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Date June 2014 - October 2014

Event ID 1010769

Category Recording

Type Excavation


NN 9440 8740 and NO 0170 8855 The second season of investigation in a partnership project, which aims to charaterise the nature of early prehistoric settlement on The National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, which will ultimately inform woodland expansion strategies, took place June – October 2014.

Caochanan Ruadha, Glen Geldie A team from University College Dublin focused on three main challenges at Caochanan Ruadha over three weeks in June–July 2014. Excavations of more test and shovel pits to define the limits of the scatter investigated in 2013; walkover survey of erosive contexts in the area to identify further scatters; and excavation of a 5 x 5m

trench focused on a concentration of artefacts identified in a test pit last year.

Nearly 80 test pits (1 x 0.5m) and shovel pits were excavated. No worked flint was recovered from any test pit; some potentially worked quartz awaits analysis but was not recovered in any significant concentrations. Test pit sections continued to show a very complex podsolized soil profile, significantly influenced by the presence of rocks within the glacial deposits beneath the variable, but sometimes thin, peat cover.

The walkover survey identified one very fine large blade core, upstream from the Caochanan Ruadha scatter. The blade core, which would be at home in a Mesolithic assemblage, was found on alluvial gravels in the valley bottom and is ex situ.

The large size of the core is notably distinct from the scatter at Caochanan Ruadha, which is dominated by very small pieces. This may imply that a different kind of Mesolithic activity was taking place in this area. An unusual possible arrowhead was also recovered in this survey.

The excavation of a 5 x 5m trench (Trench 4) was very productive. Beneath the peat a heavily podsolised fine sand overlay glacial deposits. A clear concentration of flint, including fragmentary blades and microliths, microburins and production waste was identified within these sands. The

assemblage totals 61 artefacts, mainly flint (46) plus a small number of worked quartz and quartzites. This material is all small (frequently very small), with the majority less than 10mm in maximum dimension. It is frequently lightly burnt and very consistent in character. Most of this assemblage was found in the SW of the trench, in a tight concentration. Several refits across short distances were observed in the field and the assemblage is considered to be in situ, if subject to some bioturbation leading to vertical movement. The concentration ran into the trench edge to the S, with excavation limited by the presence of the modern eroded track. A small pit was identified against the S baulk. It was not possible to determine the limits of this feature, which may have been c0.55m in length and c0.20m deep with an irregular base. The pit is charcoal-rich and contains numerous fragments of lithics of exactly the same character as the rest of the assemblage.

This very small in situ flint scatter has been excavated with a high degree of spatial control. The concentration of material runs into the baulk, but is probably substantially less than 5m in diameter. Sites of this scale are highly resistant to most forms of survey and it is rare to excavate them. The tiny lithic assemblage is substantially dominated by microliths (c25%

of all excavated flint), often fragmentary. This is an unusual assemblage in a Scottish context and is likely to reflect a specialized function of some kind. The presence of suitable dating material in association with the scatter is significant.

Chest of Dee, Glen Dee: In October 2014 a team from the University of Aberdeen excavated a series of evaluative test pits and trenches. The primary objective was to continue the evaluation of the sites identified in 2013, establishing the density and character of prehistoric occupation at the banks of the river at Chest of Dee. Radiocarbon dating on samples from

2013 showed occupation on the river banks extending back to the late 6th millennium BC. In 2014 an area near the Chest of Dee waterfalls was the main target of the second season of evaluation (Area F).

Both test pits and larger evaluation trenches were excavated in Area F. In addition a 20m extent of eroding riverbank was cleaned up, revealing features cut into the alluvial sediments below the peat. These features included two fire pits which contained lithic working debris and spreads of charred material that probably indicate activity on earlier land surfaces. Both the pits and spreads were recorded and sampled for dating.

The excavation also included the digging of eight test pits and two larger trenches in this area on the N side of the river (TP 100–110). In all cases lithics and features, where present, were found in the sub-peat sediments. Similar sequences were found in all the test pits and trenches – up to

c0.4m of peat overlying podzolized and alluvial sand deposits. Over 100 lithics were identified and mapped by dGPS in one of the larger trenches (TP 100). These lithics were in situ and were found in relation to a number of features and spreads that were recorded, but left unexcavated. The lithics included a high number of microblade cores along with flakes and blades.

A number of features were mapped below the peat (but again unexcavated) in the second larger trench (TP 110) and a small number of lithics were also found in the sub-peat deposits. The other test pits were dug extending away from the eroding riverbank section and to the N to try and identify limits to the site. No limits were found, there were traces of human activity in nearly all of the test pits dug, with charcoal spreads and pits evident at depths of up to around one metre below the peat.

A small number of lithics were found in test pits TP 102 and TP 103 including further microblade cores. A single test pit (TP 112) was dug on the S side of the river. This did not reveal any definite archaeological features but roots of pine trees were found in the test pit, similar to the pine

stumps and roots found on the S side of the river in 2013.

A sondage was cut at an eroding face of the riverbank in Area D. This targeted an area where a small number of lithics were found in 2013. Radiocarbon dating here suggested activity dating to the early fourth millennium BC. The lithics and charcoal samples from 2013 proved to be the upper fill of one of two pits recorded in this area in 2014. These pits were recorded in section and further samples taken for analysis and

dating. A small number of lithics were found in the upper fill of each pit.

Over 400 lithics were recovered from the 2014 excavations. The discoveries at Chest of Dee are highly significant given the lack of early prehistoric sites within the upland areas of the Scottish Highlands. The presence of other lithic scatters in the nearby glens and a rich context for palaeoenvironmental work provides great potential for further landscape study in the upper Dee catchment.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: The National Trust for Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council,

University of Aberdeen and University College Dublin

SM Fraser, R Knecht, G Noble, G Warren and C Wickham-Jones

(Source: DES)

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