Rhynie, Aberdeenshire

Rhynie, Aberdeenshire
The Craw Stane with Tap o'Noth hillfort in the background (Photo courtesy of Cathy MacIver).

Friday, 23 November 2012

Rhynie Village Meeting: Great Success!

Last night Dr G gave a talk at Rhynie village to around 120 community folks on a cold November evening. The latest results of the project were outlined and amazing new X-ray images of the Rhynie artefacts were on show.

Most importantly though the village pulled out all the stops and made Rhynie Men gingerbread! Not only was this the tastiest gingerbread on the planet, it was made with an amazing cookie cutter specially made by the Scottish Sculpture Workshop.

Delicious home-made Rhynie Men!

Thanks to everyone attending. I can't decide though whether to keep my last Rhynie Man biscuit as an icon worthy of museum preservation or to have it will a nice cup of tea for elevenses....
 - Gordon

Pin X-Ray! Amazing!

A few days ago up in Aberdeen, we had specialists look at our iron artefacts and run them through a high-tech X-ray.  This is in advance of conservation going ahead on the objects to make sure they are protected and preserved.  The most amazing result was from our unique iron axe-shaped pin.  The X-ray allows us to 'see through' the corrosion on the artefact and will give the conservator a clear idea of where the real edges of the pin are.  The X-ray showed how delicate the spriral decoration is coming off the axe-head and also what looks like a loop at the top of the pin.  This might mean that at one time there was a chain or strap attached to the pin (to help keep it in place on your cloak, for example) or perhaps the object was also meant to be hanging like a pendant.  Ewan is on the case investigating the X-ray and the conservator is excited about how fantastic an object this is. There may even be hints that the spiral is an animal, but we need another X-ray to think about that option! Gordon and I are ectastic! There was some dancing around over the phone.... we admit it.
A snapshot of our x-ray - a beautiful thing!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

REAP Update

We may not be digging, but there is a lot of furious activity going on inside these days.  Gordon has been 'washing cremated bone' (he does need a hobby....) from the site.  Provisional identifications suggest it is actually animal bone.  It is much more intensely fired than just normal burnt animal bone for cooking, so this adds an interesting puzzle to the mix.  We found burnt bone in almost every feature at Rhynie, so it is pretty important for us to figure out what it was doing there and what date it is.  Hopefully we have enough to secure a few radiocarbon dates to help us with the puzzle.
Meggen is off to Cardiff on Thursday to present Rhynie at the Cardiff Archaeology Research Seminars (http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/share/newsandevents/events/archaeology/cardiff-archaeology-research-seminars-2012-to-2013.html).

There was a little disappointment over the past month, too.  Gordon did some fieldwork at another site in Aberdeenshire with a palisaded enclosure with a timber hall inside (visible in an AP).  We had thought this might be a good parallel to Rhynie - until Gordon found post-medieval pottery at the bottom of the palisade trench! So an interesting addition to post-medieval rural archaeology, but it means Rhynie still stands out as one very unique Pictish place!

Friday, 5 October 2012


Ewan has sent a great photograph which highlights even more metalworking evidence from the site.  These sherds of crucibles (little clay vessels for melting material like copper) were found in the destruction material from the outer ditch.  Mike B's eagle eye picked them out, as fresh from the ground they looked like bits of burnt stone.  Meggen's talk at the Chester Archaeological Society went well the other night - lots of people seem to now be planning to visit The Craw Stane on their holidays!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Lectures and public talks

Gordon and I have been invited to speak at a number of venues in Scotland and further afield about the site.  We'll keep people posted about events.  The next talk is held in Chester as part of the Chester Archaeological Society's lecture series where Meggen will present the story so far (7.30 pm in the Grosvenor Museum, Chester - admission £4). 
We've also had an update on our mysterious yellow substand found in the outer ditch destruction layer - we thought it might be pigment, but Ewan believes it may be some sort of glass ...  the microscopes are out and looking deeper!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Speaking at the Sachsensymposium

It's been a busy summer! We've both managed to have a bit of a break over the past few months, but we've also been digging (check out the SERF project blog http://serf-dig.blogspot.co.uk/ to see another great Scottish excavation).

Last week, September 5th, Gordon and I were invited to speak at Durham University at the International Sachsensymposium.  We featured in a session outlining Pictish archaeology and how it is changing our ideas of 'core and periphery' in early medieval Europe.  The paper - and the site! - was well received and even people that aren't obsessed with the Picts were amazed at the archaeology. 

There's been other work going on as well.  We are finishing up the Data Structure Report and initial analysis of results.  Our environmental samples have been processed by Oskar and Gordon will soon be selecting candidates for radiocarbon dating. 

We'll try to keep posting over the non-digging months to let everyone know about upcoming lectures on the site, new analysis and results from specialist reports. 

Signing off from a drizzly Chester! Dr M.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Goodbye Rhynie......for now!! :-(

Well it is time to pack up today and go home. Thankfully the sun is at last shining to see us off. We had a great day yesterday with more mould fragments (probably for making pins) in the burnt deposits in the outer ditch. We are also beginning to make sense of the sequence. It looks like the fort starts with the inner ditch and perhaps a small timber structure inside. The fort then gets enlarged - the inner ditch is filled in and the outer ditch dug on a similar groundplan. This is further elaborated with an external palisade and post setting and a very elaborate timber entrance-way to the enclosures with the Craw Stane perhaps standing at this entrance. Inside the earlier timber structure is replaced by a massive plank and post built building. Well that is our proposed sequence which will stand until the radiocarbon dates show how wrong (or perhaps how right - less likely granted) we are!

We are rushing back onto site this morning to do some last minute section drawing and record keeping. Meanwhile a courageous band of students will be cleaning the houses and tidying away all the beer cans lying around.....

We are working on our site plan and reports and hope to post more in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned!!

Dr G signing off for now!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Final day begins

Well, I've been up for about an hour now since the alarm went off at 6.20. The day looks bright and dry ( for now!). I can just hear movement on the floor above so people will start trickling downstairs soon.  The morning is the quietest time in the dig house - which is why I like to use it to start the day's caffeine intake - a critical thing - and to catch up on things.  This morning it was data entry and I'm about to look at the records a bit to see what needs to be done today. 

The dig party and the 'Oskars' ceremony (a tradition started by Joe T during last year's dig) went well.  Although I didn't win an Oskar - the competition was swept by Ryan who nabbed the 'Most collapsed trench edges' award amongst others.  Oskar himself won two awards - Best Icelander and Best Meal for his Icelandic Meatloaf night.  Gordon managed the Worst Jokes award. We also had a fantastic tour of Castle Forbes (now called Druminnor), which is the main house next to our two rental cottages.  Alex Forbes gave us a great tour of the building, which is all that remains of a medieval castle of the Forbes clan.  I wouldn't mind living in a castle - but the high spider potential might put me off. We were all a bit tempted to start digging in his garden to find the rest of the buildings, but figured our energy needed saving for a big day today. 

So today begins... wish us luck!

Picts in the rain

A rather cold wet day.  We managed to persevere until about 4pm, but had to pack up early due to rainwater gathering in the deeper features and the site becoming a bit too unsafe to walk around. 

However, progress is good and with only one day left to go that is a very good thing! Features are all pretty much finished with only recording left to be done.  Gordon and I are working our way through checking plans and context sheets.  We had only a few intrepid visitors today includind David, who brought the team some biscuits and was very popular!  Fred stopped by around lunchtime and somehow Oskar got him to work! Our other volunteer today, Sheila, managed to find two fantastic objects that might be early medieval - one is a piece of glass and the other was a small piece of metalwork. 

Fred and Shiela clean back an area over the palisade.

Tonight is, in theory, 'party night' at the dig house - but people seem a bit too tired! Perhaps the rain has taken it out of them as usually dig teams are a bit more up for a party.  I suppose the supervisors will have to lead by example.  The day looks like it is drying out now and fingers crossed for tomorrow.

A finds update - an email from Ewan confirms that the mould is part of a type H brooch and would be for the back side of it - there are only two other moulds for this from Scotland (one from Clatchard Craig in Fife and the other from Birsay, in Orkney) so it is a very exciting find.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Two days left.

Another cold and drizzly summer day.  Despite this, we got a lot done today. Gordon and I keep trying to get through checking of records, but today we had lots of visitors and our own student diggers often need us to help them out, too.  I spent an hour this morning at the local primary school talking to them about the dig and showing off some of our finds from the past two years. The kids were fantastic and asked lots of really bright questions - hopefully we've inspired a few future archaeologists. 

Back on site it was all action - digging and cleaning surfaces, planning and section drawing, rechecking drawings and the inevitable pile of records for Gordon and I to sort out.  We also had many visitors today despite the weather.

Several local people came by today, and it is great to see such enthusiasm.  We also had a visit from Professor Martin Carver, one of the most experienced and knowledgeable early medieval archaeologists in Britain.  It was great to talk to him about the site and see his enthusiasm - he also brought us a warming libation as a present - which means he can come back anytime he likes! 

And of couse the day wouldn't be complete without a visit from our Number 1 Visitor, Fred.  Pretty soon Fred will know more than we do about the site (if he doesn't already).  We keep trying to convince him to dig for us - but he says he doesn't want to get his boiler suit dirty.
Fred seems suspicious of Gordon's photography.

Mould identified

A phone call from Ewan our finds expert has confirmed what our piece of clay mould from yesterday was for - it wasn't a stud, but instead is for a very small brooch (called Type H for those with keen interest in such things!).  The X shape is not actually for decoration, but rather helps the metalworker place the other half of the mould in the right place.  We hope Ewan feels better soon - we're sure if we keep getting such great early medieval finds his cold will wither away.#

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

More metalworking evidence

A fine sunny day on site today.  Lots of paperwork was completed and post-excavation plans done.  We are now trying to make sense of some of our more complex areas such as the structure near the Craw Stane.  Last year we were pretty sure we had a building here because we had several post holes and even found a spindle whorl.  However, we didn't have time last year to investigate much further into the structure and we planned on making it one of our big questions to answer for this year.  So we have been cleaning  back in the area trying to define the edges of the building.  At the moment it looks like it has rather a rounded end to it, but the other end is elusive.  It is placed right at the possible entranceway to the outer ditch of the site so it might be more of a gateway rather than a house-type building.

Since the weather was so nice, we had lots of visitors today.  This included William and Calum from the North of Scotland Home Education Group. Cathy took them around the site and showed them our finds and then put them to work! They did some sieving and helped us trowel (with a little help from some of their chaperones).

Cathy (in green) puts our visitors to work cleaning back over the inner ditch.

The other features on site are still in progress. Liam is doing well in his palisade trench, even though the edge of the feature is tough to see.  Jeremy has almost completed digging 'the blob' feature, which seems to be part of the Pictish recut of the outer ditch.  Harriet has also started working on a different 'blob' (very technical term!) that appears to cut the outer ditch, too.  Sharon's palisade post hole continues to go down and she has found numerous animal bones in the fill.  It seems like the post was burnt then possibly removed and the leftover hole was crammed full of burnt material, animal bone and finds associated with metalworking.  The metalworking tongs were found in this post hole higher up, but today Sharon found a very nice almost complete piece of a 2-part clay mould.  This would have been for fine metalwork like copper alloy.  We aren't exactly sure what it was - it looks like it might be a small mount or stud with an 'X' shape, which could have decorated something bigger.  Who knows what the final few days will bring?! We're looking forward to some more visitors tomorrow and I'll head over to Rhynie primary school hopefully in the morning since our visit last Friday got rained off.

The mould that Sharon found in the palisade posthole.

Monday, 25 June 2012

No Rain! A Bead!

The last five days now... the day started a little gloomy and cold but by the end it was sunny.  In fact we wished we could stay on site longer (by 'we' I mean Gordon, myself, Oskar and Cathy mostly!), but there was a big Lithuanian dinner to cook and many of the students were ready to go. 

Lots more progress has been made - the weather was perfect for some re-cleaning and checking of features and it helped us make some more sense of some of the postholes and beam slots.  We still haven't managed to answer all the questions, but we do have time left.

We had quite a few visitors today including a big group of kids that came up to the field after school.  We even got a great gift in the form of a plate of homemade tiffin! It went down very well at tea break.

Several postholes have been completed today and the sections through the inner and outer ditch and the palisade are going well.  Another sherd of Late Roman Amphora came out of Liam's palisade trench today and Cathy found a fragment of a frit bead - a material quite like faience but with a different chemical composition.  It is bright bright blue and it seems to be Iron Age in date from other comparable material.   This came from the inner ditch deposits.

Fingers crossed for at least one more decent day of weather before the rain comes back - a chance to get most of our paperwork up-to-date without it getting too wet.
The post-pipe of Ryan's posthole half-sectioned.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Kite photos reveal Buildings!! ?Pictish Palaces!?


I am not directing an excavation again without a kite photographer on hand at all times - for cropmark sites this technique is invaluable!! This is an example of the kite pictures our Icelandic trench supervisor Oskar has been taking over the last week. One rectangular building is very obvious at the top of the photograph- represented by lines of posts and a end wall overlain by our measuring tapes. The larger buidling we have identified is much harder to see in this picture - a beam slot runs down the trench just below the rectangular structure, over the Iron Age ring ditch (represented by the black crescent to the right) and out of the trench. We've found beam slots at right angles to this, but have yet to find the other side of this putative massive timber structure - this will be our aim for the last week! We don't have any dates for either of these structures yet, but the beam slot overlies the Iron Age structure we dated last year to the 4th-3rd century BC and the rectangular shape of these structures and the use of squared timbers is strongly suggestive of an early medieval date. Pictish Palaces?! Watch this space.....

Back on site tomorrow after our day off. We went site visiting today, seeing the beautiful wolf stone at Leith Hall, Dunnideer hillfort, Picardy Stone and a recumbent stone circle. A trip to Inverurie for a pint (of strawberry milkshake of course) was also a necessity.

Keep blog watching!!


Saturday, 23 June 2012

Dr M sums up the first week

We've decided on a much deserved day off tomorrow so we are all relaxing tonight. Although the students seem to mostly already have gone to bed - perhaps they aren't that used to hard labour.

The weather hasn't been too bad for the past few days although we have had to change tactics.  Instead of continuing with planning and cleaning, we have been excavating some of the key features on site.  This has started to tell us some new informtion about how the structures were built on site.  Whatever these structures were, several of them were built with plank walls. 

Today Ewan finished excavating part of the palisade that formed the outer enclosure of the site.  Here we could see very clearly the impressions of individual planks that formed the fence.  Liam was also working on another seciton of the palisade and he is credited with our finds of the day - TWO pieces of Late Roman amphora which actually fit together. 

There are also clearly plank built walls in our 'beam slots' or at least some of them.

This evening at the dig house there was a massive amount of cottage pie devoured and some Angel Delight (butterscotch flavour, of course!).  Now we've moved on to the odd whiskey and bottle of ale in front of a roaring fire. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Hello from Dr G(2) and Rhynie Youth Club

Well this is great summer weather!? Despite this we had a good day today - a clay mould, some excellent posthole and pit digging and for me a very nice Linda McCartney (other brands are available) sausage sandwich for lunch. We are beginning to make sense of the site with timber buildings in the centre of the enclosure, a series of ditched and timber boundaries and the symbol stones standing within the enclosures. The finds we have found this year underline the significance of the site.

This evening I had a great time showing the Rhynie Youth Club around the site. And very enthusiastic visitors they were too. The iron and bronze pins were whipped out and Vaidutis' classic posthole was on display. There was a clammer for the Rhynie Man to come back......perhaps we can help to achieve this as part of a long term goal of the project - ideas welcome!!

With the fire dying, I retire (to bed, not from the professsion).

Dr G.

Of Gnomes and moulds...

The day started a bit late due to some pretty heavy rain over night and this morning. Once we got to site, we found the archaeology had stood up well. After several days of clearing, the students were happy to finally get stuck into some features. My own slot across the inner ditch had started yesterday. The inner ditch was sampled last year and was found to be mostly full of very sandy fills, all quite difficult to see. Even the (slightly) more moist weather this year could not disguise that this (southern) end of the ditch is quite a different beastie. While not bottomed out yet, the ditch has yielded up one very interesting, if not shiny, small find.
Clay mould found by Gary in the inner ditch.

Evidence of metalworking is a good indicator of the wealth and status of early medieval sites, so finding a small fragment of a clay mould was a bonus. The context within which it was found in was well sampled as it was charcoal rich it should be able to be dated. Both sections of the slot are looking good and we should be able to get a good clear story of this inner ditch.

In general everyone seemed a bit more energised after the late start today, and the weather was perfect for archaeology, with the sun poking out for a few minutes just as we left site.
Tea was courtesy of the best chippy in Huntly - the Huntly Chip Shop! With Ewan the Fire God away this evening Meggen is making a reasonable successful stab at getting the fire going at the garden cottage, the Chester lads are watching the footie and Noble is back from showing the Rhynie Youth group around the site. The digging lurgy is still doing the rounds, but everyone is manning up and getting on with it.

Bravery award of the day goes to Zygamantas who finally tried some of the Oskar’s harthfisk. Stone medal goes to Ryan who turned a possibly exciting feature into a nothing! Gordon wins the best dressed garden gnome after his headwear escapades today!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Classic postholes!

It was a very productive day today although the rain hit us at about 4pm.  We have the whole site planned and have done several careful cleanings, which has really helped us see the archaeology.
Even though this could be the coldest midsummer day in living memory, the weather was actually pretty great for digging and seeing features.
Peter hard at work excavating the post from his posthole.  You can also just see a red sandy line running through the trench, which is probably the remains of a beam from an early medieval buidling.

Not only have we planned, but feature digging has also begun.  A few postholes have been started in what we think is one of the buildings.  These are classic types with a burnt post, stone packing material on either side to help it stand up set in a narrow steep sided pit.  We've also started looking into a pit that might be connected to a building, too.

We're hoping the rain holds off or at least is not so bad that it ruins our fine trowelling work done today.  Tomorrow we are also expecting about 20 students from Rhynie Primary School to visit site - and hopefully we can put them to work sieving Gary's spoil from his investigation of the inner ditch. 

The 'dig house' is relatively quiet tonight, perhaps in part to the 'digger's cold' doing the rounds.  It was 'Mexican Night' which involved chicken fajitas with all the trimmings.  People seemed happy (I'm a vegetarian so I opted out!) and they haven't even busted out the dessert yet so they must have had enough to eat.  Probably the most difficult part of running this dig is feeding 20 people! Although Oskar has helped out by providing some delicious (?!?) dried fish from Iceland....

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


Today we had great weather and even managed to get Oskar's aerial photographing kite up in the air.  This is an amazing gizmo and we hope to be able to post some images soon as it really shows up the site well.  There was a lot of trowelling, a lot of planning, a lot of crisp eating (cheese and onion especially), some finds and a visit from Fred. 
We've started to open a trench across the inner enclosure ditch and a few of the postholes of one of our possible rectangular buildings.  We are starting to make sense of some of the more ephemeral features, too. 
Dr G & Dr M  signing off!

Day five in the big Archaeology Dig house (Geordie accent) by Jeremy Gray

Jeremy's find of the Day!

While going through the daily routine of clearing the surface area I was lucky enough to come across a pin that may have been used to hold someones hair in place during the 6th century (Which is a pretty cool thought). That was probably my best find so far in the dig and it was just the surface of the paliside. I'm hoping there is more to come and am sure there will be more interesting finds as we delve further down into the soily abyss. But for now there is much more clearing to be done and probably some more planning :( not the biggest fan.

Moving on to after the dig:
I have been asked by my peers to comment on the food. Today's meal we had some really tasty curry (Give it a 9/10) cooked by the 'Chester Boys', which filled our grumbling tummies and provided us with the much needed energy for tomorrow's continuing efforts. Now on to an intense scrabble game..... 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Hello from Dr M

All very exciting here at Rhynie - even though a lurgy is raging through the dig team and the weather won't behave.  I can't wait to see what the next few weeks will bring us - how the buildings fit together, what other surprises are in store - whether we find the Rhynie Man...
Please keep checking back with the blog!
This was our star find from Day 3- an axe headed pin from destruction levels in the outer palisade. For fastening your early medieval cloak....

Pete Tongs!

Here is a picture of the metalworking tongs from one of the palisade postholes at Rhynie- the gripping end is to the left with the handles extending to the right. We (Ewan Campbell!) don't know of any other early medieval examples from Scotland - there are parallels from the royal site at Garranes in County Cork - a triple vallate ring fort.


Hello from Dr G

Here we are at Rhynie 2012. We have now been here four days, engaged in hard slog clearing back the trench in some pretty attrocious weather! Here is a moody picture of the Iron Age tribal centre at Tap O'Noth with the Craw Stane and excavations at Barflat, Rhynie in the foreground.

Finds Update!

We've only just begun cleaning back the site, but we are already finding early medieval artefacts.  Yesterday a piece of Late Roman Amphora (type 2) emerged as well as an iron pin of unusual type.  Today we have found what looks like a pair of early medieval metalworking tongs!

The REAP 2012 Season

The REAP 2012 field season has begun! The archaeologists arrived on the 16th of June and the trench is now open and we are working hard - despite the rain!
There will be more updates to come from both staff and students on the training dig - including pictures.