15th May 2006 - News from the Trenches

Posted by steven on 16/05/2006 at 01:47 PM

Excavations have resumed at the High Pasture’s site. Read on for more details.....

With the completion of the geophysical survey, we have now turned our attention to opening up new trenches and the site for the 2006 fieldwork season. Recent news reports have provided details of the excavation of the stairwell, linking this former entrance with the natural cave passages below ground. We have also started excavation of the ‘roundhouse’ structure on the surface, our main area of excavation this year.

Trench 7 after removal of the bracken-infested turf - viewed from the south west. The collapsed wall of the roundhouse structure can be seen bottom right, while a large upright granite boulder is visible at the opposite end of the trench. Unfortunately, the boulder was found to be resting in the upper layer of soil, immediately above the present turf line, suggesting that this a very late feature in the formation of the site

With the exception of a used shotgun cartridge recovered from the turf layer in the trench, no other ‘modern’ material has been found during removal of the turf. However, as we cleaned between the collpased stonework at the north end of the trench Graham Parry, one of our local volunteers, recovered a fine pebble grinder (stone). We have now removed around 0.3 metres of brown soil, which is flecked with small pieces of charcoal, and are now below the level of the bracken roots. Several fragments of fire-cracked stone and pebble have been collected from this context, but no other finds.

Image showing the excavation of Trench 7 in progress, with Martin Wildgoose busy with bracken roots! The pebble tool mentioned above was recovered from collapsed stonework below the large granite slab, at the far end of the trench in this view. The stairwell is located below the white tarpaulin cover, while Trench 2 is immediately to the right

We have also opened a new trench (Trench 8) across the large stone-built wall, situated within the eastern sector of the site. Hopefully, the excavation will provide structural and dating evidence for this feature including whether it is contemporary with the use of the cave and other structures within the core of the site.

Excavations have also resumed in Trench 5, which due to time constraints was not completed during 2005. This small trench has revealed a complex sequence of archaeological features, which is highlighted in the digital images that follow.

Plan of the High Pasture’s site from 2005 showing trench locations including Trench 5

The image above shows the remains of a circular cell-like structure with paved floor revealed during 2005. After recording these features we removed the walls and paving to reveal an underlying layer of large paving slabs and a hearth setting (see below).

The image above shows the hearth setting and contemporary paving (to the left). The paving slabs have now been removed and were found to have been bedded down on a layer of fire-cracked stone and pebbles. The hearth setting had disturbed the revetment wall, shown in the image below, which itself had been cut and built into the thick layer of fire-cracked stone.

George Kozikowski excavating below the removed paving in Trench 5, with hearth setting visible immediately on top and behind the revetment wall

The image above shows the excavated hearth setting and underlying fire-cracked stone layer from the west. The revetment wall is to the front of the hearth (Scale = 0.25m). Below the hearth we excavated into a dense and compacted layer of fire-cracked stone, which was found to contain a few burnt teeth, fragments of degraded animal bone and charcoal pieces (see image below).

The image above shows Trench 5 from the east. The remaining paving slabs can be seen in the immediate foreground with the hearth setting now suspended on the layer of fire-cracked stone. After removal of the stones forming the hearth setting we revealed the revetment wall, comprising a single course of granite cobbles (see image below - scale = 0.25m).

Due to the complexity of the layers of burnt stone behind the revetment wall and in order to gain a clear picture of the relationship of these features, we decided to section the trench through the wall and fire-cracked material down to the underlying natural karstic clay.

The section revealed that the revetment wall had been cut into the mass of fire-cracked stone, which is most likely some form of burnt mound located in this sector of the site. The fire-cracked stone layer in this part of the trench is over 0.3 metres deep and is resting on the natural clay. The inter-face between the fire-cracked material and the clay produced a few nice sized fragments of charcoal and animal bone, which should provide good dating material for the formation of the burnt mound.

However, during the excavation we found that the natural clay layer underlying the burnt mound was found to dip downslope steeply to the south, along the southern edge of Trench 5. In this area of the trench the layer of fire-cracked stone and pebbles was found to be following this steeply graded profile, the stone layer measuring at least 0.75 metres deep in this sector of the trench. Extensions are now planned for Trench 5 to the south and east, to investigate the extent and depth of the burnt mound.

Around 1600 burnt mounds, comprising heaps of fire-cracked stones, are listed in the National Monuments Records of Scotland. They show a diverse range of size and form and are thought to relate to cooking activities throughout the Bronze Age and Iron Age, although alternative functions have been suggested including their use as sweat houses or saunas. Burnt mounds are also known in other parts of Europe, in particular in Ireland and Scandinavia, and it has also been suggested that they may have been involved with rituals of disposal including the consumption of food, discard of metalwork and other aspects of material culture. This interpretation fits well with the archaeological evidence uncovered so far at the High Pasture’s site, including the recovery of significant numbers of pig bones that may be the end product of feasting and the deposition of artefacts related to material culture including antler and bone, spindle whorls, rotary and saddle querns, and a significant number of coarse pebble tools. Finally, we have the residues of metalworking that may derive from activities on site, or from elsewhere in the surrounding landscape.

Next entry: New features revealed in Trench 7

Previous entry: 12th May 2006 - Recent fieldwork at the High Pasture's site

Posted by Paul Lydon on 07/06/2006 at 11:59 AM

A group from Orpheus Caving Club, based in the Peak District, visited High Pasture Cave on 30th May, 2006 while on a trip to Skye. Excellent cave.

Thanks to all at the site for letting us visit and for spending some time to give us some information on the archaeology which was really interesting.

Posted by on 28/05/2006 at 10:50 AM

Spent an enjoyable couple of days up to my elbows in 2000 year old bones, pottery and charcoal.  An unbelievable privilege to work with Martin,Steven and George and their other volunteers.
The wealth of the site is amazing, truly wonderful to see centuries of history being peeled back.
As Arnie would say “I’ll be back” and I’ll select a warm, midge free day!!

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