All done at Inchnadamph

Until the next time…

Hole in-filled, turf relaced, archaeologist ready to go home, a good week’s work well done.

What secrets will these buckets of finds reveal?

If you live locally and would like a summary of what the Fire and Water project has learned, and what Historic Assynt is planning for the future, come to the AGM on Wednesday 6 March, 7.30pm in the Lochinver Community Room. As ever, all welcome.

What a muddy little bit of hazel stick tells us

Scotty, Graeme and John digging

The diggers hit the bottom of the moat today, and the various interesting bits and bobs dug up included a little bit of hazel stick. This was a nice coincidence as in the afternoon Graeme came to the community event at Stoer Hall, organised by Romany Garnett, our new tree nursery worker, all about hazel. After being exhorted by local ecologist Ian Evans to cherish the wonderful asset we have in our hazels, we planted some young hazel trees, and a group of people, led by Chris Park, set about making a wattle hurdle. We have agreed that when we come to do more work on the broch, we will endeavour to replicate the wattle flooring, the remains of which we found on the scarcement ledge back in 2012 (see here).

Graeme gave a fascinating presentation about how hazel has been used through the millennia, as deduced from wood excavated from various sites around the British Isles. Among Graeme’s pictures was one of the home of an Irish king, who lived in what was effectively a big elaborate upturned hazel basket. Unfortunately we haven’t yet excavated anything to tell us what structures may have been built with the hazel at Inchnadamph, but the fact that there was a hazel stick there means we’re free to speculate! From what Graeme showed us, our stick was quite likely to have been part of a wattle hurdle, perhaps used as the wall of a dwelling, or as part of a stock enclosure, or a gate. Maybe it was a draw-bridge over the moat!

Sieving soil at Inchnadamph

What is really exciting is that a dendrochronologist maybe able to examine it and use it to give a pretty precise date for the site, and at least carbon dating it will give us a ballpark figure for when the moated island was in use.

The sieved soil continued to reveal pieces of pottery, bone fragments and iron slag, which will all add to the story, back at the lab.

 

 

 

Inside the moat is a castle, a village, a stable, a monastery, a garden, a dance platform and nobody is allowed inside

This morning we were visited at the dig by 30 children from Lochinver and Stoer primary schools. They began by walking the moat, spreading out into a big ring to demonstrate exactly what we are dealing with. They then gathered within it and set about deciding what used to be there. The suggestions were wild and wonderful, but what was quite clear was that whoever it was that built the moat didn’t want anyone else inside. Personally I like the idea that it was someone’s private flower garden, but at the moment we still don’t know which of the ideas is closest to the truth.

Meanwhile the archaeologists have made great progress down into the moat, which is, as Charlotte put it, in strictly technical terms, ‘getting a little bit moaty’. In other words, as the water steadily seeped into the trench, Graeme, Scotty and anyone else who could be persuaded to get down there, were bailing as hard as they were digging, The good news about all this waterlogging, however, is that it means that any old rubbish chucked into the ditch, including organic materials, stand a chance of having been preserved.

Sure enough, just as I was leaving, Graeme unearthed a piece of wood from the moat. It was rushed into a bag, with water, and tucked away out of the light to stop it starting to decompose. Some visitors asked if it might be part of a structure, but it might just as likely be a bit of broken bucket. Whichever, it can be dated, and I have no doubt that some wizardly post-excavation lab-work will reveal all kinds of interesting things about it. It’s intriguing to know that a mediaeval joiner or wood turner has left their fingerprint in Inchnadamph – that little chunk of wood brings them so much closer to us.

There have been some other finds too, most coming from the outer bank, including interesting looking pieces of decorated, wheel-thrown pottery, several chunks of slag from iron-working, and some hazel charcoal.

The charcoal is particularly pleasing, as tomorrow there is a celebration of hazel trees at Stoer Hall (2-5pm, all welcome!) so we will take it along. AOC have very kindly donated a microscope to us, so we’ll be able to look at it in detail, as well as hear from Graeme about the other hazel finds from the broch and the burnt mound, and what they tell us about what life was like for earlier inhabitants of sunny Assynt.

Sunny Assynt it remains, spectacularly so: cold, breezy and gloriously bright, the perfect weather for digging.

Finds in the moat at Inchnadamph

Another glorious sunny day, with a bit of a chilly wind picking up in the afternoon. Someone on site reported that the highlight of today was the toilet tent blowing away. Our six hardy volunteers took a break from digging to visit the old Kirk with Helen Morrison and were very impressed, describing it as ‘a credit to the people of Assynt’.

Inside of the moat, more of the stone bank has been revealed. It is about 2 metres wide and looks at this stage to be more of a rubble bank of rounded stones rather than a built stone wall. The trench inside the bank has been dug down to the subsoil and so far nothing has been revealed.

The rubble bank inside the moat

The inside edge of the moat – a rubble bank

But the finds bags already contain treasure! Several shards of pottery were found in the trench on the outside bank of the moat, which appears to be more than 2 metres wide. After digging down just less than a metre the water table has now been reached, so that will prove a logistical challenge for going deeper. The archaeologists are speculating that if the water table was at this point when whatever it is was in use, the moat may not have needed to be fed by an active stream, but could have filled with ground water.

Tomorrow we’ll be visited by a horde of primary school children, so here’s hoping it’s another beautiful day.

Digging begins in sunshine at Inchnadamph

Day 1 of the dig at Inchnadamph

Day 1 of the dig at Inchnadamph

For once, the AOC Archaeology team has arrived in Assynt to see it as it usually is, radiant under a blue sky. The team of Graeme and Charlotte, plus six volunteers, were all stripped down to tee shirts by the time I got there. It’s remarkable how much ground eight people can clear of turf in just one hour. I was handed a mattock and got down to some serious earth shifting and before too long, I was hitting stones that were undoubtedly some sort of structure.

...some sort of structure...

…some sort of structure…

What sort of structure? I asked Graeme what he is expecting to find. The site is a possibly-moated platform, with a embankment around that, and we were digging into the ditch around it, so this may be the start of the wall of whatever was inside the moat on the platform. The plan is to dig quite deeply down, possibly to 2 metres below the top of the embankment, and who knows what we’ll discover. That’s the magic of archaeology!

Within a few minutes I was into the rhythm of it, the shovel and mattock keeping the body active and the mind free to roam and speculate. Nearby is the graveyard and beyond it, the old kirk. A fragmented stone cross has been found here, its design suggesting that it could be more than a thousand years old. Moated sites like the one we are digging are often found to be mediaeval, and so we hope it may shed some light on what was going on here in that period. Was there a monastery here?

The great news is that this gorgeous sunny weather is supposed to be set for the week. I was dreading the idea of a week in a ditch full of rain and mud, but whatever it is that has cursed previous digs with deluges and storms seems to be looking kindly on this one. So far…

Time to get muddy again in Assynt!

A team of archaeologists will be back in Assynt next week (18-22 February 2013), to dig the moated area close to the old kirk at Inchnadamph. There are some details of what they will be doing here.

Volunteers and visitors are very welcome to come and see what they will be doing, and to join in. A little bit of mud never hurt anyone! They say it’s good for the complexion…

If you’d like to visit or take part, please contact Gordon Sleight, Phone: 01571 855207, Email: gsassynt@gmail.com