Archaeology News

Braemore Square Country House


Recent finds have caused some interest on our land. We believe we have found significant remains of a broch (an iron age drystone structure only found in Scotland), indicators of a number of roundhouses (believed to be 5000+ years old) and a possible burial mound. Previous finds around Braemore and down the valley to Inverbroom have included 3 steatite bowls near Braemore Junction which were indicators of Viking activity - Ullapool itself derives its name from Norse Ulla-Bolstadr = Ulla's steading. A Late Bronze Age Bronze sword found at Inverbroom and a decorative bronze pin found near Dun an Ruigh Ruadh (now on display in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh) also indicate trade and activity in the area. Our position puts us on the route that would have undoubtedly been used by any land travellers and the interest in the new sites has been great. Below are details from the dig that took place in 2008 investigating the site.

BRAEMORE SQUARE DIG First Season 19 - 30 May 2008

Purpose To undertake small scale targeted excavation to elucidate the form and construction of selected features on the site and their inter-relationships, and if possible to locate dateable finds or samples. The two features selected were a possible hut circle and a nearby cairn, both previously identified by field survey and thought to be of bronze age or iron age date. Method Initially it was decided to open two trenches across the presumed hut circle, one in the south east quadrant (trench 1) and another in the north west quadrant (trench 2). In both cases the trenches were 2m wide and extended from the centre of the feature, through the walls and approximately 2m beyond the walls. One quadrant of the cairn was also excavated to ground level (trench 3). As the excavation of the circular feature progressed a second trench was opened in the south east quadrant over what was thought might be an entrance (trench 4) and that part of trench 2 which was inside the walls was extended northwards by 1.5m (trench 5). Summary of preliminary findings The circular feature has been extensively damaged by tree roots. Some areas of walling appear to have been robbed out while others have had stones dumped on them. The walls appear to be a random mixture of rubble and soil with signs of inner and outer facing stones a little over 1m apart. A further 1m or so outside the outer face there are some signs of a further outer face suggesting strengthening, rebuilding or modification. The gap in the wall circuit in trench 4 is not an entrance and may represent a later breaking down of a section of the wall. Much of the soil in trench 2 was markedly darker than that in trench 1 and at lower levels was found to contain significant amounts of charcoal. Samples were collected for dating and will hopefully indicate the date of one phase of this structure. A paved floor was found in parts of trenches 2 and 5. It may extend to the north west towards a possible wide entrance or gap in the wall circuit. Under the paving one large block of stone lined up with the inner face hinting that the paving might be later than the original wall circuit, but the block could be part of the natural surface. Slabs very like those used for the paving were roughly piled up in part of trench 5 and covered two cell-like features each barely 1m square adjoining part of the inner wall face. Were the slabs removed from the floor or was the floor never completed? Are the cells original or later features and what were they for? Quartz pebbles found in some of the lower levels of trench 2 may have been deliberately placed (in threes?), but quartz pebbles are very common across the whole site. A possible pit or post socket was found close to what might have been the centre of the structure, but no ring of post holes as might be expected in a round house. No hearth has been found and there were no finds of pottery so, as yet, there are no clear indications of human habitation. Trench 3 revealed a simple clearance cairn on a small natural mound of stone with no other features.

DIARY OF A DIG BRAEMORE SQUARE MAY 08

On Monday morning, 19 enthusiastic volunteers arrived at Braemore Square to carry out the excavation of a possible hut circle under the direction of Cathy Dagg, site director. Our level of expertise varied from qualified archaeologists and a few who had taken part in other digs, to those of us whose experience consisted of watching Time Team from the comfort of our armchairs. When the latter group realised that there were no J.C.B.s or television catering facilities, they set to with a will and stripped the turf from two 2-metre wide trenches through the middle of the circle. Then began the long process of digging with trowels through layers of soil and stones, riddled with thick tree roots. On Day 2 we opened a new trench in a nearby stone cairn with a view to establishing what was underneath. Day 3 and 4 were mostly devoted to recording what we had uncovered in the trenches with photographs and detailed drawings. Precise measurements were taken and levels recorded using a Dumpy. Trench 4 was opened over the possible entrance to the circle. On Day 5, fourteen S1 children from the Ullapool High School joined us to take part in several activities from trowelling to moving rocks. Dr Stephen Carter, of Headland Archaeology and President of the Council for Scottish Archaeology, visited to look at the geomorphology of the site, ie. how natural forces define the land shapes and subsequent human activity. During the week weve exposed walls which have obviously been heavily robbed and an area of paving with a possible path. As yet no dateable objects have been found. The dig finishes on Friday 30th May but there will be an opportunity to look around the site in the autumn. Memorable quotes from volunteers:1. The only definite thing is that Man put these big stones here. I wonder why Man put them here? Woman told him to. 2. We found colour changes and pulled out a very big rock using teamwork. Nina from the High School.

DIARY OF A DIG - WEEK 2 BRAEMORE SQUARE MAY 2008

The second week of our excavation at Braemore Square has produced more questions than answers and, in true Time Team tradition, the last two days were marked by exciting discoveries and conflicting theories. At the beginning of the week most of us had abandoned the idea of the feature being a hut circle but, as digging progressed, it became clearer that some kind of human activity had been going on, the nature of which still has to be determined. To follow up an interesting line of large vertical stones, a new trench 5 was opened on the north-west side of the circle. This was eventually joined to trench 2, revealing the continuation of laid slabs and two small cell-like structures. On Day 8 of the Dig, two possible stake-holes in the cobbling and a possible post-hole were found. In these trenches the dark soil, which contained much charcoal, ran underneath the large stones of the dyke and the slabbed paving. Throughout all the trenches, layers were stripped systematically and each recorded carefully in a variety of ways. They were photographed and plans of 1-metre areas were drawn and the levels within them measured using a Dumpy. Sections of the trenches were measured and hand-drawn. Our work on the cairn (trench 3) came to an end. Having cut through a quadrant, it appeared that a natural rise of stones had been used as the base for a clearance cairn, with large stones piled at the bottom. There was no clear differentiation between the natural surface and the base of the cairn. There were no finds apart from a small piece of relatively modern glazed pottery and no dateable evidence. Whilst the lack of finds was disappointing, our work has established that it was not built on a burial or an earlier structure and was a clearance cairn of indeterminate age. The trench was filled in, turf replaced and even some bluebells were replanted on top. Trench 4 (once thought to show the entrance to the circle) showed no sign of an entrance passage and did not appear to represent part of a circular wall. There is some evidence of a much-robbed wall but its relationship to the other features on the site is unclear. By Thursday, the penultimate day of excavation, a new theory had emerged. The supposed post-holes and stake-holes had been dismissed leading to the conclusion that the structure was unlikely to be a dwelling at all. The suggestion was put forward that it could be a ritual cairn. Evidence to support this argument was the presence of pockets of burnt material and groups of deliberately deposited quartz pebbles. Corroboration appeared to have been found by the excavation in the centre of the circle of a small setting of stones containing 3 quartz stones on top of a rich charcoal layer a ritual offering? Other evidence to support the ritual cairn theory is the total lack of pottery, stone tools or occupation debris. Either the site does not represent a dwelling or the people living there were very tidy. By the end of the excavation, no single theory convinced everyone. Whilst the ritual cairn idea is attractive, the possibility of a very robbed, disturbed hut circle has not been ruled out. The rich charcoal deposits and slabbed area in the north-west section may indicate the entrance to the hut. No date can be ascribed at present but carbon-14 dating of the charcoal finds may establish whether we are looking at human activity from 1000BC or 1000AD or a Boy Scout camp from the last century. The results will help determine whether the excavation continues next year. Those of us who have participated in the excavation have had a tremendous time and learned a great deal, aided by the fact that the weather has been glorious and the midges only appeared in the last two days. Thanks are due to the official sponsors and the companies and individuals in Ullapool who provided material or edible support. Cathy Dagg, our site directrice, must be specially thanked for her patient instruction and continual optimism. She chivvied us along with gentle hints, I dont want you to move, I want you to work. We owe thanks to all the volunteers who gave up their time and came from all parts of the country.

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