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Battlemoss Excavation
8 - 28 August 2003

Battlemoss Excavation Updates

31 August 2003
The excavation has now drawn to a close, and we have all returned home to recover from three exhausting, but very rewarding weeks!

The last few days were taken up with the final recording and back filling of the trenches over the stone rows, and the continued investigation of the cairn. The large slab identified in the central area of the cairn (the putative cist) was lifted on Tuesday afternoon, and revealed no immediate evidence for a stone-lined cist or further burials. However, we are not certain that we have reached the base of the archaeology in this part of the monument.

Further work to reveal the true shape of the central area of the cairn took place on Wednesday – the settings of large stones now appear to define an oval rather than round space. Whilst digging through the upper layers of material filling the centre of the cairn a large quantity of pottery was revealed, which ensured another late night on site! This looks to be Beaker pottery, belonging to the earliest phases of the Bronze Age, and may be older than the pottery found elsewhere in the monument. No evidence for burials or other grave goods were found associated with this pottery, although a complete excavation of the surrounding area was not possible due to time constraints.

 Although we have revealed a large amount of the cairn, we are not yet happy that we understand exactly how it was constructed and used. So, we took a decision on Thursday to cover the site over and return next year to finish the investigation! This will enable us to review all of the results from this years work and return next year with specific questions to answer through further excavation.

In the meantime, we will be providing updates on the project on this website as the finds and the data are processed. We will also publish our interim report here later in the year. Andrew and Kenny will also be presenting the results of the excavation at the Highland Archaeology Week conference in Inverness in October.

This has been a very successful project, and Andrew, Kenny and I would like to thank everyone who was involved. We would particularly like to thank our stalwart local volunteers Meg Sinclair, Nan Bethune, Paul Humphries, George and Kathleen MacDougall, Calum and Janet MacKenzie, Alasdair Japp and Gordon Smart. We were also extremely pleased with the turn out for our open day on the 23rd, and would like to thank everyone who visited for their interest in the project. Thanks also to Bill Fernie for providing the website facilities on Caithness.org – and for taking so many great photos!

Finally, we would like to thank Sybil and James Mackay for allowing us to excavate in their field, and for all the interest they have shown in the project over the last few years (and in advance for allowing us to come back next year!). Thanks also to Islay MacLeod and the Thrumster Estate for their support of the project, and to Islay for accommodating the students for the last 3 weeks!

We would like to acknowledge both CASE and the CED for providing the majority of the funding for this years work – thanks to Eann Sinclair for all his help over the last few months. Thanks also to the Highland Council Roads Department for the use of their surveying equipment. Thanks also to Noel Fojut at Historic Scotland for his support and advice during the planning of this project

26 August 03
Battle Moss update 5,
From Meli Pannet - Archaeologist
After the successful open day on Saturday and a deserved day off (except for those who decided to climb Ben Hope), we resumed work on Monday.  As there are only 4 working days left on the excavation, many of the jobs left to do are merely recording features and re-erecting standing stones. However, there are still discoveries to be made.
On Saturday afternoon, as we got further into the many layers of the cairn, we continued to discover fragments of cremated bone and pottery sherds. Towards the end of the day, a large sherd of pottery about 12 x 7cm across was uncovered, with a smaller sherd on top of it. This took several hours to remove and place in a finds tray, and in that time, we also managed to clean down on top of a large flat stone which may be the top slab of a cist (essentially a stone coffin). Today was spent recording the area around the centre of the cairn, and we can begin to text whether this is really a cist tomorrow morning.
Stone rows
Work started to slow down in the rows, with only a few stones still to investigate. 7 stones have been fully excavated, with 2 empty stone slots worked on today. While testing whether a large stone in the peaty area north of the rows was part of the monument, we instead uncovered a stone hole beneath the stone. Clearly, the stone here had been removed at the time that an adjacent ditch was dug in the 19th century, and then dumped on the surface. Hopefully we will finish work on the stone rows tomorrow. Attempts to re-erect 2 stones were successful, and it was surprisingly easy, and we should have the site back to the way we found it by Thursday.

24 August 03
Exciting Finds At The Battlemoss

A cairn near the stone rows the main reason for the archaeological dig has revealed pottery pieces believed to have been burial urns containing human remains surrounding at least one kist.   A kist will be opened on Monday to see what it contains.  The team leave on Thursday but are happy to see more visitors on Monday to Wednesday 25 - 27 August 2003.  This may be the last chance to see a Caithness stone row revealed to its foundations for many years to come.  the site will be returned to its original state on Thursday.

Open Day At Battlemoss
Saturday 23 August 2.00 - 4.00pm
A chance to see the site and what has been found before it is returned to its original state in about a weeks time.

22 August 03
Battle Moss update –
We are roughly half way through the excavation just now, and are continuing to make good progress with the excavation of the stone rows and the burial cairn.

Stone rows
We have extended our main trench with the permission of Historic Scotland to look at the western side and northern end of the rows. In both cases we have found the edge of the monument and can now say with some confidence that there were no more than 8 rows and 20 stones in each row. The site has suffered virtually no damage from modern ploughing, other than the removal of perhaps 8 stones in the middle of the field that joined the rows with the cairn (recorded in 1871 but largely gone by 1910). The monument comprises of around 140-150 standing stones in all, representing a large effort in construction over an unknown period of time.

We have a better understanding of the process of erection of the stones now as well. It seems a slot just bigger than the stone was dug out of the hard boulder clay subsoil, and the bottom of the hole may have been lined with clay that the stone was ‘stuck’ into. Packing stones were then jammed in on either side of the stones, sometimes all around them, and after that an artificial surface may have been spread up to and around the stones to level the area. We cannot say for sure that this sequence was followed at all stones – we have only excavated 5 so far, but will look at a few more over the coming days.

We are now sure that this is an exciting new discovery, as noted in the current edition of the Caithness Courier! Excavations of the eastern half of the monument continue to uncover cremated remains in small quantities but also lots of pottery, often in very small fragments (or ‘sherds’). We have now found sherds of at least 2 different pottery vessels, although can only tentatively suggest they are Bronze Age. Contrary to what the Courier has reported, we have found no decorated sherds yet.

The next few days will be exciting in the cairn. At least one large flat stone has to be moved, and we suspect it may be covering another burial. We are also starting to remove rubble-like cairn material from the centre of the monument within what may be a chamber or kerb-defined area. Clearly, this cairn was the focus for several burials over an unknown period of time, although everything we have found so far points to the Bronze Age.

16th August 2003
Battle Moss update,
The end of the first week of the dig has allowed us to have a day off and take stock. Progress during the last 7 days has been remarkable, with roughly 150 square metres of trench opened by hand and substantial areas at Battle Moss and elsewhere covered by GPR and magnetometry survey. We have plenty to do over the coming fortnight, but already know a lot about the construction of the stone rows and have added some valuable details to the story of the prehistory of the Yarrows Loch area.

The cairn
A low ridge directly to the north of the stone rows in the same field was first identified as a possible focus of archaeological investigation during pre-excavation reconnaissance visits over the past year. Our hunch was that there was a low cairn at one end of the ridge, and this was backed up by looking at aerial photos of the area and subsequently by geophysical survey in June this year. This spot had never been thought of as a cairn as far as we could tell, although similar relationships between stone rows and cairns had been noted in Caithness before. Intriguingly, a plan of the stone rows from 1871 suggested that one row of stones continued as far north as this ridge although there was no suggestion then that it was a cairn.

As noted in earlier entries for the dig, we opened a small trench over the putative cairn earlier in the week. This revealed a very stony area immediately beneath the surface, which included some large flat stones. This was an unlikely location for a clearance cairn (near the middle of the field), and so we extended the trench to establish the full extent of the stony concentration. Careful cleaning of these new trenches established a clear edge for the stony area on all four sides, and occasional flint pieces were found amongst the stones. Team members then drew each stone on the site plan to allow a full record of this layer of the feature to be taken, before we started to remove the stones on the upper surface.

This painstaking process of excavation finally allowed us to confirm that this was the location of a prehistoric cairn, when on Saturday remnants of cremated bone and a few sherds of coarse pottery were found amongst the stones, almost certainly the remnants of a cremation burial. A small fragment of metal found may have been buried with the human remains. The location of these finds – off-set from the centre, and near the top, of the cairn material – suggests that this is a secondary burial. This basically means a burial dug into an older burial cairn, and this is the focus of continued investigation.

It is too early to speculate on the significance of this discovery. We can get dating information from the cremated bone for an accurate date, but we already know that this form of burial was commonly carried out in the Bronze Age. This does not shed light on the date of the stone rows nor do we have any idea of the relationship between the two, but clearly their close proximity and the alignment of the rows on the cairn suggests that the two were in some way related. A much larger Bronze Age burial cairn lies nearby on the Yarrows Heritage Trail and was excavated in the late 19th century by Joseph Anderson.

The stone rows
Work continued up until the end of the week on the stone rows as well. We are fairly confident that we have established the length of the rows to the south end, and the extent of the monument on the east side. Trenches will be opened in the coming week to (a) try to find the north extent of the rows, (b) look for evidence for the single row that ran up to the ‘cairn’ on the 1871 plan, and (c) check whether there are any further rows to the west. The establishment of the scale of the site and the level of destruction since prehistory was one of the main objectives of the excavation.

Several of the stones have now been excavated, one fully, and we have a clearer understanding of how they were erected. The holes the stones were placed in are relatively small, with room only for the stones to be placed in and flagstone packing to be jammed in on either side to hold the stone in place. Material dug out of the holes in the first place was also used in the packing, making the edges of the stone holes difficult to find and record. As yet, no artefacts or dateable material have been found within the stone holes, although it is still early days.

Excavation is a destructive process and should not be undertaken lightly or wastefully. We are digging only a small proportion of the monument, and less than 10% of the stones will in any way be excavated. Those that are, are painstakingly recorded, and each piece of packing stone is marked with chalk and set aside so that it, and the stone, can be replaced in the same hole. This will give us an idea of the difficulty of erecting the stones, but will also mean that the site will be preserved in its current state for future generations.

15 August 03
Latest Pictures From
Battlemoss Yarrows Archaeological Investigation
Pictures from the dig yesterday.  Work is going well and making excellent progress with trenches opened up and material on the surface removed quite easily due to the dry weather in recent weeks and an excellent turnout of volunteers.

13th August 2003
Battle Moss update:
Kenny Brophy
Work over the past two days has concentrated on two parts of the Battle Moss stone rows, and the possible cairn to the south. Excavation of the trench between the rows and cairn, reported in Monday’s entry, was eventually abandoned as it became clear that the geophysical anomalies picked up by the magnetometer had been caused by buried lumps of modern rusty iron!

The stone rows
Two trenches have now been opened over the rows, one of which is a large L-shaped trench that has now fully exposed 14 stones from the 4 most easterly rows. Thanks to good weather conditions and hard work by the team, we can now see this monument very much as it would have looked in prehistory rather than mostly buried in peat. The stones themselves are larger than the popular perception of Caithness rows, and seem to be set fast into the local boulder clay in stone holes with plenty of packing stones. This leaves the possibility that datable material or artefacts may be preserved within the stone holes, something we hoped for. Work on excavating several of the stones will take place towards the end of the week once we have fully recorded what is currently exposed.

A second trench has also been opened along the rows, but in this case on the south side of the fence that divides heather moorland from the field that most of the stones sit within. Several stones had been tentatively linked to the rows in this location, largely obscured by thick peat, but only now can we confirm that the rows continue on this side of the fence. So far, two complete stones and packing have been exposed, and the possible sockets of a further two have also been identified, although not yet tested by full excavation. We can now say with some certainty that the longest rows at Battle Moss include at least 20 stones, longer than any row at the Hill o’ Many Stanes.

Although many observations about the nature of the stone rows can only be speculative at this point, there are a few interesting things we are investigating and can test through more detailed excavation. One of the intriguing things about the stones is that some of them seem to be surrounded by a ‘halo’ of tough, gritty material that may well be the upcast material thrown up when the stone holes were dug, and then trampled into the ground or used as packing material to support the stones. It is not often in archaeology that we can see individual events as clearly as this. Hopefully further excavation can bring us closer to those who built and used this monument.

The cairn
Progress on the cairn is necessarily slow. Only through painstaking recording and excavation can we begin to reveal and slowly pick apart this monument. Trenches have been placed to establish the nature and size of the cairn, which seems to be roughly circular and something like 10-12m in diameter. It is a low cairn but seems completely undisturbed and as we start to remove the upper stones, may reveal further secrets.

The next few days
Much of the work over the next few days will concentrate on recording what we have found so far, through photography, and planning. We will post some of these photographs on the website in the next few days.

10 August 2003
Battlemoss Update

Amelia Pannet
Today was the third day of the excavation, and we have achieved a remarkable amount, thanks in no small part to the hard work of the local volunteers who were on site. We have managed to open three trenches: one over a section of the stone row itself, one over a buried feature identified during the geophysical survey undertaken in June, and one over the possible cairn to the north of the stone rows. Fourteen stones within the area of the monument have now been revealed down to the base of the peat that surrounded them, showing them to be larger than expected. The stones appear to be set within shallow slots, or holes, packed with smaller stones. Several apparently missing stones were found to have fallen and been subsequently buried by the peat. Two types of stone appear to have been used – the majority are thin flagstones set on edge, but at least two seem to be larger sandstone blocks.

A ground penetrating radar survey is being undertaken in the area surrounding the stone row. The results of this survey suggest that the rows extend eastwards from the visible monument. This geophysical techniques works by transmitting radar pulses into the ground and measuring the reception back at a surface antenna. It is particularly effective in differentiating between different layers of soil and recording reflections caused by buried archaeology. The technique is of particular use in Caithness as it is the best method for surveying areas of peat!

The trench opened over the buried feature revealed what appeared at first to be a possible pit with a modern field drain cut through the eastern side. However, on excavation this was found to be a hole left by the removal of a large stone, perhaps during ploughing.

The de-turfing of the trench over the possible cairn revealed a mass of small stones that appears to have a defined edge on the western side. This trench is only in its very early stages and so it is not possible to comment further at present.

This diary will be updated regularly, with the students taking part in the project providing a personal reflection of the excavation and its findings.

Battlemoss Site


7 July 03
The Excavation of Battle Moss Stone Row – August 2003
Setting The Scene

Amelia Pannett
Revised 22 July 03

See Also
Stone Rows

Multiple Stone Rows Of Caithness & Sutherland  - L J Myatt
Gives list of sites and distribution map
Multiple Stone rows of Caithness & Sutherland I R Free & L J Myatt
Descriptions and diagrams of stone layout at various sites
Multiple Stone Rows Of Caithness & Sutherland L J Myatt

Possible purpose of the stone rows
A Setting Of Stone rows - Tormsdale - L J Myatt

Results of a survey summer 1984

Other Archaeology In Caithness
Mesolithic Discoveries
Short List Of A Few Caithness Sites of Interest
Yarrows 9 September 2000

Other Items By Amelia Pannett on Caithness.org
Grey Cairns of Camster Monuments and Water - a reinterpretation of The Grey Cairns of Camster by Amelia Pannett

Archaeology And Art
excavate overlay 25 June  - 29 October 2003
A series of events and exhibitions bringing art, archaeology and anthropology together through the investigation of selected archaeological features at the Yarrows and at Dunbeath.  The Battlemoss event took place 28/29 June 2003.

Main Archaeology Index on Caithness.org

Amelia Pannet
School of History and Archaeology
Cardiff University
PO Box 909
Cardiff CF10 3XU

Want To Work On The Battlemosss Site Excavation?
9 - 28 August 2003

Anyone interested in working on the excavation, full training will be given!  If you would like to volunteer please contact Islay MacLeod at Thrumster House on (01955) 651387