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Excavations at Battle Moss
The results of the excavation led us to interpret that the cairn had originated as a small round cairn containing a central stone lined cist, into which the Beaker had been deposited. At a later stage the cairn was enlarged, and the oval central space created. This involved the removal of much of the cist structure. The focus of the central space in this latest phase appears to have been the deposition of two cremation deposits, over which inverted urns were positioned. The central space was subsequently filled using a mixture of soil (much of which appears to have been taken from the surface of the ridge, as flint tools dated to the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods were found throughout the soil fill), stone and cremated bone.
Aims of the 2005 season
We hope that the planned work will be able to tell us a lot more about the true nature of the cairn structure, and how it was constructed and redesigned throughout the Bronze Age.
The 2005 excavation will be undertaken by students from Cardiff University, under the direction of Drs Amelia Pannett and Andrew Baines. We will be working 6 days a week, between 9am and 5pm. We would welcome volunteers – if you would like to take part in the excavation, even if only for a few days, your help would be gratefully received. Full training will be given. Contact Meg Sinclair at Dunbeath Heritage Centre on 01593 731233 for more details.
We would also welcome visitors to the site, and will provide guided tours to ensure you see all the latest discoveries, as well as getting an understanding of the site as a whole. Visitors will be welcome between 10am and 4.30pm every day. An open day will be held during the excavation (date to be confirmed), during which visitors will be able to take part in the excavation, see the latest discoveries, and hear our latest ideas about the site! There will also be activities for children organised by Nan Bethune of CAT.
We are looking forward to returning to Caithness, and continuing this exciting project. We would like to thank James and Sybil MacKay for allowing us to excavate on their land, CAT and YHT for their support of this project, and Meg Sinclair for all her assistance in the planning stages!
Battlemoss Excavations Web diary 24th July 2005
Elsewhere, work continued on the removal of the cairn material down to the old ground surface. Interestingly, however, this surface was overlain across much of the main monument (that within the kerbing and the tentatively identified secondary phase of building) by the continuation of the yellow/grey silty soil identified in the central setting. It would seem that this material had been spread across the site prior to the construction of the cairn, perhaps to level the ground, or, more ominously, to seal a feature below. As work continued in the central setting, half-sectioning the yellow/grey material it started to become clear that this was going to turn out to be more complicated than we had anticipated (or hoped). On Monday a large flat slab started to appear beneath the soil. Interestingly, it lay directly beneath (albeit sealed by 15cm of material) the large flat slab we had found in 2003, on which were found the two largest deposits of pottery and cremated bone. The remainder of the material within the central setting was rapidly removed to reveal the whole of the slab, and, amid much excitement and anticipation, the slab was lifted. As with 2003, where the lifting of the slab had revealed the top of the yellow/grey silty soil we had just dug through, the lifting of this slab revealed the top of yet another deposit of cultural material! It did, however, appear that we had a large pit or scoop, filled with stone rubble and yellow silty soil. A slot was dug through it to investigate it further, and revealed what appears to be a large area of quarried bedrock, infilled using rubble perhaps created through quarrying activities, and an apparently sterile soil. As with 2003, this final discovery occurred as the rest of the trench was being rapidly backfilled, and so we were not able to fully investigate this feature. It is possible that it is a large pit or scoop, cut into the bedrock and it is possible that it may contain cultural deposits at its base. Alternatively, it could indeed be a quarry site, where stones for the building of the cairn and perhaps even the stone rows were extracted. I am, perhaps optimistically, inclined towards the first idea, as there are so many outcrops of rock and loose boulders lying around the edge of the Loch of Yarrows, it would seem unnecessary to quarry into the bedrock to recover useable stones. Whatever the truth is, it will have to wait until the autumn, when I am hoping to return for a few extra days to get to the bottom of it!
Despite the uncertainty surrounding this scoop or pit, the rest of the sequence of construction is now fairly well understood:
1. The initial phase of activity involved the digging of the pit/scoop/quarry on the site of the cairn.
2. This feature was then covered by a layer of soil c.15cm thick, which was spread across an area approximately the same size as the subsequent cairn. The soil was clearly the result of cultural activities, and contained charcoal, ash, cremated bone, pottery and flint.
3. The central setting of the monument was constructed, and surrounded by an earthen mound (the putative Beaker cist we thought we had identified in 2003 now appears not to have been a feature of the monument). It is not clear whether the central setting was filled at this time – further examination of the material sampled from different areas will hopefully shed light on this.
4. At approximately the same time, the kerbing on the NE side of the monument was constructed (it is unlikely that this continued around the entire circumference of the cairn), and the section between the earthen mound and the kerbing was filled with stones.
5. Finally, a thin layer of stones was spread across the whole monument, extending beyond the limits of the kerbing. While this would never have been a large, prominent feature, it would have completely hidden all of the structural features of the earlier cairn.
The excavation has been a great success, and the site has proved to be considerably more interesting and complex than we initially suspected. The results of this seasons work will be compiled over the next few months, and updates will be put on the website on a regular basis. The results of this seasons work, together with the 2003 excavation results will be published in a Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph towards the end of next year. I will be presenting the results of this years work in an evening lecture as part of Highland Archaeology fortnight in October (date to be confirmed).
I would like to thank everybody involved in this seasons work, particularly Meg, George, Gordon, Wayne and Islay. Thanks also to CAT, particularly George Bethune and Meg Sinclair, and CASE for all their assistance in the funding of the work. Thanks again to Bill for providing all technological assistance and for hosting this web diary. Finally, a huge thanks to James and Sybill MacKay for once again letting us dig up their field!
If anyone would like to contact me to find out more about the excavations, please email me at Amelia_pannett@hotmail.co.uk
Battle Moss Excavations – web diary 17th July 2005
Kerb stones were revealed in the north-eastern quadrant of the site, immediately below the upper levels of cairn material. The kerb comprised large, flat slabs and boulders, distinct from the surrounding material. The kerb was around 2.5m from the inner setting of stones that defined the central area, and appeared to delineate a circular cairn. A thorough re-examination of the section cut through this part of the monument in 2003 revealed that the kerbing formed the revetment of a stone built cairn, which apparently post-dated a smaller earthen cairn. Further work will be carried out in this area to try and tie down the sequence more comprehensively, and to investigate the area outside the kerbing. A detailed 3D plan of the kerbing was made, taking around 10 EDM points on each stone, to enable us to reconstruct the feature digitally at a later date.
Interestingly, no other definite kerb stones were revealed, with the remaining quadrants containing only layers of angular stones of various sizes that make up the cairn structure. This may be due to extensive disturbance, although we are remaining open minded at this stage!
Work began in the central setting, removing the last of the deposits containing pottery and cremated bone that we identified in 2003. Several small sherds of pottery were recovered, including a small piece of probable Beaker. Beneath the deposits containing pottery and cremated bone, a layer of yellow/grey silty soil was revealed. This was initially thought to be the reworked top of the natural till: perhaps a redeposited, trampled surface. It contained a large quantity of charcoal, pottery and flint, and so is clearly a cultural deposit. Work began on investigating this deposit, to determine how deep it is, and what lies beneath! We are initially half-sectioning the central setting, to reveal how the material looks in profile. We were immediately surprised by the depth of this material, having thought it would be a few centimetres at most, it is continuing ever downwards. At present it is around 10cm deep, and shows no sign of petering out!
It has been an interesting week; one that has thrown up several unexpected elements of the monument. As far as we can discern at present it would appear that the monument was constructed in 3 phases:
1. The construction of an earthen mound covering a possible cist – remains of which appear to include a decayed upright slab on the SW side of the central setting, and the Beaker pottery.
2. The redesigning of the central area, and the construction of the setting defined by large slabs and boulders. The kerbing and stone cairn appear to relate to this phase. It is possible that the central setting would have remained open.
3. The final phase of construction was the enlargement of the monument by the addition of a layer of small angular stones, which spread out beyond the limits of the kerb. It is possible that the infilling of the central setting, and the deposition of the pottery and cremated bone occurred at this stage also.
Of course, this is all likely to change in the next week as we reveal more of the central setting and main structure of the cairn!
19 July 05
Battle Moss Excavations – web diary 10th
The cairn material, comprising small angular stones, has been cleaned back and planned, and the job of removing it has started in earnest! We will be removing around ¾’s of the cairn material, revealing the different phases of design and kerbing tentatively identified last year. The pre-cairn ground surface will also be revealed, in the hope that we might be able to identify pre-cairn activity on the site.
The main focus of interest this week has been the survey, undertaken by Dr Steve Mills of Cardiff University. This has concentrated on the stone rows (excavated in 2003), building up a detailed picture of the precise location and alignment of each stone. This was designed to test one of our theories about the monument – that many of the stones were deliberately set at an angle, creating alignments between the monument and chambered cairns, cairns and standing stones in the surrounding landscape. The results have proved very exciting, and have demonstrated that a large number of the stones are orientated towards monumental features on the surrounding hills. This appears to suggest that the monument was more about referencing the local landscape, and monuments within it than about itself as an individual feature. It has also allowed us to see that there is subtle variation across the monument, with small clusters or groups of stones showing similarities in their orientations. This may suggest that the monument was constructed in piecemeal fashion, with groups of stones added over a long period of time, rather than the whole setting being constructed in a single event.
This work is only in its very early stages, but it has already added considerably to our understanding of the monument, and is allowing us to ponder new ideas about why it was constructed. It is clearly not a definitive answer, but it can perhaps help us move away from the assumption that stone rows were intrinsically linked with celestial events, which is a step forward!
The site is open to visitors from 10am to 4pm every day, and there will be an open day next Saturday (16th July). We would also welcome anyone who would like to come and work on the site with us, full training will be given!