Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 9 and 10 – Sunday 24th and Monday 25th

After a week of digging and a day off we are back to work on the Sunday. We are particularly keen to have a look at the small enclosure that joins to the bottom of the large cemetery. Liz, one of the professional archaeologists on the excavation, believes that she can see an oval wall within this square enclosure. We want to get some dates from this area, so as well as some test trenches, we first want to get some geophysics undertaken – this will help us see where the graves are and if the oval structure underground is indeed a wall enclosure.

First of all we have some wonderful islanders trim all the many thistles and nettles in this area which would make life miserable for us archaeologists. Once the thistles are cut we set up grids so that the geophysics machine can follow a measured path that we can put to our drawn plan or to a map. So over Sunday and Monday small teams helped to shift the machine up and down the grids at one metre intervals, making sure the long wires don’t get caught and they other members of the team don’t fall over the small tomb stones that are scattered around the cemetery.

On the Monday some of the team prepare ideas for tomorrow’s visit from the local school children. We are really excited to show them what we have found in the trenches and to see if they can help us discover any interesting artefacts too.  

We have been really lucky too with the weather and it is yet another gorgeous sunny day – so much so we decided to take a trip down to the beautiful cove and beach near the site so that we can enjoy the sea for a bit. Check out how clear the sea is in our photo!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day 7 and 8 - Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd

Sorry folks that the blog hasn’t been updated in a few days. Things have been all go with dig and we need to catch up with all the many things that have been up to.

We have all been working on different projects. For example, I have been working on the trenches behind the trench and drawing up all the different layers of soil – which can tell us what people have been up to in the past. 

Other groups have been working on the big trenches in the middle of the church ground – there are lots of stones cropping up that look like they may be some kind of burial. We need to dig deeper and see if the grouping of the stones could mean anything. 

We also will be looking to see if the lower walled cemetery contains anything of significance and we will use geophysics equipment to do this – like you see on Time Team! 

We are also getting ready for next week’s visit from the school children – who will help us plan (draw), dig, and sieve everything in the trenches. Something to look forward to!

We decided to visit the cafe/bar Friday night to soak in the local atmosphere and relax with a cider (or 10) after a good week’s work!

This is our day off and as the boys are having a long lie in while the girls get up to made a fried breakfast! Bliss!

As the weather wasn’t so great – we couldn’t really go up hill walking like we planned. While some stayed home in front of the log fire, different groups went to visit the café for tea & cake, while others went to the Massacre Cave. 

We are welcoming a new team member (Jules) today – who was welcomes to the island via the café/bar.  Scrumpy Jack has now ‘the’ drink of the dig!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Day 5 and 6 – Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st

As the last post has suggested - after three trenches (7,8 & 9) being opened most of the team got stuck into trowelling the first one (7) and found potential stony structures. The stones were forming certain shapes that indicated that the structures found were manmade – whereas the rest of the stones are probably rubble that has fallen from the structure. Throughout the day It has been tentatively suggested that these structures are prehistoric cairns. For those who do not know what cairns are – they are funerary/burial monument built with loose stones from the Neolithic (c. 4000 BC) to Bronze Age (600 BC) periods. 

You often find that sacred areas are reused over many centuries or millennia – so it would make sense that the Kildonnan site held a special place when Christianity arrived and when the new religion was transferred on top of the pagan practices. 

The team that worked on Trench 7 were clearing/defining the stones so that we could plan (draw) this layer to scale. Once this has been recorded for prosperity we can remove these stones and see what may be underneath (if anything). 

At the end of the day the trench was ready for me to plan out (which I love to do… a bit too much). As the trench is over 3 metres by 10 metres it took most of Thursday to complete it but luckily the sunshine held out and I happily draw to my hearts content – with the odd visit from our neighbour, Diesel the dog (who has become our team mascot as he likes to dig randomly on the site with us).

(Photo: Diesel and Helen)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Day 4 - Tuesday 19th

Today we were visited by Colin who kindly brought a large orange digger to help us create 3 large 3m x 20m trenches in the middle of the site. The locations of the trenches were decided by the results of the test trenches we put in on Sunday. The digger stripped off the turf layer and subsoil till large masonry stones began to be revealed. At this stage it was decided that the trench would then be excavated by hand to preserve any archaeological finds in the trench. 

Once the digger had finished we jumped into the trench and started the process of trowelling back. This ‘cleans’ the soil to create clarity so that changes in colour of the ground can be seen this will hopefully define areas of possible features or cuts. 

The test trenches behind the monastery wall on the north side continued to produce small fragments of redeposited human remains. We excavated lower down in the trench against the wall of the monastery and found a strange change in construction of the foundations, hinting at the possibility of earlier foundations. Although extremely tentative, this may be the kildonnan monastery (it’s too early to confirm so keep posted for further updates).

As we are all working in small groups on the different projects around the site it was important to have a team tour so we could better understand what each group discovers. The team down at the boundary wall continued to investigate the area where the curved all intersects the straight sections. 

Tuesday evening we were kindly invited over to Mick and Jackie’s house on the other side of the Island to watch the England football match. As many of us are huge football fans, we greatly appreciated the opportunity to watch the match on big screen and get to know some of the locals. Everyone who went had such a great time and were amazed by the round pool table and the whale skeleton.  We would all like to say a BIG thank you to all the locals for being so welcoming!

Yet again we were spoilt by the sunshine and the amazing views on the Island. Happy archaeology team today!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 3: Monday 18th

We woke up Monday morning to be greated by a day as bright and sunny as Sunday which pleased some and sent the others racing for their factor 50 suncream. We headed to site bright and early to continue the work that had been started the day before, with lots of new and exciting finds along the way.

Behind the standing monastery, we continued to look for the foundations of the monastery in two trenches. We had to slow down when we encountered human bones in both trenches which had been relocated in the past. After recording the bones we continued to excavate the trenches, looking for the ever elusive foundations. We had a few nasty interruptions in the form of swarms of midges appearing to drive us from the behind the shady wall and into the sunlight for a few brief respites.

We decided to dig a few more test pits in order to establish a good location for larger trenches to be placed in the hopes that they would reveal an earlier monastery. We found a few more pieces of pottery, flints, charcoal and glass and by the end of the day we had a good idea of where to dig the trenches!

Down at the boundary wall, the foundations revealed that the circular wall was constructed earlier than the straight field boundary as we’d suspected. Further exploration revealed that there was a ditch underlying both walls which was a surprise! Meanwhile, the trench placed to discover if the mound just inside the boundary wall was natural or manmade gave us a definitive answer - hitting bedrock told us that it was definitely natural! Perhaps not all that interesting archaeologically, but it was nice to have an answer rather than more questions for once!

While all of this was going on our planning team was busy recording everything on their carefully drawn plans! Just after lunch, we also had our first site tours (which will be running every Monday for anyone who wants to drop by!) giving us an opportunity to show off what we’ve been doing so far!

In the evening, Camille popped over to the Barn loaded down with old photographs. She gave us a history of Eigg which was great at it gave us some context for the work we’re doing. She also gave us a slideshow of photographs delving deep into the history of the islands. The photos ranged from interesting to funny, but they all gave us a lovely look at Eigg throughout history!

Day 2: Sunday 17th

Sunday was not a rest day for the archaeology team! We were all up bright and early with our trowels in hand and eager to start the quest to discover the remains of Kildonan’s original monastery. 

The team was divided into four groups, each with a different task. Team one was tasked with establishing test trenches against the north wall of the existing monastery to investigate the foundations. Team two was in charge of putting in test trenches at various points of interest around the site based on geophysical data. The third team was in charge of investigating the boundary wall to understand the phases of construction and started several test trenches against the wall to examine it in more depth. Finally, the last team had the exceptionally important job of drawing up a scaled plan of the whole sight for the records, a mammoth job using just tape measures!

We had our very first local visitors including several interested sheep and cows and Diesel the dog who quickly became a team mascot. Two volunteers from the heritage volunteer internship who were a great helping hand also joined us!

The results of the initial investigation proved very exciting; the test trenches around the monastery recovered pieces of glass and small fragments of redistributed human bones (pictured left). The various test trenches around the sight found some pictish pottery and prehistoric debitage (waste material flakes from flint knapping). The investigation into the wall helped us understand the boundaries and the whole sight was neatly drawn up on the plan. 

Spirits were high with everyone enjoying the sunshine and the breathtaking views over the bay. 

Great work today team!

Day 1: Saturday 16th

The archaeological team gathered and met for the first time on the ferry traveling from Mallaig to the Isle of Eigg. The different groups from the three participating universities (Glasgow, Cranfield and Birmingham) played 'spot the archaeologist' amongst the passengers and once discovered, we quickly delved into stories of digs already undertaken and archaeological mishaps endured. The forensic archaeologists from Cranfield shared stories of their mass fatalities course which quickly produced a discussion on the quickest way to save your life in the event of a ferry disaster (lifebuoy versus dinghy). Our morbid subject matter was quickly replaced when the ferry was visited by a dolphin and which brought out the city tourist in us all.

We were warmly welcomed to Eigg by local historian (Camille) and the owners of the Glebe accommodation. Our muscles were put to work by our uphill walk to the Glebe, where we quickly discovered our new home for three weeks and claimed territory in the bedrooms. 

Later that evening I attempted to build a toasty log fire (which was a bit of a disappointment but have been improved) and made use of the large selection of books, games and wifi. We certainly looked very academic as we sat in front of the fire in a circle armed with laptops – working either on theses, dissertations or books! We take our work seriously obviously!!

Site director, John Hunter gave the team a low-down on the week ahead and what we should expect in terms of volunteers, guided tours, talks etc. As this blog is written retrospectively, I can say that it is definitely worth reading about what we get up to on and off-site!! 

Pic: Thanks to Kasia Litwa