Old ruins, new world
Lest we remember
Editor Simon Denison
Earliest evidence found of settlers in Scotland: hazelnuts and stone tools excavated near Edinburgh date to around 8500 BC
The earliest known remains of human settlement in Scotland have been uncovered at Cramond, near Edinburgh. Mesolithic stone tools, tool waste and hazelnut shells from a hunting camp overlooking the Forth Estuary have been radiocarbon dated to about 8500 BC.
Meanwhile, at Sand near Applecross in Wester Ross, a shell midden from about 1,000 years later than the Cramond site has produced a range of intriguing evidence for Mesolithic life including pigments, dyes and possible items of jewellery, as well as tools, animal and bird bones and shellfish.
The site at Cramond was found when a team of amateur archaeologists from the Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society began digging for Roman remains close to a bath house. At the base of one trench they found a concentration of mainly chert stone tools and hazelnut shells, revealing a well-stratified single-phase Mesolithic site uncontaminated by later material. Subsequent work, including the radiocarbon dating of six hazelnut shell fragments (each one ranging between about 8600 and 8200 BC), was carried out with the help of Edinburgh's City Council archaeologists, Historic Scotland, and the National Museums of Scotland.
The site, on a bluff near the junction of the River Forth and the River Almond, represents a classic Mesolithic camp location providing hunter-gatherers with access to a range of freshwater and marine foodstuffs. No animal bones survived in the site's acid soils but pits, scoops and some 20 stakeholes suggested an encampment.
According to Alan Saville, curator of early prehistory collections at the National Museum, the site provides the earliest date in Britain for the 'geometric' style of microlith tool manufacture - an advanced style traditionally regarded as a Late Mesolithic development, not found in England before about 7800 BC - thus raising intriguing questions about the origin and spread of the new technology. The site also raises questions about the early post-glacial climate in Scotland, an area traditionally regarded as uninhabitable until about 9600 BC.
At Sand, excavations by the Scotland's First Settlers project based at Edinburgh University have uncovered the bones of red deer and birds, and shellfish (mainly limpet) shells in a midden outside a coastal rockshelter, along with numerous 'pot-boiler' stones used for cooking the food. Tools made of stone, bone and antler were found including part of an antler harpoon and bevel-ended tools for opening shellfish.
Perforated cowrie shell beads and a boar's tusk - both interpreted as items of jewellery - were found at Sand with lumps of ochre and a type of dog whelk which produces a purple dye. Some of the tools are thought to have been brought from the Isle of Rhum and from Staffin on Skye, underlining the ease with which people travelled by sea in this period.
Intact Bronze Age necklace found near Dunblane
A complete 124-piece early Bronze Age necklace - thought to be the only intact example in Britain - has been found by archaeologists in a cyst grave north of Dunblane in Perthshire. The 4,000-year-old necklace, made of disc-beads of cannel coal with a jet fastener, is only 12 inches (295mm) long and was probably either a child's necklace or a 'choker' for an adult woman.
The grave was one of a group of three oval cysts made of multiple stone slabs, possibly belonging to members of the same family or to individuals associated in some other way. One grave was empty. The second was also empty apart from the necklace, suggesting that the skeleton and other contents had dissolved away in the acid soil. The capstone of the third grave had survived, however, and inside lay the fragile remains of a child aged about 9-12. It was not possible to tell whether the child was a boy or a girl. Next to the skeleton lay a single food vessel. Both the pot and the necklace have been dated on typological grounds to about 2000 BC.
According to Lorna Main, Stirling's Regional Archaeologist, the cannel coal was sourced locally but the polished jet fastener almost certainly came from Whitby, more than 200 miles away in Yorkshire. No sign of a cairn was found during excavation. 'But the graves probably had some former of marker originally, either a wooden marker or a standing stone,' Ms Main said.
The graves were excavated last year by the Edinburgh firm Headland Archaeology in advance of a housing development. The necklace has since been conserved at the National Museums of Scotland and is now on display at Dunblane Museum.
Developers 'must record' unlisted barns
The historical value of traditional buildings, including those not 'listed', was underscored recently in a landmark planning inquiry decision in Lancashire. In his judgement, the inspector upheld an earlier decision that an archaeological record should be made of a group of unlisted farm buildings before they could be converted into homes.
Archaeological conditions are commonly imposed on proposals to alter listed buildings, but have rarely (if ever) been applied to unlisted buildings. If the Lancashire decision forms a new precedent, it could have immense repercussions for the survival - at least by record - of traditional buildings throughout Britain.
The farm buildings at Wrayton near Lancaster lie within a conservation area near a number of Grade II listed buildings, and appear on the Ordnance Survey first edition map of 1844-51. In his decision in April, the inspector wrote: 'Wrayton is clearly a farming settlement that has assimilated change without wholesale destruction of its existing forms. Evidence in the fabric of the changing use of the buildings, of changing building and fanning methods, and of the development of the settlement will be lost in development. In my view, an appropriate method of recording the buildings is [therefore] necessary.'
Welcoming the decision, Lancashire's Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) officer Peter Iles said that although the Wrayton buildings were not exceptionally important, the county had already experienced a huge number of barn conversions. 'There is a very real fear that there will soon be no traditional farm buildings left.'
Lancashire's archaeological advisors recently began to ask local planning authorities to add 'recording conditions' to all applications where the building is on the SMR or shown on the OS first edition maps; or where significant historic fabric is thought to survive. The Wrayton application is the first in which such a recording condition has been tested at inquiry.
Roman salt-manufacturing town uncovered in Cheshire
Extensive remains of a Roman civilian settlement have been excavated at Middlewich, Cheshire, close to the site of a recently-discovered Roman fort. The town was one of a number of places in Cheshire where salt was produced on a semi-industrial scale during the Roman and medieval periods, and finds include brine pits, possible industrial workshops and numerous pieces of briquetage, or salt-making equipment.
Between shallow ditches thought to be property boundaries were pits, gullies and post holes with some possible oven bases and spreads of roof tile, marking the sites of vanished timber buildings.
These remains may represent workshops lying behind Roman street-front properties which possibly survive underneath existing buildings on the present town's King Street. The evidence suggests that the modern street lies on its original Roman alignment and remained in use during the medieval period - possibly as a main road to Northwich - even though medieval Middlewich had migrated some distance to the south-west.
The site, excavated by L-P Archaeology and Earthworks Archaeology, contains a number of pits thought to be brine wells connected with the exploitation of the area's brine springs for salt production. In particular, two very large pits, one wicker-lined, are almost certainly brine wells, as is a vertical shaft lined with well-preserved planks.
Two metalled trackways were found running parallel to the property boundaries. One is particularly well preserved, with side ditches and a thick layer of rammed cobbles.
Finds include large amounts of Roman pottery and briquetage, numerous coins provisionally thought to be 1st and 2nd century AD, and some leather scraps possibly related to a tanning industry. A wooden bronze-bound bucket was found set in the floor of a building near a hearth, probably representing the site where brine was evaporated in salt-pans.
Information from the excavation will be incorporated into the Roman Middlewich Project, an educational programme run by county, borough and town councils with other partners, which aims to publish the archaeology of the town in an accessible form. The project will include an illustrated guidebook, a permanent display in the town library, a heritage trail and leaflet, and an education pack. The Roman Middlewich Festival takes place on 15-16 September, when the town will play host to the Ermine Street Guard, a Roman Market, and a Roman galley.
Medieval London's 'Great Conduit' found near St Paul's
Two sections of the 'Great Conduit' that brought water to the medieval City of London have been found for the first time near St Paul's Cathedral.
In 1236, the City acquired rights to springs beside the Tyburn - near modern Bond Street tube station - in order to pipe water to the city so that 'the rich and middling persons therein might have water for preparing their food, and the poor for their drink'. The pipeline took over 30 years to build. It entered the city at Ludgate, climbed the hill north of St Paul's and ran along Cheapside before disgorging into a huge underground cistern new Old Jewry. The cistern was found in 1994.
The two sections of lead pipe, 3m (10ft) and 4m (13ft) long, were found by excavators from the Museum of London Archaeology Service beneath the pavement of Paternoster Row, a street north of St Paul's which has retained its alignment since medieval times. Although the 90mm (3in) pipe has not been scientifically dated, it was recognised as medieval by its form, and its location and alignment match contemporary map references to the Great Conduit's route. In Paternoster Row, the pipe ran parallel with and just outside the presumed location of the north wall of the Cathedral precinct, long since destroyed.
In late medieval times, a pit (dated by pottery) was dug down to reach the pipe, presumably to tap illegally into the public water supply. 'The pipe was broken open at this point and not repaired,' said Kieron Heard, who directed the excavation.
The system continued to supply the city until the Great Fire of 1666. It was powered entirely by gravity and as a result the water supply was unreliable. It is thought that where the pipe had to cross the River Fleet (west of the city) it was strapped to the side of the Fleet Bridge in order to raise it as much as possible. In Paternoster Row, near the top of the hill, it was laid in a deep trench to help reduce the gradient.
Archaeologically rich areas of Dartmoor's National Park that had been threatened by china clay quarrying have been saved (In Brief, June), following a decision by operators Watts Blake & Bearne and Imerys to voluntarily give up 50-year-old permissions to dig for minerals. Their decision follows a protracted campaign by the Dartmoor Preservation Association, supported by numerous environmental groups including the CBA. Both operators had commissioned new environmental impact assessments of their plans. The threat of quarrying remains, however, over equally sensitive areas outside the National Park boundary.
The skeleton of a woman aged 25-50 from a graveyard in Rivenhall, Essex, is thought to provide the earliest known evidence of syphilis in Britain. The skeleton, recently diagnosed by Simon Mays of English Heritage as bearing the marks of the disease, almost certainly in its venereal form, has been radiocarbon dated to between about 1290 and 1445 AD - at least 50 years before Columbus's first voyage to the Americas in 1492. Columbus has long been accused of bringing syphilis to Europe on his return from the New World. But according to Dr Mays, it now seems more likely that the disease was brought to Europe by Crusaders returning from the Middle East in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Great War soldiers
French archaeologists have discovered a row of 20 British First World War soldiers from the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment - nicknamed the 'Grimsby Chums' - who were killed during the Battle of Arras in 1917. The skeletons were arranged, presumably by their surviving comrades, in a neat row, side by side, arms crossed, feet facing enemy lines. Some skeletons were incomplete, including a leg, a rib cage, an arm and a foot, but these too had been arranged in line. The remains will be transferred to a nearby Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, and an MoD spokesman has said that every effort will be made to trace surviving relatives. The site was excavated in advance of a German car factory to be built on this part of the battlefield.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005