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Chest Of Dee

Flint Scatter (Prehistoric)

Site Name Chest Of Dee

Classification Flint Scatter (Prehistoric)

Alternative Name(s) Mar Lodge Estate

Canmore ID 267763

Site Number NO08NW 31

NGR NO 0170 8855

NGR Description Centred NO 0170 8855

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/267763

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeenshire
  • Parish Crathie And Braemar
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Kincardine And Deeside
  • Former County Aberdeenshire

Archaeology Notes

NO08NW 31 centred 0170 8855

(NO 016 885 to NO 018 885) A scatter of worked lithic material was revealed in October 2003 as a result of footpath maintenance works along the N bank of the River Dee, and eroding out of the river bank itself. The lithics lay in river silts immediately below the peat; 83 pieces of worked flint/chert (some of which show signs of exposure to heat) and 5 pieces of potentially struck quartz were collected for analysis. Their pristine condition indicates that they have not been subject to river action in the past. Fragments of charcoal were also eroding out of the silt.

The assemblage includes cores, narrow flakes and blades, and debitage flakes, chips and chunks. Only one artefact appears to have been retouched: a fragment of an end scraper formed from a narrow blade. The character of the collection indicates tool production on site, and the narrow-blade technology apparent in a large number of the lithics suggests a Mesolithic date for at least part of the assemblage. The site lies at the southern end of a key route of passage through the Cairngorm massif which connects Deeside with Speyside, and provides the first material evidence for Mesolithic activity in the heart of the Cairngorms.

Archive to be deposited in NTS SMR.

Sponsor: NTS.

S M Fraser 2003.

Activities

Geophysical Survey (2013)

NN 9440 8740 and NO 0170 8855 The first season of investigation in a partnership project which aims to characterise the nature of early prehistoric settlement on The National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, which will ultimately inform woodland expansion strategies, took place May – October 2013.

Caochanan Ruadha, Glen Geldie Located at c550m OD and overlooking a notable topographic basin, the site of a lithic scatter identified in 2005 was investigated in May 2013 by Rose Geophysical Consultants, using geophysical techniques. Anticipated features associated with a Mesolithic site include stakeholes, scoops, and areas of burning. A gradiometer survey was undertaken over an area of c1ha centred on the flint scatter. Given the size of potential targets, gradiometer data was collected at 0.5 by 0.125m intervals rather than the more traditional 1 by 0.25m. A small resistance survey, 40 x 40m, collected at 0.5 by 0.5m intervals, was also carried out over the immediate area of the flint scatter.

Within the gradiometer data a relatively coherent cluster of pit type anomalies was recorded in the vicinity of the lithic scatter. While potentially archaeologically significant, a natural origin was thought equally likely. Other isolated responses of potential archaeological interest were also noted. The resistance survey appears to have mapped variations in the make-up of the till, with the exception of one possible small, ephemeral, high resistance circular anomaly.

A team of 11 from University College Dublin (UCD) undertook trial excavations over three weeks in May–June 2013. All excavations were by hand, and all sub-peat spoil dry sieved to 5mm. Nearly 80 test pits (1 x 0.5m) and three small trenches were excavated. These aimed to explore anomalies identified by the geophysical survey and establish the extent of the flint scatter.

Trench 1 focused on the largest area of anomalies but did not identify any clear correlation between these and archaeological remains. Only one certain feature was identified, a substantial deposit of charcoal found in Trench 3 (a 1.5 x 1.5m extension of a test pit). The full extent of this charcoal deposit was not recorded, but it was thick (>100mm) and immediately underlay the peat. Samples have been sent for radiocarbon dating.

All excavation trenches and test pits showed similar soil profiles: variable depths of peat covering heavily-podzolised fine sands which provide a thin overlay to compacted gravels/boulder tills. The sands are provisionally interpreted as deriving from solifluction and other movement of materials downslope. Geomorphological assessments of the area demonstrate that the area of the main lithic scatter is a landform of pre-Mesolithic age and that the archaeological material may be in situ. The surface is cut by some visible drainage channels which may have moved archaeological material, and two artefacts were recovered from a drainage feature in Trench 1.

Only a very small number of artefacts were recovered during fieldwork: Ten flints and a small number of possible worked quartz. The flint artefacts were uniformly very small and included high proportions of fragmentary microliths characteristic of the Later Mesolithic, a retouched flake and small debitage. They were scattered across almost the whole area covered by test pits (>100 x 50m), with little sense of any overall concentration. One test pit contained four flints, but those surrounding it contained none. The impression is of an extremely low density artefact scatter mainly comprised of very small material.

Chest of Dee, Glen Dee The UCD team undertook fieldwalking along the path from White Bridge to waterfalls at the Chest of Dee in June 2013, where a scatter numbering hundreds of pieces had been previously identified near the confluence of the Geldie Burn and the Dee. A total of 152 artefacts were recovered from the path (c400m), with the most northerly being tucked up against the outcropping rock of the waterfalls. The lithics included many pieces of Later Mesolithic type. The small size of one platform core is especially notable.

In October 2013 a team from the University of Aberdeen excavated a series of test pits as part of the department’s third year Advanced Archaeological Practice module. The aim was to determine the location of the lithics in relation to the peat deposits at the Chest of Dee and to determine if any in situ features survived. Forty test pits measuring from 0.5m2 to 1m2 were excavated.

Four test pits were excavated at the confluence of the Geldie and the Dee (Area E). No lithics were identified, but there were traces of possible features dug into the subsoil below the peat. Ten test pits were dug on either side of the Dee near the White Bridge. On the S side of the Dee, extensive deposits of peat were revealed, but no archaeological features (Area A). On the N side six test pits revealed shallower peat deposits overlying a leached E horizon above the subsoil and no lithics (Area B). Four test pits were placed on a prominent ridge a short distance to the N (Area C). A single small isosceles triangle microlith was found just below the peat, at the junction with the subsoil below.

Area D was a more productive area, with a line of 18 test pits laid out following the path through the peat. Towards the western end of the line, greater numbers of lithics were found as the test pits approached the banks of the Dee. The numbers of lithics were small, ranging from one to five pieces, and all were found towards the base of the peat at the junction with the subsoil below. Some test pits contained layers of burning and one (TPD12) contained a sub-rectangular pit or scoop filled with loamy sand and fine charcoal. TPD11 contained a shallow gully or slot associated with three lithics, and a number of other pits showed more ephemeral layers of burning or occupation. All of the features were found below the peat, cut into the subsoil.

Near to the line of test pits in Area D, two small eroding pits were found at an eroding face near the N bank of the Dee. Both pits were associated with lithics and both contained significant quantities of charcoal which were sampled for dating. One pit contained an isosceles triangle microlith.Four 0.5m2 test pits were dug near the waterfalls at the Chest of Dee, near to a large pool located just E of the falls (Area F). Here, another eroding face revealed over 60 lithics, including a microblade core and flakes, mainly of flint, but with other raw materials present, which had been eroded out of the section created by the Dee. Extensive evidence of pits and cultural layers was evident in the erosion face below the peat. The test pits dug here revealed extensive evidence for repeated pit digging, with a complicated series of intercutting deposits. These pits contained extensive deposits of charcoal which were sampled for dating. A large pit was also identified directly overlooking the waterfalls in another erosion face. No lithics were identified here, but charcoal samples were obtained for dating.The lithics recovered from the excavations total over 100 pieces and include microblade cores, isosceles trangles, obliquely backed points, blades and flakes, all on very fresh flint. The assemblage is a classic Scottish Narrow Blade type.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: The National Trust for Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, University of Aberdeen and University College Dublin

SM Fraser, The National Trust for Scotland

R Knecht, Rose Geophysical Consultants

K Milek, University of Aberdeen

G Noble, University College Dublin

S Ovenden,

G Warren,

C Wickham-Jones, 2013

(Source: DES)

Excavation (June 2014 - October 2014)

NN 9440 8740 and NO 0170 8855 The second season of investigation in a partnership project, which aims to charaterise the nature of early prehistoric settlement on The National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, which will ultimately inform woodland expansion strategies, took place June – October 2014.

Caochanan Ruadha, Glen Geldie A team from University College Dublin focused on three main challenges at Caochanan Ruadha over three weeks in June–July 2014. Excavations of more test and shovel pits to define the limits of the scatter investigated in 2013; walkover survey of erosive contexts in the area to identify further scatters; and excavation of a 5 x 5m

trench focused on a concentration of artefacts identified in a test pit last year.

Nearly 80 test pits (1 x 0.5m) and shovel pits were excavated. No worked flint was recovered from any test pit; some potentially worked quartz awaits analysis but was not recovered in any significant concentrations. Test pit sections continued to show a very complex podsolized soil profile, significantly influenced by the presence of rocks within the glacial deposits beneath the variable, but sometimes thin, peat cover.

The walkover survey identified one very fine large blade core, upstream from the Caochanan Ruadha scatter. The blade core, which would be at home in a Mesolithic assemblage, was found on alluvial gravels in the valley bottom and is ex situ.

The large size of the core is notably distinct from the scatter at Caochanan Ruadha, which is dominated by very small pieces. This may imply that a different kind of Mesolithic activity was taking place in this area. An unusual possible arrowhead was also recovered in this survey.

The excavation of a 5 x 5m trench (Trench 4) was very productive. Beneath the peat a heavily podsolised fine sand overlay glacial deposits. A clear concentration of flint, including fragmentary blades and microliths, microburins and production waste was identified within these sands. The

assemblage totals 61 artefacts, mainly flint (46) plus a small number of worked quartz and quartzites. This material is all small (frequently very small), with the majority less than 10mm in maximum dimension. It is frequently lightly burnt and very consistent in character. Most of this assemblage was found in the SW of the trench, in a tight concentration. Several refits across short distances were observed in the field and the assemblage is considered to be in situ, if subject to some bioturbation leading to vertical movement. The concentration ran into the trench edge to the S, with excavation limited by the presence of the modern eroded track. A small pit was identified against the S baulk. It was not possible to determine the limits of this feature, which may have been c0.55m in length and c0.20m deep with an irregular base. The pit is charcoal-rich and contains numerous fragments of lithics of exactly the same character as the rest of the assemblage.

This very small in situ flint scatter has been excavated with a high degree of spatial control. The concentration of material runs into the baulk, but is probably substantially less than 5m in diameter. Sites of this scale are highly resistant to most forms of survey and it is rare to excavate them. The tiny lithic assemblage is substantially dominated by microliths (c25%

of all excavated flint), often fragmentary. This is an unusual assemblage in a Scottish context and is likely to reflect a specialized function of some kind. The presence of suitable dating material in association with the scatter is significant.

Chest of Dee, Glen Dee: In October 2014 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, establishing the density and character of prehistoric occupation at the banks of the river at Chest of Dee. Radiocarbon dating on samples from

2013 showed occupation on the river banks extending back to the late 6th millennium BC. In 2014 an area near the Chest of Dee waterfalls was the main target of the second season of evaluation (Area F).

Both test pits and larger evaluation trenches were excavated in Area F. In addition a 20m extent of eroding riverbank was cleaned up, revealing features cut into the alluvial sediments below the peat. These features included two fire pits which contained lithic working debris and spreads of charred material that probably indicate activity on earlier land surfaces. Both the pits and spreads were recorded and sampled for dating.

The excavation also included the digging of eight test pits and two larger trenches in this area on the N side of the river (TP 100–110). In all cases lithics and features, where present, were found in the sub-peat sediments. Similar sequences were found in all the test pits and trenches – up to

c0.4m of peat overlying podzolized and alluvial sand deposits. Over 100 lithics were identified and mapped by dGPS in one of the larger trenches (TP 100). These lithics were in situ and were found in relation to a number of features and spreads that were recorded, but left unexcavated. The lithics included a high number of microblade cores along with flakes and blades.

A number of features were mapped below the peat (but again unexcavated) in the second larger trench (TP 110) and a small number of lithics were also found in the sub-peat deposits. The other test pits were dug extending away from the eroding riverbank section and to the N to try and identify limits to the site. No limits were found, there were traces of human activity in nearly all of the test pits dug, with charcoal spreads and pits evident at depths of up to around one metre below the peat.

A small number of lithics were found in test pits TP 102 and TP 103 including further microblade cores. A single test pit (TP 112) was dug on the S side of the river. This did not reveal any definite archaeological features but roots of pine trees were found in the test pit, similar to the pine

stumps and roots found on the S side of the river in 2013.

A sondage was cut at an eroding face of the riverbank in Area D. This targeted an area where a small number of lithics were found in 2013. Radiocarbon dating here suggested activity dating to the early fourth millennium BC. The lithics and charcoal samples from 2013 proved to be the upper fill of one of two pits recorded in this area in 2014. These pits were recorded in section and further samples taken for analysis and

dating. A small number of lithics were found in the upper fill of each pit.

Over 400 lithics were recovered from the 2014 excavations. 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 presence of other lithic scatters in the nearby glens and a rich context for palaeoenvironmental work provides great potential for further landscape study in the upper Dee catchment.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: The National Trust for Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council,

University of Aberdeen and University College Dublin

SM Fraser, R Knecht, G Noble, G Warren and C Wickham-Jones

(Source: DES)

Excavation (July 2015 - October 2015)

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)

Excavation (July 2016 - October 2016)

NN 9929 9101 and NO 0170 8855 A fourth season of fieldwork was undertaken, July – October 2016, in Glen Dee, on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, as part of a partnership project to characterise the nature of early prehistoric settlement which will ultimately inform woodland expansion strategies.

Sgòr an Eòin A team from the National Trust for Scotland, University College Dublin and the University of Stirling carried out two-days of survey work at Sgòr an Eòin in July 2016, with the second day heavily curtailed by poor weather. The work focused on providing a more in-depth understanding of the three lithic artefacts found in an erosive context during rapid walkover survey in 2015 and assessing the potential of good locations for palaeoenvironmental sequences in the immediate vicinity. The site is in a dramatic location, on a high terrace in Glen Dee.

The survey work in 2016 has expanded the lithic assemblage to 15 worked flints in total, all found within a tightly confined area at the edge of a small stream. They are limited in type: 11 are burnt fragments of flakes, three represent debitage and one is a retouched piece (broken, so not typologically identifiable). The assemblage is not chronologically diagnostic. No suitable deposits for palaeoenvironmental work were located.

Chest of Dee In October 2016 a team from the University of Aberdeen excavated a series of evaluative test pits and trenches as part of the department’s third year archaeology module. The primary objective was to continue the evaluation of the sites identified in 2013–15, establishing the density and character of prehistoric occupation along the banks of the river at Chest of Dee. Radiocarbon dating on samples from 2013–15 has shown occupation on the river banks extending back to the late 9th millennium BC. In 2016 investigation focused on testing areas not previously sampled, including areas on the S side of the river (Areas K and L) and Area M on the N side of the river, completing the evaluation of the N bank of the Dee between White Bridge and the Chest of Dee waterfalls. Test pits were also dug beyond the waterfalls, following the river westward.

On the S side of the river, testing at Area K (S of the waterfalls) showed the presence of possible occupation layers in two of three test pits. No lithic artefacts were recovered, but charcoal-rich horizons around 0.05m in

thickness were located at around 0.6m below the topsoil. Four test pits were also dug on the S side of the river in Area L, closer to White Bridge. One only revealed alluvial deposits, but two test pits revealed ephemeral features, possibly fire pits, while two small pieces of flint knapping waste were recovered from test pit TP 5200 in a sub-peat alluvial sand horizon. These lithics represent the first found on the S side of the river.

On the N side of the river a line of ten test pits was excavated in Area M (between Areas J and D, tested in previous years). Around 30 lithics were found in these test pits, concentrated in 3 test pits at the western end of

the line. All of the artefacts came from pre-peat alluvial sands, with over 20 pieces in TP 1100 within soil horizons and a possible pit-feature. The other concentration was in TP 1200 where lithics were found within a lower layer

of alluvial sand. The lithics in both TP 1100 and TP 1200 were associated with diffuse lenses of charcoal which were sampled for dating.

No lithic artefacts were identified in the small number of test pits dug beyond the waterfalls, but diffuse charcoal lenses in two test pits suggests some level of human activity upriver of the falls. Three test pits were also dug around the Late Neolithic-Bronze Age pit found immediately above the waterfalls in 2013, but did not identify any in situ deposits to help contextualise this unusual feature.

Archive: 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, University College Dublin and University of Stirling

(Source: DES)

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