An early viking hearth?
Hi, it’s Martin Carruthers here again. I thought I’d do a piece on the blog today as it’s the beginning of our second week on site.
Already we’ve encountered so many fresh archaeological remains, some of them changing our previous view of the site.
Work has concentrated, as we planned, on the Structure C area – that’s the late Iron Age workshop/smithy building. Amanda and her little team have been making good solid progress in this area. They have been steadily excavating discrete features in reverse sequence – identifying which deposits are uppermost and then peeling them back in order to reveal the next latest in the sequence. This is a standard of archaeological practice, it requires a good eye, and some patience, but it’s worth it for the story that it tells in the end.
Amanda, Colin, Callum, George and others that have been working in this area have managed to get to a point where the next deposit to investigate is a brown, silty deposit, rich in charcoal and ash – which is also where, last season, we found copper alloy sheet metal and fairly large fragments of a bronze hanging-bowl. So we wait with baited breath to see what comes out next!
In our extension area one, Mic and Connor have been doing sterling work uncovering the outer wall face of the broch/roundhouse (Structure A) at a point adjacent to the intramural staircase. This now gives us a clear view across the structure from outer wall to outer wall right across the Structure A diameter. And it is a whopper!
In extension two, immediately over the area where our souterrain passage runs, progress has been a hard slog for the team working there. The area is full of dark, organic-rich soil, small rubble, lots of animal bone and burnt stone. Essentially I think these deposits probably relate to waste material ejected out of Structure E, the late Iron Age building that lies just to the west.
After several days of slogging in this area we are now at a stage, I think, that we can start making faster progress downwards into the deposit to see what its relationship is with our souterrain roof that we know lies beneath!
Over in the Structure B complex, Dave and Martin Head have been investigating the hearth that we showed you on Friday’s blog. This really substantial stone setting is quite beautifully made, in its way, and is an intriguing feature.
I had begun to wonder if we might be dealing with a building that began life in the Iron Age but was then adapted in the viking period. I spoke to colleagues in the archaeology department of Orkney College, UHI, including county archaeologist, Julie Gibson, and they thought that the hearth might indeed represent a transitional one in this manner.
This hearth, and the compartment of the building that contains it, had been scheduled for excavation and removal in order to access the deposits beneath, but I’m loathe to do this without offering people in Orkney the opportunity to view this possible early viking feature before it goes.
For this reason we are going to hold off its complete excavation for a few days and divert our attention elsewhere.
If anyone reading this blog would like to take a look at the hearth, then please come down, if you have the chance, over the next few days before Thursday and see what may turn out to be a fireplace dating to the very beginning of the viking era in our islands – and informative about the nature of the relationship between Pict and Norse!
I hope many of you have the opportunity to come and visit us over the next three weeks as, although we’re having an open day on Friday, July 6, we do welcome visitors generally across the season from about 10 am to 4pm.
I hope to see you at the Cairns.