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Excavation

Date 2004

Event ID 1039121

Category Recording

Type Excavation

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/event/1039121

HU 389 106 Excavation of the Old Scatness settlement began in 1995 as part of the Old Scatness/Jarlshof Environs Project (see DES 2003, 118-19). Excavation of the settlement in 2004 focused on the large roundhouse to the E of the broch and the exterior of the broch tower. A small evaluation trench to the NE of the main site was excavated to investigate the further extent and survival of the Norse and earlier midden deposits excavated to the E of the main site in 2003 (Area P).

The broch tower

Excavation of the broch in 2004 was limited to a small area W of the main broch entrance and adjacent to the corbelled cell (Structure 24) and the western annexe to the large aisled roundhouse (Structure 12). This was undertaken with the intention of clarifying any connection between the passageway leading N from the Structure 12 annexe and a similar passageway leading out from the broch entrance. The excavation in this area removed large amounts of rubble formed of tumble from both the broch wall and the back of Structure 24. The removal of this material uncovered (in section) the back of the inner face and cupboards of Structure 24. It appears that Structure 24 had an outer wall face in at least part of its southern circuit, but as yet it is unclear how far N this extends and whether it has been partially robbed out.

The material butting the wall N of the broch entrance appears well sorted, containing large beach cobbles rather than dressed stone tumble from the two structures. Further excavation is needed to understand the relationship between these two passages and Structure 24.

Structures E of the broch

Excavation in this area centred solely on Structure 21: the large piered sub-oval roundhouse to the E of the broch. This is the largest building on site, with an internal diameter of approximately 12m and a large central dividing wall running NW¿SE. Before excavation began several of the piers in the southern half were partly dismantled due to their instability. A well-preserved copper-alloy knife was recovered from the centre of one of these piers. A number of sondages were excavated through the middens in the area S of the medial wall, and extensive environmental sampling was undertaken. The middens contained large quantities of animal bone, particularly in the western cells; some of the bone was articulated. The midden deposits sealed a flagged surface, identified in the 2003 season in a small excavation in the SE cell. This paving covered the entirety of the central area, butting up against the medial wall and extending slightly into a number of the cells. A greasy black occupation layer found in several of the western cells is thought to be contemporary with this paving. A small rough hearth was found in the centre of the flagging from which archaeomagnetic dating samples were taken. This surface does not represent the primary occupation surface of this structure, which has still to be investigated.

A large number of copper-alloy artefacts were recovered from the area S of the medial wall. As well as the knife mentioned above, these include a degraded penannular brooch, two bars and a ring. Many of the unidentifiable fragments are fairly substantial and work continues on their consolidation and identification. Worked whalebone was also found in abundance in this area of the structure; the majority of the artefacts are fragments of vessels or cups, but amongst this assemblage is what appears to be a blank for a weaving comb and an object similar to a chisel. Towards the end of the excavation a pair of iron scissors or shears was recovered from the southern cell of this structure, underneath a piece of worked whalebone.

The northern half of the structure was excavated down to an occupation surface with small areas of flagging, from which small shards of Roman glass were recovered. A small hearth with an orthostatic surround was identified and sampled for archaeomagnetic dating (this hearth is partially obscured by an unexcavated baulk supporting a wall of the corn drier in the eastern part of the structure). The removal of some later walling, forming a passageway out of the structure to the N, revealed the curve of the original outer wall, the majority of which was destroyed by the 1975 machine cut when the access road to the airport was constructed.

Area R

A small trench, 4 x 1m, was cut to the N of the airport access road, just to the E of the main site. The aim was to assess the extent and survival of the post-medieval and Norse midden sequence which had been located S of the access road in 2003, and to take samples for dating and economic evidence. A series of windblown sands and the very top of a post-medieval midden deposit were found, which had been truncated by a later feature. This cut was only located on the S-facing E-W section, indicating a pit or trench either ending here, or on a different alignment to the excavated trench. The fill of this cut to the W and the windblown sands to the E were sealed by a sandy deposit that was in turn sealed by a wall to the W. The rough walling ran NE-SW and was made up of three courses. Ard marks were visible in the top of the windblown sands in the eastern half of the trench. These sand layers sealed a post-medieval midden deposit which in turn sealed a sequence of middens which included a shell-rich (winkle) midden. Augering showed that the sequence continued 315mm below the bottom of the trench. A schist weight and a fragment of steatite vessel were recovered from these lower deposits.

Sponsors: HS, BP Exploration Operating Company, European Union (European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund), SNH, Shetland Amenity Trust, Shetland Enterprise Company, Shetland Islands Council, University of Bradford, HLF, Shetland Islands Council Development Trust.

S J Dockrill, J M Bond and V E Turner 2004

People and Organisations

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