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Date 20 June 2013 - 3 July 2013

Event ID 994237

Category Recording

Type Excavation


NO 01896 14491 A very small exploratory trench (3 x 1m) was excavated, 20 June – 3 July 2013, on the N side of the tower of St Serf’s church, at the angle between the tower and the church, which is dated to the early to mid-12th-century on art historical grounds. The area chosen does not contain modern burials, it has been a pathway since the re-modelling of the church in c1810, and was constrained to the N by service trenches.

The excavation had two main aims. The first was to investigate the chronological relationship between the tower and the church, as the junction had been obscured by stone decay and later repointing. Some early church towers in this area (eg Dunblane) were originally free-standing, and possibly of earlier date than the main body of the church. Exposure of the unweathered stonework rapidly showed that the tower and church were contemporary structures, as the ashlar blocks were bonded together. The tower therefore, like the church, can be dated to c1150. The trench also revealed details of the substantial foundations, with a simple unchamfered plinth (double-stepped on the church wall), and a mortar layer on top of a deep foundation of river boulders. The tower measured 5.5m2 externally, and the roughly coursed ashlar had diagonal toolmarks. The unweatherd stones had been above ground level before 1810, so most of the severe stone decay seen in the church has taken place in the last two centuries, presumably due to acid rain from industrial pollution.

The second objective was to look for evidence of a pre-Romanesuqe church, as Dunning is reputed to be the site of a foundation by the 8th-century St Serf, and has 9th- to 10th-century sculptured stones, as well as a dated vallum ditch. Evidence for a stone structure was uncovered at the W end of the trench. This consisted of a large foundation block (of different form to the tower foundations) which was set at an angle to the tower. The foundations of the structure consisted of a shallow trench filled with gravel, and were very different from those of the tower. The structures foundations were cut by the 12th-century foundations and a crude attempt had been made to integrate the earlier foundations into the plinth of the tower. Due to the limited nature of the excavation there was no indication of whether this early structure was part of a church, an earlier tower, or another ecclesiatical building, but it is a very rare example of pre-Romanesque stone building in Scotland.

No direct dating material was obtained from any of the deposits, but a number of burials were encountered, which will be datable. The earliest of these burials ran underneath the early structure (on a different alignment), showing there was an earlier focus of sanctity before the stone structure was built. This may have been a wooden church. The grave in turn incorporated disturbed earlier human remains, showing a high density of early medieval burial over an extended period of time. The foundations of the 12th-century tower also included human remains disturbed by the construction of the Romanesque church. Dates from these burials should give an indication of when the early medieval cemetery was in use.

A number of later medieval burials were also recorded in the trench. An adult was inhumed alongside the tower foundations, but post-dating them, and the grave contained numerous disturbed human remains from earlier burials. On top of this burial were two infant burials, probably dating to the early post-medieval period.

Archive: University of Glasgow and RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland and University of Glasgow

Ewan Campbell, University of Glasgow, 2013

(Source: DES)

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