News

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Burning questions at Dun Deardail

It remains one of the biggest archaeological mysteries: why do so many hillforts, particularly across Scotland, appear to have undergone a significant burning event that caused their stone walls to melt and ultimately fuse (see CA 133)? Was it done deliberately, either during an attack or as a ceremonial act, or was it accidental? One of these ‘vitrified’ forts, Dun Deardail in Glen Nevis, was recently excavated over the course of a three-year project funded by Forestry Commission Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Nevis Landscape Partnership. This Iron Age hillfort was built in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, around 2,500 years ago, and was eventually destroyed in a catastrophic fire. Now excavations have shed light on its construction, occupation, and destruction.

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Highland housing in the Mesolithic

Excavations at Caochanan Ruadha, a previously identified Mesolithic site in the Cairngorm Mountains of the Scottish Highlands, have revealed evidence of a possible small structure surrounding a central hearth – an intriguing find, as the identification of Mesolithic buildings is quite rare. The dig was part of the first phase of the Upper Dee Tributaries Project (UDTP), through which an interdisciplinary team from institutions across the UK and Ireland is exploring the early prehistory of Mar Lodge Estate – owned and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland.

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Never a dull moment: the lives of Early Bronze Age axes

The Reverend William Greenwell (1820-1918) was a British antiquarian who, throughout a long career of excavating prehistoric barrows, accumulated a large collection of artefacts. This included almost 570 copper-alloy axes from across Europe. Unfortunately, due to practices (or the lack of them) at the time, many of these objects – now curated at the British Museum – have no known provenance or any other contextual information. This had meant that, for the most part, they remained in museum storage, deemed useless for research. A new study, however, has once again brought the axes in this collection to light, by macro- and microscopically analysing them for wear patterns and other signs of use.

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Bronze Age barrow discovered in Cornwall

Since 2012, the Southeast Kernow Archaeological Survey – a collaborative effort between Dr Catherine Frieman from the Australian National University and James Lewis, an archaeologist based in Scotland – has seen the geophysical and topographic investigation of many prehistoric sites in the region. This year, they continued their project at a probable Iron Age site outside the village of Looe, Cornwall, which had been identified by aerial surveys carried out through the National Mapping Programme (NMP).

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Reading the painting on the wall

Last month, we reported in ‘News’ on the recent LiDAR work done to accurately measure the length of the Antonine Wall. Here, we highlight further groundbreaking research being carried out to uncover the history of this magnificent monument. Dr Louisa Campbell from the University of Glasgow has used X-ray and laser technology to analyse the remnants of the Wall as part of the Historic Environment Scotland-funded project, Paints and Pigments in the Past.

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Science Notes – Bridging the divide: the role of science in archaeology

This month we are doing something a little different, exploring a wider theme rather than a specific technique. A recent public-interest piece in Nature – published in response to their research paper about the Bell Beaker culture (for more on this research, see CA 338) – discusses the ‘sometimes straining’ relationship between archaeologists and geneticists.

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Deciphering the Anglo-Saxon diet

The 6th and 7th centuries in England were defined by great social change. Along with the gradual conversion to Christianity in many areas, there is also evidence for increasing social stratification, most clearly seen through the emergence of prominent princely burials such as Sutton Hoo. It seems the rich were getting richer, and the poor poorer. A new study by Emma Hannah (Queen’s University Belfast) and Susanne Hakenbeck (University of Cambridge) has analysed how this upheaval may have affected diet during this period. Early Christian proscriptions involving meat suggest that, as more of the population converted, they may have become increasingly reliant on fi sh. At the same time, with the development of a clear social hierarchy, a distinct dietary difference between social classes may also be expected.

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Revealing the archaeology of Ramsey Island

Just off St David’s Head in Pembrokeshire, Wales, lies Ramsey Island. It is currently owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), as the island is home to many avian species and, in particular, is a Special Protection Area for the chough. Historically, though, Ramsey Island was also home to humans – and a new study involving detailed airborne laser-scanning technology (LiDAR; see CA 215) is revealing this intricate archaeological landscape, highlighting the island’s use over the past 5,000 years.

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Early evidence for St Albans Cathedral emerges

The decision to build a new visitors’ centre at St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire – part of the Heritage Lottery-funded project, Alban, Britain’s First Saint – offered the excellent opportunity to explore some of the site’s archaeology. From August 2017 to February this year the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, with Professor Martin Biddle, carried out extensive excavations between the current presbytery and the south-east transept. In the process, they revealed the cathedral’s long history, from its foundations as a Norman abbey in the 11th century through to its restoration and conversion to a proper cathedral in the modern era.

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Living at Star Carr in the face of climate change

New research analysing palaeoclimate data in conjunction with archaeological findings has provided evidence for how resilient the community of Star Carr – the famous Mesolithic occupation site in North Yorkshire (CA 282) – was in the face of extreme climate change.

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