Archive for October 31, 2011

Whithorn Big Dig: Primary Seven Pupils at Castle Hill

Today saw Whithorn Primary School’s primary 7 pupils coming to dig test pits on Castle Hill. Following their finds-handling session last week with AOC’s Andy Heald, they all knew what to look out for and were quick to spot even the smallest metal objects, sherds of pottery and glass. Of the pottery discovered, most dates to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including some large sherds of a redware crock with white trail-slipped decoration. Well done everyone! We’ll post some pictures once the finds have been cleaned up.

Whithorn Big Dig: Day Three

On the last day of The Big Dig we continued to make good progress. We excavated a number of test pits in a field to the west of the main street. Rocky the horse and his miniature Shetland friend looked on, bemused.

Just a few centimetres beneath the surface, Rosie found a complete blacking bottle probably dating to late Victorian times. It didn’t have so much as a chip on it! A fine find indeed. In the area of the old slaughter house, George discovered some very large sherds of a Victorian Staffordshire tureen, with blue and white transfer-printed floral decoration.

Rosie with the late Victorian period blacking bottle.

Pottery expert George Haggarty’s favourite find of the day was some small sherds of Pearl- and Pratt-decorated banded ware dating to c. 1810. The bright colours and clear pattern had led us mere diggers to suspect that it was probably very modern but we are assured that it is not.

Sherds of banded ware dating to c. 1810

George will have a closer look at all of the pottery found during The Big Dig; we’ll make his report available to you as soon as we can!

Thanks very much to everyone who took part, lending us their muscles and their good humour through a couple of rainy days. Many thanks also to everyone who let us dig in their gardens and fields.

Whithorn Big Dig: Day Two

The weather was less kind to us today, but our volunteers ploughed on regardless! We excavated test pits in a few back gardens along George Stand in a field on the north-western edge of the town. Again, everyone found lots of pieces of pottery and glass, but there were a few highlights: Scottish white gritty ware from the second half of the 12th century; some reduced sandy ware from the 14th century; post-medieval reduced wares from the 16/17th century; imported German Frechen stoneware from c. 1680; and lots of 18thcentury wares including white salt glazed stoneware, pearlware and Pratt ware.

Local volunteer Ellen with 12th century pot sherds.

We have found lots of clay pipes over the last two days. These seem to have been made predominantly in Glasgow at Murray’s, MacDougall’s and White’s factories, and in Leith at Christie’s. Clay pipes were commonly used from the 17th century onwards, but most of those found this weekend date to the 18th and 19th centuries.

Many thanks to everyone for digging through the rain and blustery wind of today – miserable weather could not dampen our diggers’ spirits!



Whithorn Big Dig: Day One

What a brilliant first day! A team of 15 volunteers excavated five test pits around Whithorn today: behind the old town hall, behind the Post Office, and in their gardens. Finds were many and varied, including pottery, glass, tiles, bone and metal.

Pottery expert George Haggarty was on hand to identify our discoveries. Today’s best bits included a sherd of medieval white gritty ware (late 14th century); post-medieval reduced wares (late 16th and 17th centuries); lots of 18th century white salt-glazed stoneware; and other 18th century types. Our favourite piece was a knop from the top of a majolica teapot of a widow in a cloak, produced at the Bellfield factory in Prestonpans.

We look forward to another day of discoveries tomorrow.

Survey of Inner Wood and Doon Hills

Half of the group spent Thursday and Friday finishing off the geophysical survey at Inner Wood Hill. We were using resistivity: sending an electric current between two probes to detect sub-surface features. The results of two days hard slog revealed some possible features that would support the crop mark evidence for an enclosure. We took readings in every metre square over twenty 20m grids; that’s 8000 readings, and 8km of walking! Go team geophysics!

Mike and Gary at Inner Wood Hill

A team of intrepid explorers spent much of Thursday wandering around the Dowalton Loch area identifying known sites, including two crannogs and an enclosure. They were so absorbed in their task that they forgot to return to the fold at lunchtime, sparking panic and dread in the rest of us. Luckily we spied them on a hilltop from afar, which assuaged our fears.

We also completed a comprehensive survey of the earthworks at Doon Hill, although they are covered with dense gorse. We have surveyed and interpreted the site, and, using both the GPS and total station, we’ve created an accurate record of the earthworks as they exist today.

It’s been busy week, and a tiring one I’m sure! Well done to everyone who took part. Our volunteers’ enthusiasm was boundless, which bodes well for the rest of the project!

Survey of Dowalton Loch

Rain, hail, wind – we battled through all of these on our first day at Dowalton Loch. But what a cracking day we had today, after the trials of yesterday!

We have spent the last two days at Long Castle of Boreland, interpreting and recording the site through plane table, total station and GPS survey. Our team of hardy volunteers are becoming more confident with these techniques, and we’re almost finished at the castle site. George brought a survival unit, a bit like a tent but without poles, under which some of us huddled like penguins at breaktime. Character building, perhaps?

Drawing a sketch plan of Long Castle of Boreland

Today we began a geophysical survey of Inner Wood Hill to try to locate the possible enclosure, see RCAHMS for more information on this site. We’ll continue this tomorrow.

Strat was disappointed that his brand new raspberry coloured thermos flask left his tea only lukewarm at lunchtime. He yearned for a hot cup of tea for the rest of the day.

Tomorrow we plan to finish off at Dowalton Loch. Strat will take a group to do a recce of Annat Hill while AOC’s Gemma supervises the last bit of survey at Long castle and Charlottesupervises the geophysics at Inner Wood Hill. Please come along and get involved; meet at 9.30am at The Whithorn Story Visitor Centre tomorrow, Friday and Saturday (20th-22nd October). All welcome!

Talk: Archaeological Survey

Monday 17th October 2011 at 7pm in the Whithorn Trust Visitor Centre.
AOC’s Dr Graeme Cavers will give a talk on the identification, interpretation and recording of archaeological sites, and will outline the areas to be surveyed during The Machars Archaeology Project