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Date June 2006 - July 2006

Event ID 551389

Category Recording

Type Excavation


HU 390 111 Excavation of the Old Scatness settlement began in 1995 as part of the Old Scatness/Jarlshof Environs Project (see DES 2005, 126-7). Excavation of the settlement in June and July 2006 focused on the large roundhouse to the E of the broch (Structure 21) and the excavation of an extension to the excavated area to the NW of the broch.

Structure 21

At the end of the 2005 season early floor surface deposits had been discovered in both the northern and southern halves of Structure 21, an Iron Age building divided by a central wall. These were very different to the overlying midden layers, which contained large quantities of animal bone and copper alloy artefacts. The occupation surfaces contained micro-refuse and occasional waterlogged plant material. These surfaces were extensively sampled at the end of the 2005 season.The aims of the 2006 season were to excavate the remaining floor surfaces in order to determine their relationships with the medial and outer walls of the structure and to gain an understanding of the early construction phases of the structure.

The northern half of Structure 21 was divided into a number of discrete areas. The cells to the N and NE were both divided off from the central area by a series of orthostats. Deposits in the N cell were quite different from those in the central area and consisted of a rough flagging and gravel, which were removed to reveal the yellow clay layer seen in section at the end of the 2005 season. The NE cell was composed of a layer of rough paving overlying midden and rubble layers which were almost completely devoid of finds. At the back of this cell was a possible bench feature.

The central and W parts of the northern half appeared less segregated and were dominated by ashy spreads. Excavation of the remains of a possible surface or midden layer yielded many copper alloy fragments and removal of this layer revealed what was thought to be an informal hearth, a circular deposit of grey and black ash with two small orthostats set on opposing sides.

In the NW cell, further ashy midden or occupation layers were found, sealing a small area of rough paving. Removal of this paving and the midden beneath exposed the primary layer in this part of the building, equivalent to the yellow clay found in the N cell.

The westernmost cell of the N half contained one of the entrances into Structure 21 and a drain leading up to it. This drain was first uncovered in the 2003 excavation season and was thought to be a later addition to the structure. However, at the end of the 2005 excavation season the drain was found to slope downward, leading past the end of the medial wall and into the S half of the structure.

Excavation of the southern half of Structure 21 began with the sampling and removal of the final parts of the occupation surfaces discovered at the end of the 2005 season. Removal of these layers revealed rough paving which covered most of the central part and extended into the southern cell that holds the southern entrance into the building. In addition to this, the SE and SW cells each had a line of rough paving across their front, running between the ends of the piers. Closer examination of the flagging revealed that much of it was in fact drain capping. Two short drains or soak'aways were situated in the SE and SW cells. A third drain ran from the S entrance cell, and out into the centre of the structure before turning slightly to the W and towards the gap between the end of the medial wall and the outer wall where it joined with (ie was part of) the drain in the NW entrance passage. It is thought that these drains are part of the primary activity within the building and are likely to have been installed soon after the construction of the walls.

In two of the cells (SE and SW) the bottom course of the outer wall was reached this season and the deposits sealed by this wall were partially excavated and sampled. One was a shillet-rich layer, possibly associated with the construction of the wall itself, and the other a large area of in situ burning from which archaeomagnetic dating samples were taken.

Extension to the excavation area

The area to the NW of the broch was extended by a further 84m2. The first deposits encountered related to the croft house (Structure 3) excavated in 2003. A pathway made of angular stones set on edge butted the exterior wall of the building on the S side and a yard wall butted the NW corner of the structure. At the W end of the trench, partially sealed by the yard wall and path, walling was uncovered which formed the end of a rectangular structure. Within the centre of this structure a linear drain feature, aligned E-W and running down slope, was excavated.

Structure 3 and its associated post medieval deposits sealed a Pictish multi-cellular complex. Against the N edge of the trench a small cell with corbelled walls was excavated to a depth of 0.5m. To the E the cell joined a wall which appeared to form the entranceway to a large circular structure. A secondary entrance was identified to the S, giving access into Structure 13. There were two further cells positioned at either side of this entrance. The W cell appeared to be slightly corbelled; the E cell, uncovered in 2003, had a basal course of orthostats with coursed walling built on top. This E cell is thought to be a later addition to the complex. These two cells lead into a third (Structure 13; excavated in 1998) comprising of a small oval cell with a series of aumbries built into its wall. On its W side, the wall linking the third cell to the complex is only partially visible and it is possible that a fourth cell exists, though only further excavation will be able to answer this.

While inspecting the road cut section edge for stability, a further corbelled cell was identified adjacent to the Broch wall. It is possible that this structure is complete, or nearly so. A similar corbelled cell (Structure 24) was excavated in 2000 (see DES 2000, 79-81). Structure 24 had been infilled from the open roof before being recapped and it is thought that the corbelled cell identified in the section was similarly infilled and capped. The two cells are less than 5m apart and may at one time have been linked, but further excavation to confirm this is unlikely for safety reasons.

Archive to be deposited with NMRS once post-excavation is completed.

Sponsor: Shetland Amenity Trust, Shetland Development Trust, Shetland Islands Council, University of Bradford.

S J Dockrill, J M Bond, V Turner, J E Cussans, D J Bashford, L D Brown 2006

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