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Grut Wells

Quarry (Period Unassigned), Stone Axe Factory (Neol/bronze Age)

Site Name Grut Wells

Classification Quarry (Period Unassigned), Stone Axe Factory (Neol/bronze Age)

Canmore ID 348615

Site Number HU38NW 9

NGR HU 327 850

NGR Description HU 327 850 - HU 327 848 (Extensive area)

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/348615

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

  • Council Shetland Islands
  • Parish Northmavine
  • Former Region Shetland Islands Area
  • Former District Shetland
  • Former County Shetland

Activities

Field Visit (June 2013 - July 2013)

HU 326 900 (Beorgs of Uyea) and HU 327 850 (Grut Wells) Building on previous years’ work in North Roe led by Ballin (DES 2013, 167-8) the first season of the North Roe Felsite Project; Making an Island World: Neolithic Shetland, took place in June–July 2013. There were three foci of work: the geochemical and petrological characterisation of outcrops and artifacts; the topographical survey and characterisation of production at Grut Wells; and the analysis and characterisation of axes and knives in the Shetland Museum. A multi-scalar approach to data collection and analysis is being implemented and integrated through a project GIS.

Geochemical and petrological mapping – A Thermo Scientific ‘NITON XL3T GOLDD+’ portable x-ray fluorescence analyzer (PXRF), on loan from and with thanks to Historic Scotland, was used to measure elemental compositions of a large study sample of felsite (stone axe petrological Group XXII) consisting of: rocks at outcrop; debitage from tool production episodes; and polished stone axes and knives from the collection of the Shetland Museum. Of the almost 500 implements associated with Shetland and/or described as Group XXII the project has PXRF analyses for 213. A total of 900 PXRF analyses were carried out in Shetland, at the quarry complex and on the objects in the Shetland Museum, and a further 211 in the NMS. At total of 93 field samples were collected and 26 thin sections prepared, on which initial analysis has been carried out.

Analysis of this material is ongoing but the PXRF appears to be very consistent with an estimate of less than 1% variability in results as measured from the test samples. At the quarry complex this evidence will be used to identify outcrops, archaeological sites and landscape features for further investigation during the 2014 season and beyond. It is planned to extend the PXRF survey to cover all polished felsite stone axes and knives in major Scottish museum collections.

Topographical survey and characterization of production at Grut Wells – A detailed survey of an area 250m (N–S) by 150m (E–W) provided a detailed basis for understanding the working of felsite in this area. There are two distinct groups of quarry pits on a N–S alignment (following a felsite dyke). Other pits appear to be single episode or exploratory quarry pits. On the surface there were significant numbers of large blocks of felsite. The survey demonstrated a clear spatial relationship between these large blocks of felsite (over 300mm in length) and the quarry pits. It seems clear that the blocks of felsite were quarried from the pits and were the primary source utilized for the production of rough-outs.

The survey was accompanied by a more detailed sampling strategy to try to understand the surface accumulation of felsite debitage. This demonstrated that there was a clear patterning in the occurrence of felsite. There is a strong correlation of high density areas of debitage with the quarry pits. Within the zone of the major concentration of felsite debitage a sampling grid of over 50 1m2 sample areas were utilized to characterize the surface debitage. Material was collected from five sample areas. This will be compared with the debitage produced during the experimental manufacture of axes and knives from felsite which is currently taking place in University College Dublin.

Axes and knives in the Shetland Museum – All the axeheads (126) and knives (60) in the Shetland Museum were characterized archaeologically, their geochemical signature and petrology was recorded (see above) and they were photographed.

Analysis of the axeheads demonstrated the dominance of felsite as a source. Almost 75% (94 out of 126) are made of felsite, with a significant proportion manufactured from serpentinite (13%). The dominance of felsite is even more apparent in the case of the knives with 95% (57 out of 60) being made from felsite. The detailed examination of this collection also provided quantitative support for the visual observation that felsite axeheads are less spectacular in appearance than the knives. Whereas the felsite knives in the collection are produced in almost equal numbers from non-spherulitic and spherulitic felsite, the majority (85%) of the felsite axeheads were made from non-spherulitic varieties of felsite.

Almost 80% of the Shetland knives are either intact or chipped. It should be noted that the spectacular find of 19 knives in the Stourbrough Hill hoard constitute almost a third of the total number of knives. A total of 42 (70%) of the knives were shown to be made from flake-blanks, whereas the blanks used for the remaining pieces are uncertain. In more than 50% of cases spherulitic, highly patterned forms of felsites, were used. It is possible to subdivide the knives into a number of formal types with sub-rectangular forms (54%) being most common, followed by examples of oval/pointed-oval form (17%). Other shapes may generally be the result of use wear and re-sharpening. Analysis of the axes and knives suggests that there were two distinct production lines; one for pieces that were intended for ritual use and deposition and one for general use with potential for repeated reworking.

Hoard and miniature heel-shaped cairn – Two other results from the fieldwork demonstrate the special role of felsite, and of the quarry complex in the wider context of the Shetland archipelago. A hoard of three felsite roughouts, two large axeheads and a Shetland knife, was discovered below and to the SE of the Grut Wells dyke discussed above. The material is macroscopically identical to the debitage around the quarry pits. Comparison with the Shetland Museum collection indicates that the objects in the hoard are unusually large and well produced. A small megalithic tomb which can be seen as having the characteristics of the distinctive Shetland heel-shaped cairns was discovered, c300m N of the surveyed area at Grut Wells and overlooking the line of outcrop of a felsite dyke which dips down on to lower ground. The tomb appears to be orientated to visually link this area of the complex with the Beorgs of Uyea to the N. Far from being remote it would appear that the North Roe felsite quarry complex was a central place not just for axe and knife production but also for the construction of identity in Neolithic Shetland.

Funder: The National Geographic Northern Exploration Fund

Gabriel Cooney, University College Dublin

Torben B Ballin, Lithic Research/University of Bradford

Vin Davis, Implement Petrology Group

Alison Sheridan, National Museums Scotland

Mik Markham, Implement Petrology Group

Will Megarry, University College Dublin, 2013

(Source: DES)

Excavation (6 June 2016 - 24 June 2016)

HU 327 848 (Grut Wells) and HU 326 902 (Beorgs of Uyea) The North Roe Felsite Project (NRFP) is a partnership involving University College Dublin, Shetland Museum and Archives, National Museums of Scotland, Queen’s University Belfast and the Implement Petrology Group. Building on the reconnaissance survey undertaken by Ballin, the project is addressing a central research issue for the Neolithic in Shetland (and Scotland), ie the role of a visually distinctive stone (reibeckite) felsite (Group XXII in the scheme of British stone implement petrology groups) which, during the Neolithic period, people transformed into polished axes and knives. The source is at North Roe, mainland Shetland where there is a well preserved major quarry complex. Here, blue to grey felsite dykes stand out against red granite bedrock. The NRFP is using archaeological and geochemical/petrological survey, a detailed GPS survey and targeted excavation, to try to identify the scale, character and date of the extraction processes. A project GIS integrates data from the quarry with analysis and mapping of felsite artefacts from across the Shetland archipelago held in museum and private collections, facilitating an integrated insight into the life path and role of these objects in Neolithic Shetland.

To date there have been three field seasons at North Roe, 2013, 2014 and 2016, collecting data at a range of scales at the quarry and beyond. In 2013 and 2014 portable x-ray fluorescence (PXRF) survey was carried out across the quarry complex, and on the collections of felsite objects in the Shetland Museum and National Museums Scotland which were also recorded in detail. This report focuses on the results of the 2014 and 2016 field seasons.

Survey in the 2016 season, 6–24 June, concentrated in two areas of the North Roe quarry complex. Within the scheduled monument (SM 890) at the Beorgs of Uyea detailed survey continued, building on initial survey in 2014.

This baseline survey is important in providing a detailed record of the surface deposits and evidence for quarrying at this key location. It is also documenting a range of features which appear to be associated with the quarrying activity, notably a series of over 60 standing stones to the SE of

the zone of quarrying and a major concentration of felsite blocks further to the E, at a distance of over 300m for the exploited felsite dykes.

The second area where detailed survey in 2016 was conducted was Grut Wells East. This is an area to the E of Grut Wells in the southern part of the complex where there is an important concentration of evidence for felsite working areas and related activity. Here, three felsite workshops were

identified including knapping areas with debitage, artefact deposition and the placement of felsite under propped granite boulders. This was first noted during the petrological/ geochemical survey of the complex.

Grut Wells Two trenches were opened at Grut Wells (Trench 1 and Trench 2). These were positioned across quarry pits (Pits 7 and 8) identified as running along the line of a probable quarried felsite dyke during survey in 2013. This survey also made it clear that the dyke was composed of

fine-grained felsite with dispersed pink feldspar phenocrysts.

Trench 1 measured 3.5m long E/W and 1m wide N/S and was positioned across the middle part of the quarry Pit 8. Trench 2 measured 9 x 1m across quarry Pit 7 from E/W. Here the ground surface sloped steeply to the E on the western side of the trench but was more gently dished towards the middle and E. Trench 2 was extended to 1.5m in width at the eastern end. Both trenches were mostly covered in peat with granite and felsite also present on the surface. The excavation of Trench 1 was completed in 2014. While excavation of Trench 2 commenced in 2014 it was largely excavated in 2016.

Trench 1 The peat cover here was very wet and claggy with deposits of felsite debitage inwashed from the current surface. The peat was at its deepest at the centre of the trench where it was 0.5m in depth from the ground surface, here there was no felsite. Below the peat there was a series of deposits related to quarrying activity. All contained felsite debitage of varying size concentrations and characteristics. One distinct deposit was a series of large, angular, granite boulders running NNW/SSE across the centre of Trench 1. These large boulders are presumed to be the result of removal of granite outcrop close to the felsite dyke. The weight of these boulders meant that they sank into the deposits below, creating a diffuse boundary between the fills in the central area of the trench.

Iron pan deposits formed across the surface of some fills. Two cuts/recuts were recognised in the trench. The granite boulders mentioned above formed part of the fill of the later of the two cuts. This later cut was made into granitic sand with significant quantities of felsite. At the eastern end of

Trench 1 this sand was initially thought to represent the top of the subsoil. But in the light of the excavation results from Trench 2 (see below) is now interpreted as probable upcast/ fill on to the western side of the dyke, covering the quarried dyke surface, which was not exposed during the excavation of Trench 1. Current interpretation is that the western side of the dyke lies just E of the eastern end of the trench. It also appears that the initial quarry pit/extraction area extended further W than the western edge of the trench, implying that it was over 3.5m in width.

Trench 2 The initial trench measured 9 x 1m and was set out across Pit 7 from E/W. This was extended by 0.5m on the eastern side so that the trench was 1.5m in width N/S from the felsite outcrop in the centre to the eastern end of the trench. Like Trench 1, the surface of Trench 2 was largely covered with peat, which was waterlogged in places. The depth of the peat varied considerably across the trench, and it contained a small quantity of inwashed lithics. Quarry rubble with felsite and granite had built up on the near vertical slope on the western side of the trench There were a series of contexts relating to the quarrying of the felsite dyke, which was revealed by excavation at the centre of the trench. The dyke was 4.4m in width (and extended beyond the eastern edge of the trench) and from the top of the dyke as exposed in the centre of the trench it was 1.8m in depth. It was composed of a series of felsite blocks, separated by fault lines in the felsite, which predominantly ran along an axis 40° NW/SE of the main alignment of the dyke. Quarrying was focused on extracting blocks from the dyke. Evidence of this was demonstrated in the scarring and nibbling of the surface of the dyke. Distinct quarrying activity could be recognised on either side of the dyke. A definite quarry pit excavated into granitic sand and granite outcrop along the western margin of the felsite dyke was recognised. This was 1.4m in width at what is the definite rock surface, 0.6m in width at the base. It was dug to a depth of 1.0m into solid granite. As excavated the overall dimensions of the cut, including the extraction of felsite is 3.6m in width with a depth of 1.72m. On the eastern side extraction appears to have extended from the surviving highest point of the dyke to beyond the eastern edge of the trench. The deposits within Trench 2 represented backfilling episodes of the extraction areas. They varied from loose, unconsolidated masses of felsite flakes to compact sandy clays containing worked granite and felsite, relating to the various phases of the quarrying process. There was a notable density of finds in Trench 2 with a total of 65 finds being recorded, all relating to the working of the felsites, including axe/adze roughouts, hammerstones, wedges and cores.

Beorgs Of Uyea Targeted excavation was carried out at the Beorgs of Uyea (SM 890) under the terms of the scheduled monument consent at the western end of the zone of exploitation. The focus here was an excavation trench, Trench 1 (5.3 x 2m) across a quarry pit, with felsite outcrop visible in the centre. This dyke is composed of spherulitic felsite with banding evident at the margins of the dyke. The work aimed to understand the primary stages of quarrying, to place this in the context of the detailed survey being undertaken at the Beorgs of Uyea, and to compare and contrast this with the evidence from Grut Wells. Trench 2, a second small excavation area (2 x 2m), focused on what appears to be a fallen felsite standing stone in an area where there is a concentration of large felsite blocks E of the major zone of quarrying and dyke exploitation. This was discovered during initial survey in 2014. The relationship of these standing stones and blocks with the Neolithic quarry activity is an important issue in terms of understanding the significance of the landscape.

Trench 1 The position of Trench 1 was chosen to provide a cross-section of a clearly defined quarry pit, with a block of the quarried dyke in the centre of the trench. Surface material, in the form of granite and felsite blocks and debitage, was scattered predominantly in the E, W and N of the trench with the dyke exposure in the centre-south. There was peat and vegetation cover over much of the trench, extending out from the central dyke material. While definite quarry pits could be recognised to the E/N and to the W of the dyke, the excavated deposits in Trench 1 were very shallow compared to Grut Wells and comprised mainly unconsolidated quarried felsite blocks and debitage (all of it spherultic and banded), with some granite. Despite the granite/felsite margin being diffuse the edges of the quarry pits could be recognised. In both cases they appeared to continue to the N. The eastern trench was 1.6m in width and 0.5m in depth. The western trench is better defined and was also 1.6m in width and 0.5m in depth. Where peat accumulated around loose

stone it provided a matrix for some deposits. One context towards the bottom of the pit on the western side of the dyke contained finer felsite flakes and may represent a later stage in the working of the felsite for the production of roughouts.

It is clear from the excavation that there were a number of phases of quarrying represented. Quarrying appears to have begun on the W side. With the tilting of the dyke block after it was undercut there was further quarrying on the E and northern side. The last phase of quarrying was of the current W face of the dyke. The base of the quarry pits was uneven quarried felsite with sand deposits indicating that the pits may have been left open after initial quarrying.

Trench 2 was a 2 x 2m area around a suspected fallen felsite standing stone, located 290m E of the eastern-most dyke in the zone of exploitation. It was located in an area of deposition of felsite blocks and occasional definite felsite standing stones (further W there is a major concentration of granite standing stones). Trench 2 was deturfed and the felsite block was found to be sitting within what may be a deliberate setting composed of granite boulders, although the terrain here under the peat cover is a granite boulder field making definition of features quite difficult. The felsite block did appear to have been placed as a standing stone. It appears that it fell to the N, as indicated by damage on the NE side of the block and the presence of impact shatter flakes on the granite in this area. The stone was not lifted and the area was recovered.

Ballin, TB and Davis, V 2012: Shetland: North Roe (Northmaven parish); survey and evaluation. DES 13 (2012), 167

Cooney, G, Ballin, TB, Davis, V, Sheridan, A, Markham, M, and Megarry, W 2013: Shetland Islands: Beorgs of Uyea/ Grut Wells, North Roe, Northmavine parish; Survey; First season of North Roe Felsite Project (Making an Island World: Neolithic Shetland). DES 14 (2013), 174–175

Archive: UCD School of Archaeology (currently), National Museums Scotland/Shetland Museum and Archives (intended)

Funder: National Geographic Society (Global Exploration Fund, GEFNE147–15), University College Dublin, College of Social Sciences and Law and National Museums Scotland

Gabriel Cooney and Joanne Gaffrey – UCD School of Archaeology, University College Dublin

(Source: DES, Volume 17)

Excavation (8 May 2017 - 2 June 2017)

HU 327 848 (Grut Wells) and HU 326 902 (Beorgs of Uyea) The North Roe Felsite Project (NRFP) is a partnership involving University College Dublin, Queen’s University Belfast, Shetland Museum and Archives, National Museums of Scotland and the Implement Petrology Group with the assistance of Archaeology Shetland, building on the reconnaissance survey undertaken by Torben Ballin. The project is addressing a central research issue for the Neolithic in Shetland (and Scotland); the role of a visually distinctive stone; (reibeckite) felsite (Group XXII in the Implement Petrology Group scheme of British stone implement petrology Groups) which, during the Neolithic period, people transformed into polished axes and knives. The source is at North Roe, mainland Shetland, where there is a well preserved major quarry complex. Here, blue to grey felsite dykes stand out against red granite bedrock. The NRFP is using archaeological and geochemical/petrological survey, detailed GPS and UAV survey and targeted excavation to identify the scale, character and date of the extraction processes. A project GIS integrates data from the quarry complex with analysis and mapping of felsite artefacts from across the Shetland archipelago in museum and private collections, facilitating integrated insights into the life path and role of these objects in Neolithic Shetland.

To date there have been four field seasons at North Roe, between 2013 and 2017, collecting data at a range of scales at the quarry and beyond. In 2013 and 2014 PXRF survey was carried out across the quarry complex, and on the collections of felsite objects in the Shetland Museum and National Museums Scotland which were also recorded in detail. Associated petrographic analysis has led to the identification by the Implement Petrology Group (Mik Markham and Vin Davis) of 15 petrographic types of felsite. This report focuses on the results of the 2017 field season.

Survey in the 2017 season, 8 May 2017 – 2 June 2017, concentrated on the Beorgs of Uyea area of the North Roe quarry complex. Within the scheduled monument (SM 890) at the Beorgs of Uyea detailed survey continued, building on survey begun in 2014. This baseline survey is providing a detailed record of the surface deposits and evidence for quarrying and production processes at this key location. It is also documenting a range of features that appear to be associated with the quarrying activity, notably a series of over 60 standing stones to the SE of the zone of quarrying and a major concentration of felsite blocks further to the E, at a distance of over 300m from the exploited felsite dykes.

Dyke and debitage characterisation – Detailed description of the seven major felsite dykes (A-G, numbered from W-E) at Beorgs of Uyea, was completed. This incorporated characterization of the dykes and associated debitage. A series of transects along each dyke was recorded in detail focusing on in situ dyke blocks of felsite, quarried blocks and debitage. This was accompanied by photographic coverage. In this coverage 1 x 1m squares were photographed and the NW corner of these squares surveyed in using GPS. This photographic coverage can be explored in the project geographical information system (GIS) alongside high resolution ortho-photography produced by the UAV. The felsite types defined by the Implement Petrology Group were used to petrographically characterise the dykes and felsite debitage.

Preliminary analysis of the results indicates that there is lateral and longitudinal variation in the felsite petrographic type within the dykes. The degree of this variation is different between dykes A-G. The petrographic typology does appear to be broadly effective in characterizing the dykes with a major type represented and one or two other types, but additional features needed to be recorded, such as the occurrence of spherulites at varying sizes.

Object characterisation – To complement the dyke and debitage characterization in terms of understanding the different stages in the quarrying and production the occurrence of felsite roughouts or preforms, granite and felsite hammerstones (both local and imported, probably from the coast 2kms to the N), felsite wedges and ‘cores’ was also recorded across the main quarry area at the Beorgs of Uyea. There is significant variation in terms of the density of the objects within the area. This appears to represent variation in intensity of quarrying and production. Interestingly, there is a general denser occurrence of material across the northern part of the dykes and towards the outermost dykes on the W and E sides. At the eastern end there is a very abrupt fall off in density immediately E of the easternmost dyke. It should be noted that there is a notable lack of final stage felsite roughouts or preforms compared to Grut Wells, the other area of the North Roe quarry complex intensively studied by the NRFP.

Work is ongoing on comparison of the object characterization with the felsite dyke characterisation and debitage zones to understand how the artefact distribution matches with different zones of working that are being identified.

Block characterisation to the SE of the quarry area – In the area upslope and to the SE of the dykes A–G at the Beorgs, the occurrence of a concentration of large and very large felsite blocks (and a small number of felsite standing stones) had been recorded in 2016. These were characterised by felsite petrographic type and photographed. It is interesting that there appears to be a dominance of one type of felsite, suggesting a link with a particular dyke in the quarry area.

Standing stone survey – Survey in 2017 focused on two groups of standing stones (called Groups A (6 standing stones) and B (9 standing stones) to the N of the hilltop cairn, SE of dykes A-G. Both groups of standing stones appear to be focused around low granite outcrops. Only definite upright standing stones were included in the survey. These were recorded (including orientation), measured and photographed.

Features to the SW and W of main quarry complex – A number of features (Features 1-6) were noted during the survey. These features appear to be in a similar location in relation to topography and slope. The features appear to be distinct and different from the late 20th-century military hides that occur in a concentration immediately to the W of the quarry area.

Excavation – Grut Wells – A further excavation trench (Trench 3) was opened at Grut Wells following the excavation of Trenches 1 and Trench 2 in 2014/2016. The purpose of this trench was to reveal another area of the quarried dyke (composed of fine-grained felsite with dispersed pink feldspar phenocrysts) which had been identified in Trench 2. Trench 2 had also contained granitic sand and sandy silt/clay deposits that appeared to have potential for OSL dating. Trench 1 across Pit 8 had revealed what appeared to be the upper area of the deposits on the western side of the dyke. This was probably upcast/fill covering the quarried dyke surface, which was not exposed during the excavation of Trench 1.

Trench 3 was positioned immediately E of the E end of Trench 1. Its long axis was placed on the same E/W alignment as Trench 1 and the S side of Trench 3 was on line with the S side of Trench 1. Trench 3 measured 6m E/W and 2m N/S. In the SW corner of the trench there appeared to be a small area exposed of the in situ dyke, this influenced the placement of the trench. The ground surface sloped very gently to the E with the surface composed of tufty areas of vegetation and exposed felsite debitage and granite generally less than 200mm in maximum dimension, with occasional larger blocks.

Removal of the vegetation revealed that the felsite debitage and granite extended E/W across the trench. However, it was interrupted by a distinct peat-filled depression trending NW/ SE across the trench. The central point of the depression was c2.4m from the W end of the trench and it measured 2.2 x 1.2m in extent. The surface deposits immediately to the E and W of this depression had peaty lenses. As excavation proceeded it was clear that as well as marking the latest event in the trench, a deliberate cut into earlier deposits, this peat-filled depression also marked a distinction between the deposits to the E of it and the deposits to the west.

Dealing with the deposits to the W firstly, these represent a series of fills of a quarry pit which had been dug on the eastern side of the dyke. This quarry pit had a maximum E/W width of 2.8m and the felsite had been quarried to a depth of at least 1.6m. It would appear that the dyke extended at least 0.8m further E than the current quarried face exposed in the E-facing section of Trench 3 and that beyond this the granite/ felsite margin was removed, as well as up to 1.0m width of granite. The lowest part of the pit was only 0.5m wide and was focused on the removal of felsite and the granite/ felsite margin. The restricted nature of the trench made it impossible to fully excavate the base of the pit.

The deposits filling the quarry pit appear to represent backfill into a quarry pit as active quarrying moved to the N or S of the area exposed in Trench 3. These fills consisted largely of granitic sands/sandy silts/clays containing felsite debitage and associated artefacts: hammerstones, wedges and axe roughouts or preforms. Two distinct deposits were placed on the stepped side of the wider, upper part of the pit dug into the granite/sand at a depth of 0.8m from the surface. At a depth of 0.6–1.0m a deposit of several large granite blocks appears to have been deliberately placed to level up the backfill of the pit.

To the E of the cut discussed above, and below the surface deposit of a general spread of felsite debitage and granite, there appeared to be a slight mounding of material immediately E of the quarry pit. This seems to represent upcast from a quarry pit, but not necessarily from the area within the trench. More importantly the character of the deposits in this eastern area of the trench (measuring 2m E/W at the southern edge of the trench and 4m E/W at the northern edge) represent in situ activity areas. The character of the deposits and the felsite debitage indicates that what is represented are the initial stage where large quarried blocks were reduced to convenient size for tool production and the subsequent various stages of lithic reduction where these blocks were reduced into preforms or roughouts, down to final stage roughouts. These are the first in situ working areas identified in any of the excavation areas to date at the quarry complex. Alongside the debitage from different stages of production and reduction there were appropriately sized hammerstones and also the wedges associated with quarrying. Recognising the significance of these deposits, and that they had not been the primary focus of the excavation, this eastern area was only excavated to a depth of 0.4m.

It would appear that the cut, which became filled with peat, was cut into both these in situ workshop deposits to the E and the top of the fill of the quarry pit to the west. One plausible explanation for this cut is that it represents late stage felsite quarrying activity where previously quarried felsite blocks in the fill of the quarry pit were re-utilized.

Samples were taken for OSL dating from three profiles in the sections of the trench (David Sanderson, SUERC). Importantly, charcoal was identified in several of the contexts in the trench, both in the fill of the quarry pit and from the workshop area to the east. The charcoal is dominated by birch (charcoal identification by Lorna O’Donnell). Birch would appear to have been a major component in the shrubby woodland cover prior to Neolithic clearance. To date three radiocarbon dates have been obtained (14Chrono Centre, QUB). These are the first dates for the quarrying activity at the North Roe quarry complex. These indicate activity in the Early to Middle Neolithic in Shetland broadly between 3600–3300 BC. It is planned to date more samples from Trench 3.

Archive: UCD School of Archaeology (currently) and National Museums Scotland/Shetland Museum and Archives (intended)

Funder: National Geographic Society, University College Dublin, National Museums Scotland and Queens University Belfast

Gabriel Cooney and William Megarry – UCD School of Archaeology, University College Dublin, and School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast

(Source: DES, Volume 18)

Field Visit (2018)

HU 327 848 (Grut Wells) and HU 326 902 (Beorgs of Uyea)

The North Roe Felsite Project (NRFP) is a partnership

involving University College Dublin, Queen’s University

Belfast, Shetland Museum and Archives, National Museums

of Scotland, the Implement Petrology Group and Archaeology

Shetland, building on the reconnaissance survey undertaken

by Torben Ballin. The project is addressing a central research

issue for the Neolithic in Shetland (and Scotland); the role of

a visually distinctive stone; (reibeckite) felsite (Group XXII

in the Implement Petrology Group scheme of British stone

implement petrology Groups), which during the Neolithic

period people transformed into polished axes and knives.

The source is at North Roe, Northmavine, mainland Shetland,

where there is a well-preserved major quarry complex.

Fieldwork 2018 – Previous NRFP field seasons (2013, 2014,

2016, 2017) focused on the quarry landscape. Excavation at

Grut Wells in 2017 provided the first radiocarbon dates for

the quarrying activity, broadly between 3600–3300 cal. BC.

Analysis of this first major phase of work is ongoing. In

2018 exploratory fieldwork was carried out as part of the

assessment of the direction and development of the project.

Work continued on felsite objects in the Shetland Museum,

Lerwick and local museums elsewhere in Shetland.

Survey: Northmavine and West Mainland – Preliminary

fieldwork and assessment of the potential prehistoric

exploitation of reibeckite felsite dykes at Brevligarth (HU 335

920), on the N coast of Northmavine and two kilometres NNE

of the Beogs of Uyea was carried out. The distinctive spherulitic

reibeckite felsite had been quarried and used in the modern

historic period to construct the croft. This included UAV

(unmanned aerial vehicle) survey.

It appears that while the production process of felsite axes

and Shetland knives at the quarry complex went as far as

final stage roughouts or preforms, the final finishing, grinding

and polishing took place elsewhere, Given the widespread

distribution of felsite objects across the archipelago, their

occurrence in Early Neolithic contexts and the Early Neolithic

dates for the quarry itself, one important research question

with wider implications for our understanding of the

development of the Neolithic in Shetland is the location of

these finishing workshops.

Systematic fieldwalking of a ploughed field with the

assistance of Archaeology Shetland at Flugarth (HU 368

905), to the NE of the quarry complex revealed the presence

of felsite debitage. Fieldwork by Archaeology Shetland

identified another potential locus of activity at Esha Ness

(HU 233 785) where erosion of the peat cover revealed felsite

objects and debitage on the top of a low ridge. It is relevant to

note that there is a concentration of felsite objects, including

partially ground and polished axes in the Esha Ness area in

the collections of Shetland Museum and the Tangwick Haa

museum (see below).

Fieldwork and UAV survey was carried out at Modesty,

West Burrafirth, West Mainland (HU 265 571). The reason

for the project’s interest in this area is the dating by National

Museums Scotland of an assemblage with felsite axes and

Shetland knives dates to 3500–3100 cal BC and indications

that the area may have been a focus of Neolithic activity. It

should be noted that initial geological identification (with

thanks to Allen Fraser) of a reibeckite felsite hammerstone

discovered beside a fallen standing stone at Lang Hill (HU 274

575) suggests that it is possible it came from the porphyritic

reibeckite felsite dyke (Smith Harmar felsite) two kilometres

to the S, running SW/NE on either side of Sulma Water rather

than the North Roe source.

Museum work – In the Shetland Museum, Lerwick this

focused on working through the archival record for felsite

objects to see if additional information could be added to

the NRFP database about the location, find circumstances

and contexts of objects. Recent accessions to the museum

collections were recorded and photographed. It is worth noting

that despite the fact that formal recognition of the quarrying

activity at the quarry complex at North Roe was in the middle

of the 20th century, roughouts had been found at the quarry

from the 19th century. Also notable is the concentration of

felsite objects in the Esha Ness area, Northmavine, S across

Ronas Voe from the quarry and N of Magnus Bay and West

Mainland, seen as the focal area for Neolithic activity in

Shetland.

The felsite objects in the collections of the Scalloway Museum

and the Tangwick Haa Museum were recorded, drawn and

photographed.

With thanks to Jenny Murray (Shetland Museum) for

facilitating fieldwork, Archaeology Shetland (in particular Steve

Jennings and Caroline Henderson) and the Waterson family

(Modesty) for assistance in the field, Billy Moore (Scalloway

Museum), Ruby Brown (Tangwick Haa Museum) and Allen

Fraser for discussion.

Archive: UCD School of Archaeology (currently) and National

Museums Scotland/Shetland Museum and Archives (intended)

Funder: National Geographic Society, University College Dublin,

National Museums Scotland and Queens University Belfast

Gabriel Cooney and William Megarry – UCD School of

Archaeology, University College Dublin/School of Natural and

Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast

(Source: DES, Volume 19)

References

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