The Isles of Scilly are known for their sandy beaches and shallow tidal waters, but the archipelago was not always like this. A collaboration between researchers is investigating how the islands and their surrounding sea have changed over the millennia, reconstructing the ways in which our prehistoric ancestors adapted to a changing landscape – and examining how current climate patterns are likely to affect the islands in the future.
In today’s era of ‘fake news’, we haven’t been entirely surprised to see recent headlines claiming new research has proven that radiocarbon dating is inaccurate or plain wrong (one even went so far as to say ‘A Crucial Archaeological Dating Tool is Wrong, and It Could Change History as We Know It’). To be fair, once you get past the headlines, the articles mostly provide a bit more of the truth and a little less clickbait. Nonetheless, we thought it pertinent to delve into the actual science of this discovery and offer a more impartial, if less sensationalist, account of the findings.
An ambitious project to conduct the largest geophysical survey to-date of the island of Rousay in Orkney has begun. It is being led by a team from the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI) – which is based in Berlin – working together with archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.