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Ratho Quarry

Enclosed Cremation Cemetery (Bronze Age), Pit(S) (Period Unassigned), Sunken Floored Building (Period Unassigned), Cinerary Urn(S)

Site Name Ratho Quarry

Classification Enclosed Cremation Cemetery (Bronze Age), Pit(S) (Period Unassigned), Sunken Floored Building (Period Unassigned), Cinerary Urn(S)

Canmore ID 81323

Site Number NT17SW 95

NGR NT 1281 7107

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Edinburgh, City Of
  • Parish Ratho
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District City Of Edinburgh
  • Former County Midlothian

Archaeology Notes

NT17SW 95 1281 7107

AOC (Scotland) Ltd undertook the full excavation of a site first discovered by GUARD as part of their evaluation in advance of the M8 extension.

The site occupied a hollow on the side of a small rounded hill immediately to the N of the disused Ratho Quarry, to the W of Ratho village. The hollow was defined on its northern and western sides by crests of outcropping dolerite bedrock, and commanded superb views over to the Firth of Forth, the Almond floodplain and to Edinburgh.

Topsoil was stripped by machine from the area of the hollow, roughly 3000m squared. An eastward extension 1.8m wide was opened running from the north-eastern corner for 28m, and an additional trench was cut at the point where a track crossed through a depression in the bedrock crest on the north-western edge of the site.

Feature pre-dating the ring ditch

One pit, lying on the outer north-western edge of the ring-ditch was found to have been cut by it. This pit contained distinctive pottery which closely resembled sherds from another pit close by.

Ring-ditch and associated features

The full extent of the ring-ditch (partially exposed during the evaluation) was traced, and the ditch sectioned in five places. The ring-ditch varied from 9.2m to 10.6m in diameter, with an entrance 4.4m wide facing S. The ditch was generally very shallow (10cm to 15cm) in the northern part where it had been cut into bedrock, but the two terminals on the southern side were cut into an area of till and were much deeper (40cm). The terminals were emptied out completely; two worked flints were found in the western terminal. The fill of the ring-ditch was an homogenous reddish-brown silt loam, with no apparent variation vertically or horizontally.

There were four features within the area enclosed by the ring-ditch. Two of these were the cordoned urn cremation pits which had been excavated during the evaluation excavation. A third feature, sited in the south-eastern quadrant of the enclosed area, was found to contain an un-urned cremation. The fourth feature was a shallow scoop in the south-western quadrant, close to the edge of the ring-ditch.

Stone setting

The stone setting putatively described as a cist and first exposed in the course of the evaluation, was sited 6.5m to the W of the ring-ditch. This consisted of four large tabular stones in a roughly square setting, with a smaller stone filling in the north-eastern corner. A sixth large tabular stone lay against the outside of the south-eastern corner. Within the setting, three stones in an arc appeared to create a smaller space inside, against the eastern side.

There were three soil layers within the setting: a brown loam similar to the general A horizon; a silty loam; and a brown loam with red sandstone flecks over bedrock. The boundaries between these layers were very diffuse, and there was no apparent base to the setting, nor was there a buried ground surface below it. The stone setting may have been cut into a shallow natural hollow in the subsoil, but the only trace of any cut or packing externally was a slight increase in stoniness in the fill of the hollow along the western side of the setting.

No fragments of bone, or finds of any kind were noted during excavation of the stone setting. Processing of the soil samples may yet yield evidence to the contrary, but the field interpretation is that this feature was never used as a cist. An alternative hypothesis, that the stone setting may have been a hearth has also been discounted given the absence of any traces of burning on the stones. It should be noted that the stone setting is sited close to the edge of the hollow at a point where there is a pronounced gap in the bedrock crest. A hollow way climbs up the hill from the NW and crosses through this gap. It is possible that this forms an entrance to the burial area and that the stone setting is related to this.

An additional trench was excavated across the gap in the bedrock crest, but showed only turf directly over bedrock, and no archaeological features were found within it or cut into the rock.

Palisade settings

The palisade settings were sited immediately to the E of the ring-ditch, in an area of rising bedrock and shallow soil.

The primary palisade setting ran N to S in a shallow flattened arc. At its southern end it was cut into the bedrock for 1.5m before fading out, and at its northern end it also faded out shortly after crossing onto bedrock. The upright stone packing (including one stone with clear plough-scratches) was better preserved in the southern half, but the cut was clearly visible for the remainder of its length. Several features were observed along its course; probably post holes, whose relationship with the palisade setting was not clear but were probably either integral with the alignment or later. Towards the northern end, the primary alignment was crossed and cut by the secondary alignment. A nail-headed bronze pin was rcovered from the fill of the primary alignment close to this point.

The secondary palisade setting terminated at the N and S very close to the primary one, and was also cut into the bedrock at the southern end. However, the course of the alignment had a much more pronounced curve, and it diverged by 1m at the furthest point. The stone packing of the secondary alignment was better preserved, composed of parallel, small edged-set stones.

Two features were found in the area between the two palisade settings; a shallow rounded post hole and a shallow oval pit.

Although there is no direct stratigraphic link between either of the palisade alignments and the sunken-featured building (see below), the relative positions indicate that the palisade alignments were enclosing the area in which it, and presumably other settlement remains, now lost, were sited.

Sunken-featured building

This structure, immediately to the E of the palisade settings, occupied a natural hollow between two rising knolls of bedrock, a position which had probably saved it from destruction by the plough. Although the dolerite bedrock here has natural fissures forming misleadingly straight lines and right-angles, there did appear to have been some modification of the bedrock, particularly in the area of the northern wall, where the bedrock appears to have been cut back 'against the grain' and an artificial slope created.

The shape of the building is difficult to assess, as sections of the wall line were missing where it crossed over the bedrock, but it would appear to have been rougly sub-rectangular, and to have had an internal area of approximately 5m E to W by 4.2m N to S. The wall lines were represented by bands of dispersed stones, some lying directly over bedrock. The W wall appeared to consist of a number of components, principally a band of close-packed medium-sized stones. Within this band of stones and lying on the mid-point of the wall was a substantial post hole with packing stones. Where the wall encountered bedrock at N and S, as with the palisade alignments, the line was continued for a short length by rock-cut trenches. At both ends, some distance from these rock-cut depressions there were single rock-cut post holes.

Within this building, the upper part of the occupation layer consisted of a mottled brown sandy loam, with patches of red burnt clay and black charcoal-rich soil. This appeared to be a mix of topsoil and occupation deposits, and had no clear boundaries above or below, so therefore the level at which the clay loom-weights appeared was used to indiacte the surface of the lower part of the occupation layer. This lower part was essentially very similar to the upper; a very mottled brown sandy soil with areas of red burnt clay, balck charcoal-rich patches, and areas of unburnt grey clay. There was also occasional small angular stones, possibly fire-cracked. Sealed by the upper part of the occupation layer was an oval area 2.3m by 1.5m of densely packed, rounded and worn pebbles, and set within the pebbles were several large, flat slabs, including the lower stone of a rotary quern.

The main feature of the interior of this structure was, however, the 178 clay loom-weight fragments recovered, many of which were grouped in lines and bunches suggesting that they were in situ. One group of weights lay in a line close to the tumbled remains of the N wall, and a second line of complete weights and fragments lay parallel to the W wall and some 25cm away from its edge.

Archaeological features in the southern and central part of the site, away from the outcropping bedrock had been severely truncated. The following features were identified:

Rectilinear structure 1: composed of the truncated and intermittent remains of linear trenches, with no surviving internal features or surfaces, apart from a small sub-square feature close to the western end. The structure measured 9.4m by 4m, and lay with its long axis aligned SW to NE.

Rectilinear structure 2: composed of a continuous rectilinear trench enclosing an area 3.7m by 4.6m. There were no traces of any surviving surfaces or features within the structure apart from a single broad shallow pit, slightly W of centre. On its eastern side, the structure backed onto the rising bedrock on the eastern edge of the site.

Pit group: composed of ten pits scattered over the central area of the site, grouped together because of a distinctive reddish-brown silty sand fill, very similar to that of the ring-ditch.

Miscellaneous features: a further twent-four pits were found scattered over the central area of the site, with a variety of fills and stone packing, which show no clear patterning at this stage.

Curvilinear feature: observed by GUARD (see above) in their evaluation, consisting of a broad, shallow flat-bottomed feature 7m in length, curving in a shallow arc from NE to SW. The fill was a reddish-brown sandy silt, which will be compared with that of the ring-ditch, and the pit-group. The feature faded out at each end with no clear terminals, although at the eastern end, an oval feature with a setting of five stones in the centre may have marked the continuation of the line.

Linear feature: in the far south-eastern corner of the site, a very well-defined linear feature 12m in length ran roughly N to S, turning sharply at its southern end into the eastern baulk. This had an homogenous fill, with one localised, charcoal-rich patch towards the northern end. The feature faded out at its northern end in an area of outcropping bedrock.

Sponsor: Funded by Roads Directorate of Scottish Office Industry Department and arranged by Historic Scotland.

J Terry 1993; A N Smith 1993

The excavation archive from Ratho Quarry has been catalogued. The archive consists of negatives, slides, drawings and manuscripts.

Historic Scotland Archive Project (SW) 2001.


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