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Date August 2015 - September 2015

Event ID 1026519

Category Recording

Type Excavation


NT 595 850 (centred on) A series of five trenches (18, 19, 20, 22 and 23) were excavated at various locations within and around Tantallon Castle, in August and September 2015, in order to test the results of previous geophysical survey across the site (DES 2013, 73).

Trench 18 (NT 5944 8492) revealed evidence of two phases of ditch construction. The first of these was defined as a possible early medieval defensive ditch. The cut of the early ditch was excavated to a depth of 2m and was 4m wide, most likely running across the neck of the promontory at the most westerly point. The cut ditch was complimented by an upcast earthen bank on its E and W sides. The ditch had been allowed to naturally backfill over time. Pottery evidence suggests this gradual infill occurred between the 12th – 14th centuries.

The second phase of activity in Trench 18 saw the partial re-cutting of the earlier ditch, making it wider, straighter and flat bottomed, with a total overall length of 125m. This work was augmented with the addition of a series of well preserved turf structures. The finished work is most likely part of the mid-17th-century siege-works. The turf structures comprised: a wide, flat-topped rampart to the E, over the Phase 1 eastern bank; a revetment against the re-cut inner faces of the E and W Phase 1 banks; low walls at the E and W sides of the ditch base; and a walking surface across the flat base of the ditch. There was also evidence of timberwork (posts) along the western side of the outer (eastern) rampart.

Trench 19 (NT 5951 8506) cut across the line of a multiphase, heavily eroded bank with four associated phases of landscaping/dumping, all overlying a stone capped, channellike feature. Phase 1 was defined by a partially exposed dry stone structure – a possible drain or flue (as yet undated). Phase 2 was defined by a dry stone revetting wall and low earthwork, demarcating a bank/boundary aligned roughly E/W and associated with dumped material to the N. This phase probably dates to the 14th – 15th centuries. Phase 3, dating to the 16th – 17th centuries, saw the early earth bank/ boundary heightened and widened with further dumped soils as part of a more general landscaping exercise which extended northwards of the earlier bank. The bank itself survived, although heavily eroded, as the N side of a low terrace or platform. Finally, Phase 4 saw the northern area of low earthworks sealed by dumped 20th-century debris, probably reflecting clearance works across the site.

Trench 20 (NT 5953 8506) was intended to develop further the results of previous work (in 2014) where evidence of a stone structure, featuring recycled masonry, had been revealed. The present work revealed four phases of activity, with Phase 1 defined by evidence of stone cutting/dressing associated with a possible timber enclosure, dating to the 14th – 15th centuries. Phase 2 saw the construction of a stone enclosure or building featuring a possible gun position looking NW. The gun position featured recycled dressed ashlar in its fabric, and the stone structure lay to the N of an earthen bank or terrace. This phase was dated to the 16th century. Phase 3 was defined by the reduction of a stone building to foundation level; the foundation was then sealed by an earthwork platform or truncated bank. Phase 3 was dated to the 16th – 17th centuries. The final phase, Phase 4, was defined by 20th-century landscaping and maintenance.

Trench 22 (NT 5961 8502) cut across the remains of post-medieval garden activity, which in turn appear to have either truncated or sealed evidence of a sequence of ranges (14th – 16th century) abutting the inner face of the west curtain wall. The planting evidence comprised a shallow linear bed and a larger single plant pit, all cut against a clay-rich basal deposit. This may in turn reflect the truncated footings of at least two phases of a stone and timber range, or the construction of the western side of a mineral parterre in the 17th century.

The final trench excavated, Trench 23 (NT 5963 8503), revealed the well-preserved evidence of a low bank, parallel with the line of the southern curtain wall. The bank comprised three elements: a flat, stony upper surface, a shallow scarp, and a flat platform. The latter elements were both defined by well preserved cut turf forming a decorative surface. It is possible that this feature forms one side of a 17th-century square mineral parterre, covering most of the southern half of the inner close.

Archive: National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) intended

Funder: Historic Scotland

Gordon Ewart - Kirkdale Archaeology

(Source: DES, Volume 16)

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