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Archaeological Evaluation

Date November 2003 - April 2004

Event ID 843935

Category Recording

Type Archaeological Evaluation


NS33NE 86 NS 3518 3830 to NS 3539 3844

Neolithic settlement with ?ritualistic component; medieval village

An evaluation was undertaken between November 2003 and April 2004 in advance of housing development in a field at the rear of the properties fronting Main Street, Dreghorn, and the bank of the Annick Water to the N, c 200m E-W by 125m. The field runs along the rear of the ridge upon which the medieval village was sited, and slopes from a relatively level top along the S side of the site increasingly to the N. The evaluation revealed the presence of a series of medieval structural features and concentrations of pottery, principally white gritty ware, in the mid-slope area, and a number of slight indications of prehistoric activity on the site.

Mitigation involved the excavation of the majority of the up- and mid-slope areas of the site, except a large area to the SE where little had been revealed.

Prehistoric site

As the general mitigation excavation progressed it became increasingly apparent that major prehistoric remains survived

along the summit of the Dreghorn ridge along the southern edge of the western half of the site area; evaluation had not been previously possible in much of this zone. The prehistoric remains were of a density and scale seldom seen in Scotland. The site may well represent continued use throughout much of the prehistoric period, or alternatively and perhaps more likely represents an intensive period of activity dating to the Neolithic.

The site produced several distinct feature groups, often interrelated along the ridge top. These consisted of pit groups, stake-hole/post-hole-defined structures, gully-defined structures, a putative palisaded enclosure, burnt mound troughs, post-hole/pit arcs, and associated potentially ritualistic features such as a solitary very substantial pit, a large timber hall, and a possible kiln. Also present were a number of isolated features, mostly sterile pits and isolated stake-holes/post-holes.

Pit groups. In total, there were eight ceramic-rich pit groups and nine sterile pit clusters. The former appear to be a recurring element of the site. Usually from two to five in number and often of very similar dimensions (though sometimes heavily truncated), these clusters produced significant quantities of pottery with far lesser concentrations of lithic material. The pottery usually clustered along the southern arc of the fill and was often inverted, even though it does not represent solitary vessels. In many cases the central area of the fill appears to have been free of pot and may have held a post. Although the lithics are few in number, they make up for it in quality, both in raw material and, where retouched, by the quality of the workmanship. These lithics also appeared to occupy a specific location in the fills, usually very close to the surface and often on the northern side. Carbonised remains, including charcoal, hazelnut shells and cereals were also recovered from these fills, together with burnt bone.

Probable timber hall. Rectilinear structure, 23.5 x 5m, consisting of three parallel rows of regularly spaced post-holes, aligned N-S, with a possible elaborated entranceway near the midpoint of the W side. The majority of post-holes were devoid of artefacts, with the exception of the two most northerly post-pits in the central row, which contained carbonised remains and significant quantities of Grooved ware. Of uncertain function, this structure is comparable to those at sites such as Balbridie, Crathes (see p 11), the Claish, and smaller examples at Balfarg and Raigmore.

Stake-hole/post-hole structures. A total of 8-12 small stake-hole/post-hole-defined structures were identified. The better examples seem to represent small oval/round structures (of a kind that elsewhere have been shown to date to the Early Neolithic) of a fairly consistent size, approximately 6m in diameter. The lack of hearths may relate to the extensive truncation of the remains; their absence does not preclude a domestic function.

Gully-defined structures. There were six gully-defined structures of two broad forms, the more common being trapezoidal/rectilinear in nature and frequently associated with numerous stake-holes. The less common appeared to be more open and curvilinear, and to focus around Grooved ware pit groups.

Burnt mounds. The site produced evidence of two burnt mound troughs, very different in size yet near-identical in fill types; of a type shown elsewhere in the locality to vary in date from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age.

Probable kiln. Large oval feature, c 1.8 x 1.2m, containing several fills showing clear evidence of in situ burning, but devoid of any artefactual material other than heavily refired pottery sherds. The lack of any obvious domestic refuse and the size and structural complexity of the feature suggests this was no simple hearth and is probably a type of pottery kiln previously unknown in Scotland. Sampled for TL dates.

?Ritualistic landscape. The possible ritualistic element to the prehistoric landscape at Dreghorn included a putative massive post-pit; a series of large post-hole/pit arcs and related features, many of which appear to have been closely associated with fire/burning; the aforementioned large timber hall; and a large oval enclosure. Half of the latter was exposed within the excavation area. At least 16m wide, this contained numerous post-holes and a series of large pits at the centre. The pits contained large quantities of decorated pottery and high-quality flint tools imported from Ireland.

?Palisaded enclosure. Part of a probable palisaded enclosure was situated at the extreme W end of the site (the westernmost summit of the Dreghorn ridge). The only diagnostic artefactual evidence recovered from the slot was Grooved ware, although it is probable that this material is residual. While potentially of much later date, it is possible that this slot may represent another feature of the sequence of ritualistic enclosures. The vast majority of this feature lay outwith the excavation area.

The material culture recovered includes pottery, lithics, some ground stone tools and a potential bone tool severely affected by fire. The rich ecofactual element identified on site was vastly increased in size by the extensive sampling programme.

The prehistoric pottery includes some Early Neolithic carinated bowls, mostly Late Neolithic Grooved ware, incised ware, globular bowl and bucket-shaped forms. There is a high percentage of decorated sherds, including a variety of Grooved ware styles.

The lithics are a very mixed assemblage including local flint, Arran pitchstone, quartz, chert and imported flint from northern England and Ireland. The assemblage contains many tools (scrapers, arrowheads and knife-like forms), but there was little evidence for tool production on site. A jet/shale bracelet fragment was also found.

Medieval site

A considerable number of individual structures and other features were revealed in the up- and mid-slope parts of the site.

The principal medieval features encountered (from W to E) were:

Boundary ditches. One aligned NW-SE, then angling to the SW. The other, further E, aligned NW-SE.

Kiln 1a. Keyhole-shaped; constricted entrance to the SSE; cobble sides largely robbed; remains of heavily burnt stone floor, including part of a millstone. Kiln had been dismantled and backfilled. White gritty ware found within construction cut. Samples of burnt grain recovered.

Kiln 1b. Underlying 1a; the base of the kiln chamber, of notably smaller diameter than its successor, was formed of a near-complete millstone; clay-bonded cobble walls.

Trackway. Running E-W along the lower mid-slope area for the length of the site. Contained residual white gritty ware but no later finds, suggesting early abandonment. This may have led down to the site of a mill beyond the site to the E.

Structural remains (group A). Immediately downslope of the trackway. Heavily waterlogged area containing a considerable sequence of floor-like build-up layers, footing trenches and pit-like features. Heavily disturbed by extensive later field drainage, little definition of earlier features was possible. Large concentration of early white gritty wares in association.

Pit group 1. Two large pits; one containing clean clay, the other cobbles. Overlain by a humic spread containing early white gritty pottery.

Pit group 2. Two large pits; one containing repeated dumping episodes including a large deposit of burnt grain. The whole overlain by a humic spread containing early white gritty pottery.

Structural remains (group B). Immediately downslope of the trackway. Abutting the E side of pit group 2, a series of structural remains were traced in the form of parallel N-S beam slots and an area of prepared floor surface within; white gritty pottery was recovered from the latter.

Kiln 2a. Large oval chamber with a curved flue to the NE, curving round to the SE. Burnt grain residues recovered from within the flue.

Kiln 2b. Modification of kiln 2a. Original flue infilled and the chamber reduced in size by new stonework on the E side; new straight flue inserted, running E.

Ditch complex. At least three phases. Phase 1: kiln 2a/2b overlay a narrow vertically cut ditch of about 1.5m depth and 0.6-0.7m width, running NNW-SSE. Phase 2: the ditch was subsequently modified; infilled upslope of the kiln and, downslope, becoming interconnected with the kiln by means of a stone-lined clay-capped channel running from the kiln floor. Phase 3: ditch recut with V-section, continuing downslope to the N, culminating in a series of apparent sumps and overflows.

Structural remains. Immediately upslope of the line of the trackway. A 10m long linear deposit of degraded daub found in association with a considerable concentration of early white gritty pottery and associated make-up deposits indicates a probable building platform and the decay products of a wattle and daub walled structure, the structure itself wholly truncated.

Granary. Circular structure, 4m diameter. Upstanding wattle and daub walling up to 0.35m high, containing impressions and carbonised remains of vertical staves and horizontal wattles; entrance with larger posts on either side, to SW; clay-floored. The structure had burnt and collapsed in on itself, much of the daub of the upper walls becoming fired. This debris overlay a very substantial deposit of carbonised grain, etc.

Significant post-medieval features included a well-like circular cobble lining to a spring; this cut the abovementioned trackway. Associated deposits produced green-glazed reduced wares. A series of later stone-lined field drains channelled the spring water away to the N.

Rig and furrow. The upslope areas preserved the bases of many parallel furrows running NW-SE; this system is represented on a cartographic source of 1790.

A large assemblage of non-prehistoric ceramics was recovered, the majority being white gritty wares, many of which are very thin-bodied (total assemblage 2074). Relatively few small finds were recovered. Of these, an iron hammer head and a possible rim of a barrel padlock (iron and copper alloy) were the most diagnostic.

A considerable quantity of environmental samples was recovered from the medieval site, notably from many of the major individual features. The study of this material will particularly relate to grain production and processing at the site.

Archive to be deposited in WoSAS SMR and the NMRS.

Sponsor: George Wimpey (West Scotland) Ltd.

T Addyman, M Donnelly and T Wilson 2004

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