Rhynie, Aberdeenshire

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

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Pretty little moulds all in a row

An early morning post before we head out for the day.  Remember, if you are visiting site today we will be very busy trying to wrap everything up, but we will try to stop for a chat.

Just a selection of finds from the past few days drying out.

Hard to believe we are almost done.  What an amazing season.  We'll update about our post-ex progress and especially about some of these magical moulds once they have been cleaned and analysed.  We are hoping some are complete enough to have 3D scanned and then 3D printed so we can try casting our own Pictish metalwork!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Racing to the finish..

We'll be finishing up work this week on site.  The mad rush of finishing features and recording them is well under way (with the joy of backfilling looming large in the near future). 

The inner ditch sondage has been completed - almost single-handedly by Irving with some help from Jasmin.  The sections tell us a story about how they attempted to stabilise the ditch with layers of turf as it filled in. 

Work in the outer ditch sondages progressed rapidly in both trench 1 and 2.  Yesterday a massive dump of metalworking waste was uncovered in trench 2 quite far down in the ditch.  Over 100 fragments of clay moulds were uncovered and many of these were of exceptional quality. We are sitting now with torches and magnifying glass trying to get to grips with the range of objects that were made. Trench 1 also continued to produce finds of metalworking moulds and crucibles.

One of the real highlights today and of the entire dig has nothing to do with artefacts.  Today the puzzle of how they constructed the outer palisade/wall walk type structure was revealed.  At the base of a very deep thin trench we found the ghosts of planks and posts preserved more clearly than ever before.

The grey shadows of squared planks set at the edge of the palisade with large posts set behind.
We have been puzzling over the palisade construction for years.  The sheer scale of the size of construction and the skill and effort taken in making the wooden planks and posts for this structure is astounding. 

We only have one full day in the field left, but we are extremely satisfied with our work this year - so many great successes and a lot of 'firsts' for Pictish archaeology. 

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Mould Magic

First off a massive thank you to everyone that came out to support us and Rhynie Woman at the ceilidh last night.  We jigged, we jagged... we stripped a willow or two. It was a great night!

And now to mould magic...

It can be difficult to explain to people why we get so excited about moulds as sometimes they aren't much to look at.  Almost all the moulds we have found have been clay two-part moulds.  These types of moulds have to be broken to get out the metal object, which is why they are in fragments.  Since they are 'one use only' objects, the clay is not fired as hard as when making pottery, usually, which also means they fragments can break down and decay more easily than pots.  Despite all these issues, we have amassed a great collection of moulds.  Most are for the shafts of pins, probably to hold clothing.  The most exciting moulds show us the pin head, which helps us identify what type of pin it was.  We have to be very careful with the moulds as too much handling or brushing can break or remove the detail.  Once in a while we get a real gem without too much handling!

This morning a lovely mould emerged. The mould looks to be for an early type of handpin, one of those quite rare types of pins for early medieval Scotland. 

Proto handpin mould.

Today was our Open Day and we had lots of interest from visitors until the rain poured down during our lunch break. Thankfully most of us were off site having our lunch and the rainclouds parted after a while and the afternoon was fantastic for digging.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Crammed wtih crucibles....

Another brilliant day on site.

About two minutes into the day, the first sherd of crucible was found.  They just kept coming. We have rim sherds, base fragments and lots of body sherds.

Metalworking is definitely the big theme from this year's excavations. We appear to have come across a distinctive dump of debris from metalworking.  The finds are very broken, some degrading and they are all mixed up.  Many people might not get that excited about metalworking evidence (preferring instead the shiny final products), but we can't get enough of our clay moulds! 

Another fantastic mould for a hand pin emerged today showing the front half of the mould with the little projecting fingers very clearly outlined.  Fantastic.  It didn't photograph very well so we are a little short on eye candy... apologies!  It is clear they were making a range of different types of pins and brooches as well as other metal objects at Rhynie.  Having the production evidence for these objects is actually more important than having the final shiny pieces; it tells us much more!

Remember our open day is happening this weekend - Sunday - and we'll post more information on Saturday including times and activities.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Another fine day.. or should that be FIND day...

The investigations into the outer ditch are exceeding our expectations. Our main research questions focusing on this feature this year are to look for more information on the different types of activities occurring on site during the 5-6th century AD and to establish more definitively whether there is a recut (a reworking) of the outer ditch.

We have not dug down deep enough yet to answer the second objective, but we are certainly able to already shed more light on what went on at the Craw Stane complex. 

They drank!
Today both another sherd of a glass drinking vessel and fragments, including a handle, of Late Roman Amphora emerged from the ditch fill.

Sherd of early medieval glass from Rhynie.

They melted stuff!
We have over 50 sherds of crucibles now and of many different types. We even have evidence now of firing enamel for decoration of pins and brooches. So far this year we have two droplets of copper alloy. 

They made lots of pins!
We have many clay moulds - mostly showing the shafts of pins.  However, today two special bits of mould fragment turned up.  Both of these look like they could be a mould for a hand pin - a very distinctive and beautiful pin in use during the 5th-6th centuries mostly in Scotland and Ireland. 

Doesn't look like much, but a possible mould for a hand pin from Rhynie.

Whilst we knew some of this before from our earlier excavations, the range and quantity of metalworking material is something we have not encountered here before. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Mini-Diggers on Site

Today we had the rest of Rhynie Primary with us on site.  They did a great job trowelling in Trench 5 and sieving for treasures. 

Despite gloomy forecasts we didn't get more than a few drops of rain today.  Perfect digging weather!

The outer ditch continues to provide us with lots of metalworking evidence including today another fragment of a stone crucible stand or mortar with some possible red enamel and copper alloy stuck to it.  We had some great mould fragments for pins, too.

Digging the outer ditch in the shadow of Tap o'Noth.

In Trench 4, work on one of the palisade postholes revealed a cache of unburnt bone (cattle) in the post-pipe.  We had  a similar cache of bone in another palisade posthole in 2012 - and that feature had a lovely brooch mould at the bottom.  We await this posthole's excavation with anticipation!

Lifting the animal bone in a palisade posthole.

And just in case you thought we were all business this year.... Here is Dan modelling Oskar's solution to trample in our nice clean trenches.

Monday, 22 August 2016

I'll drink to that...

Some eye candy for those that like a bit of drinking glass...

Rim of probably 5th-6th century glass drinking vessel from Rhynie.

Update: Crucible Kings and Pin Princessess

Rhynie 2016 is well under way and we had our first visit from Rhynie Primary today. Our two teams - 'The Archaeologists' and 'The Picts' - did a bit of detective work with aerial photography, got a first hand look at the amazing finds we have on site so far and got their hands dirty in Trench 5 doing a bit of trowelling back and sieving.  Wouldn't you know it they found TWO flint flakes in the topsoil?!? Those keen young eyes...

The big developments over the past few days have been the number and quality of finds.  Since we started excavating features, the finds have been popping up all over the place.

Highlights include numerous crucible sherds - largely found by Curtis and Lewis in the outer ditch.  Crucibles are small clay pots used to melt precious metals like bronze for making items such as pins and brooches in the Pictish period.  To complement all those sherds we have a potential crucible stand and a growing number of moulds for pins and other objects.

Possible stone crucible stand.

Not to be overshadowed by the lads in the outer ditch, Vicky became our first pin princess by finding a lovely fragment of a copper alloy pin.  The pin looks purposefully bent or broken and is reminiscent of a bent nail-headed pin from the site. 

A few sherds of amphorae have also emerged, but this year the focus really seems to be on metalworking debris (at least so far!).

The big find of the day was also the most delicate - a lovely rim of a glass drinking vessel. Roland (looking unimpressed apparently) was heading towards Gordon with glass in hand when Dr GN started the dance of joy - Daniel said it made his year! This adds to our small but important collection of fine glass drinking vessels. 

We should be having an open day on Sunday this weekend so keep your eyes posted on the blog and the Northern Picts facebook page (for those that do that sort of thing!).

Friday, 19 August 2016

2016 Season begins!

We are well into cleaning the trenches and revealing our familiar features as well as some tantalising new features.  The inner and outer ditches look great as does the palisade and the ring of palisade postholes.  We have one small sherd of Late Roman Amphora so far from cleaning. 

The students and volunteers not to mention the staff are looking forward to the next few weeks of back breaking labour, banter and careful trowelling.  Rhynie Woman is providing the best lunches for us EVER (ah, the cakes!).

Most of us are heading to the Prize Bingo tonight and there will be tours tomorrow during Rhynie Gala. Meet near the Gala tents in the village during the afternoon!

Drone shot of our trenches 2016.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Rhynie does it again... in Iron.

So says our finds expert Ewan Campbell... here is a lovely shot of our disc-headed iron pin from last year's excavations.  All those mutterings of 'pin-like' by Dan and myself proved to be right (virtual high five Daniel!). 
Just something to whet your whistle for what hopes to be a productive season starting next week. 

Rhynie, here we come!