of people out to enjoy the music and laugh at Gordon and I trying to dance.  I haven't got a picture yet, but the whole digging team was wearing their Rhynie Man T-Shirts designed by Debbi.  All that fun did make it a bit tricky to get up this morning, but we pulled together.  We've just had our final drink (of this season!) in the Gordon Arms and will be sad to leave tomorrow.  We have such great memories to take away with us - and such amazing archaeology to work on - that we know we'll be back!

What a turnout! Meggen gives the last tour of the season.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Gonna Ceilidh like it's (AD) 599!

We might not get to post much up tonight as we are soon headed into the village to give a short presentation about the project and our results in the trench (so far.. one day left!).  We also get to hear the experts from the Scottish Sculpture Workshop talk about their amazing and successful iron smelting experiment they carried out this afternoon.  Probably the hottest activity you could think to do on the hottest day of the year so far... it was amazing to see the smelting furnace in action. We promise pictures soon, but you can also check out the Rhynie Woman Facebook page if you can't bear to wait - Hayley is a much better photographer than any of us!
After our presentations, the village is hosting a ceilidh for us, too!  I can't remember my Gay Gordons from my Dashing White Sargeants really, but after a wee whiskey I'll give it a go.

Mostly today we were catching up on paperwork, finishing drawing sections and starting our post-ex planning.  Pictures to come!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Pictish burial revealed!

It's been a very busy few days, especially for Jennifer who has been working hard on one of our Pictish square barrow burials.  Within the smaller barrow on site was a fantastic stone lined grave called a cist.  These types of burials have stone slabs lining the edge of the grave cut and often have a large capstone on top.  The capstone of our burial had cracked and fallen into the grave at some point in the past, but the stone lining helped preserve some very fragmented skeletal remains.  This has taken some time to excavate and record carefully, but Jennifer has done a fine job.  The Picts did not normally bury their dead with grave goods and there was nothing inside the burial.  Our other square barrow burial, being dug by Orshi, does not have a stone lining.  Instead, we think that we have a 'coffin stain' - a darker soil showing up around the edges of the grave cut, suggesting a different type of burial rite being used.  Variation like this is common in Pictish cemeteries.

The cist grave showing the collapsed capstone.


A pair of beads

We didn't quite get around to posting about our other big find yesterday - spotted by one of our eagle-eyed helpers, Joel, as he scanned the spoil heap.  A lovely blue bead, probably of similar date to the white one found earlier in the day.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Rhynie Man tattoo

Well now I've never thought of getting a tattoo, but now I might. This is Sandy Forbes who grew up in the village. Now that is dedication!!!

Spearhead mystery solved! Rhynie connections to Borneo!!

Martin from Ashvale alerted us to this curious find from his garden at Ashvale at the southern end of the village. This really puzzled us as the spearhead seemed too well preserved to be an ancient artefact but the fact that it came from the area where two of the Rhynie symbol stones came from made us very curious about this artefact.

Previous owner of the house Mr MacPherson (who bizarrely was at my wedding - small world!) have now been in contact to say:

"I think that spear was an African one that my Dad had a bunch of from somewhere or other, he did have relatives that were in South Africa at the time of the Boer war so it might have been from them. I used to chuck them about all over the place when I got the chance so there is a strong likelihood that the one you found was one of those! Perhaps you had better tell Gordon so he doesn't get all excited about it..."


This is the rare white glass bead found by Leona Bruce during our schools activities today. It is a tiny glass bead that dates to the Iron Age or early medieval period (c.500 BC to AD 700). What a fantastic find and well done to Leona and her eagle eyes!! It may have been part of a necklace worn by a Rhynie ancestor.

School visits

Well isn't this the cutest thing ever! Little Rhynie folks coming to visit the excavation! The whole Rhynie Primary school and Nursery came to visit accompanied by headteacher Claire Connnor and other lovely teachers. The kids were aged 3-11 and took part in trowelling, sieving for artefacts and washing of finds. We sent them home with a find of their own (some of our lovely modern pottery) in their very own finds bag. All of the kids were fantastic and there was some great trowelling action, sieving and washing in evidence. We may see university applications for archaeology rocket in about 6-15 years from now...
Leona even found us a very rare white glass bead during sieving....

Lovely Ditches

And talking of Square Enclosures - here is a section dug across the ditch of the smaller square enclosure as dug by Dave Anderson (thanks Dave!!)- you can see the lenses of orangey-brown sand silting into the ditch towards the base  - this seems to represent the gradual silting of the ditch during use of the enclosure. Above is a much more homogenous brown sand deposit that seems to represent the more rapid or deliberate in-filling of the ditch once the enclosure was no longer used or maintained. Thankfully there was some charcoal-gold at the base of the ditch which should help us date the enclosure ditch infilling.

New kite shot of large square enclosure

Before your eyeballs you can see our latest kite shot of the larger square enclosure courtesy of Oskar's magic kite-cam. In the NW part of the enclosure entrance you can see a group of features that may be part of an Iron Age ring-ditch roundhouse. We are not sure yet whether this is contemporary with the square enclosure - we haven't found any artefacts in the features associated with the ring-ditch yet, but we have charcoal from one feature that should provide a radiocarbon date.

Ring-ditch houses is a name given to a particular type of prehistoric roundhouse that has large erosion gullies, probably created from the stalling of animals within the house. Only the foundations of these structures tend to survive and our example consists of postholes, the ring-ditch and a large central pit full of burnt stone, ash and fire-cracked stone. Hopefully more will come out in the post-excavation and radiocarbon dating to tell us whether this structure is contemporary or earlier (or indeed later) than the square enclosure itself.

Science is real!!!

Science in action!! Petar Davidkov piloting forensic archaeology techniques for detecting graves. I'd like to tell you more but the science makes my brain hurt. He is using a magnetic susceptibility meter...

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Digging into Features

Our work exploring the many features on site continues.  We're doing really well and have been helped by a small but dedicated group of volunteers (today alone we had Sheila - our queen of sieving - helped out by Tony, Ron & Juliet in the big enclosure ditch, Alastair in a scoop, Dave in the small enclosure ditch, Diane in a smaller barrow ditch and Fred in a something we can't quite identify yet!

That's in addition to our team of star Aberdeen diggers, too.  The day was largely dry but overcast, which meant we could see features and fills much better - and now there is a nice soft rain that will hopefully make the features pop out at us tomorrow.  Hopefully it won't be too wet into the day tomorrow, though, as we've got the WHOLE of Rhynie Primary visiting us for their 'day at the dig' - we will definitely be a busy site tomorrow!  At least we'll have lots of (little) hands to help us trowel, sieve and clean up some of our finds.

We've managed to complete a slot each across our two square enclosures.  Neither are particularly deep and they have not had much in them in terms of finds, but both had charcoal, which is hopefully going to provide us with some dates.  Both ditches are quite similar, which adds to the impression that the two enclosures are contemporary. 

The small square enclosure ditch.

A mysterious feature (kind of an amorphous blob...) in the middle of the smaller square enclosure has been investigated, too.  Although we still aren't sure what it is, we have found a large chunk of burnt wood in it.  It looks like a bit of a burnt branch.  We've lifted this whole and will take it back to the lab so our scientists can identify what type of tree it came from and take a sample for radiocarbon dating.

The burnt branch found today.

The Rhynie lurgy seems to have made a reappearance this year (it swept through the digging team last year!).  I've fallen prey and Gordon has a 'tickle' in his throat.  Perhaps a medicinal whisky is in order... just for health purposes, obviously!

Monday, 1 July 2013

It's the Pits (in a good way)!

Another very busy day on site, with lots of visitors coming up to see us.  The Pictish cafĂ© seems to be doing very well, too - I finally managed to sneak down to sample one of the infamous cinnamon buns (ok... two cinnamon buns...) at lunchtime.  I'm just hoping Debbie has a small Rhynie Man T-shirt left for me (although with all those cakes, maybe I should go up a size just in case!).

Today we've been really getting into the different features on site with all the archaeology students and a few of our most loyal volunteers excavating a range of pits, possible post-settings and ditch sections.  One of our most interesting features is Emma's pit - this pit was absolutely black with charcoal and burnt material.  Definitely not a problem to find dating evidence for this feature! We are not sure what it was used for.  Emma did find a little bit of slag, but it does not appear to be a dump from metalworking and it might even be burning done inside the pit itself.  Nearby, Rachel has been working on a rather odd feature; we thought it was going to be a hollow filled with modern material, but then underneath a perfect little post-hole appeared!

Emma's pit of charcoal!

Rachel working on her feature - dressed for Scottish summer.

Our volunteers in the 'trowel line' made great progress, too.  We've now cleaned most of the site and we've even been able to go back over some areas of the small enclosure to refresh our features and see if we can find any more.  There was a suggestion that we had a line of post-holes just inside the ditch, so we've been trying to see if they are 'real'.  We (well, Fred) also found a sherd of what looks like a piece of the mid-section of a very fine glass vessel.  The glass is so fine and paper thin that we have hopes it might date to the Pictish period - we'll ask our finds expert Ewan for advice tomorrow! This adds to our growing list of interesting finds that we can't quite date!  A few days ago another volunteer, Jamie, found a delicate copper alloy buckle.
Copper Alloy buckle found during cleaning.
We can't believe it is our second week already - time flies. Now to check the weather and hope for some gentle rain overnight and a little less breeze tomorrow.  Gordon needs to do a bit of a rain dance for Mr Munch I think.