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Excavation

Date July 2015 - October 2015

Event ID 1026971

Category Recording

Type Excavation

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/event/1026971

NN 9440 8740, NO 0170 8855 and NN 9929 9101 A third season of fieldwork was undertaken, July – October 2015, on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, as part of a partnership project to characterize the nature of early prehistoric settlement which will ultimately inform woodland expansion strategies.

Caochanan Ruadha, Glen Geldie Three weeks of fieldwork were undertaken by the University College Dublin School of Archaeology in July 2015. The primary focus of excavation was completion of Trench 4, begun in 2014, which had revealed a spatially-constrained distribution of mainly flint lithic artefacts clustered around a fire setting/pit, yew charcoal from which has been dated to 6215–6050 cal BC.

A 7 x 5m extension to the trench was excavated, extending across the eroded footpath. This confirmed that the cluster of flint was c2.5 x 3m in maximum dimension, focused upon the charcoal-rich fire-setting identified in 2014. The soils are heavily podsolised and no further features were discovered, but the very tight distribution of artefacts and a sudden fall-off in frequency at the edge of the distribution suggests that that some kind of light structure had existed. The lithic assemblage for the two seasons includes c100 flint artefacts with small quantities of worked quartz and possibly worked quartzite. Technologically it is dominated by microliths and microlith fragments of flint, with burning frequent. The site appears to be a very specialist and possibly short-term settlement.

About 50m downslope from Trench 4, four lithics were identified in the eroded footpath. These artefacts closely corresponded to the location of the original surface finds in 2005 and had formed a focal point for test pit survey in 2013, from which nothing had been recovered. Excavation of a 2 x 2m trial trench in 2015 uncovered an irregular charcoal spread associated with a further 12 flint artefacts, sometimes burnt and fragmented in situ. The recovery of this material in an area previously surveyed by test pits highlights the difficulty of recovering archaeological materials of low density and small extent in these landscapes, and highlights the value of walkover survey and long-term monitoring.

Chest of Dee, Glen Dee In October 2015 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 2013–4, establishing the density and character of prehistoric occupation at the banks of the River Dee at Chest of Dee. Radiocarbon dating on samples from 2013–4 showed occupation on the river banks extending back to the late 9th millennium BC. In 2015 two areas, one near the Chest of Dee waterfalls (Area F) and the other further downstream (Area J) were the main targets of the third season of evaluation.

Three trenches and three test pits were excavated in Area F. TP200 and TP300 continued the excavation of pre-peat alluvial sand deposits adjacent to a large eroding section of the riverbank. TP200 excavated, in plan, a firepit identified in section in the 2014 season and dated to c7000 cal BC. The 2 x 3.5m trench identified a range of ephemeral spreads of charcoal within the lower alluvial sand deposits. These spreads and the fire-pit appear to represent Mesolithic settlement on the riverbank stretching back to the 8th millennium cal BC. A large amount of lithics were found in TP200, concentrated within the lower fill of the fire-pit, close to the modern river edge. TP300 was placed in relation to a charcoal spread identified in the eroding bank section, dated in 2014 to c8000 cal BC. Microblade cores and debitage were found extensively within the alluvial sand deposits. A few small cut features were also found, one of which contained a narrow-blade microlith.

TP400 was located next to another charcoal spread evident in the eroding bank section. This 1 x 3m trench identified an in situ fire-pit with fire-cracked stone, but only a small number of lithic pieces. Three small test pits were also excavated running perpendicular to the riverbank. All three suggested human activity in pre-peat levels with charcoal lenses extending into the lower sand deposits below the peat. The excavation also included the digging of eight test pits further downstream, in an area not previously evaluated (Area J). In most cases evidence of some form of human activity near the riverbank was present, though no lithics were identified. The evidence of human activity included lenses of charcoal and features cut into the lower alluvial sand deposits. Similar sequences were found in all the test pits and trenches – up to c0.4m of peat overlying alluvial sand. The most obvious features were in TP900 – a large, sub-circular shallow pit – and TP1050, where large pits or ditch sections were identified packed full of rounded boulders. Pits and charcoal lenses were evident in the sections of TP750, TP850, TP950 and TP1000. The chronological relationship between the lithic-rich area of Area F and that of Area J will be an important issue to address in post-excavation and dating. Once again, 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 2015 work has begun to establish the nature of the Mesolithic activity at Chest of Dee, with clear traces of in situ occupation.

Sgòr an Eòin, Glen Dee The UCD team conducted a walkover survey monitoring footpaths and other eroded surfaces in Glen Dee, as part of archaeological assessment prior to riparian tree-planting. Three heavily burnt flint artefacts were recovered from a small area on a high terrace above the eastern bank of the River Dee below the peak of Sgòr an Eòin, a short distance upstream from the lithic scatter previously identified on the opposite riverbank at Carn Fiaclach Beag. The lithics are not diagnostic to period but it may be significant that they lie on a large flat land surface that intuitively feels like one of the most suitable settlement locations in this part of the valley.

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

Funder: The National Trust for Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, Society of Antiquaries of London, Robert Kiln Charitable Trust, Royal Archaeological Institute, University of Aberdeen, University College Dublin and Tony Clark Memorial Fund

SM Fraser, G Noble, G Warren and C Wickham-Jones – The National Trust for Scotland, University of Aberdeen and University College Dublin

(Source: DES, Volume 16)

People and Organisations

References