Archive for Public archaeology

Continued survey at Slateheugh

We returned to Slateheugh today to finish off the survey begun yesterday. Helen and Mike completed the profile drawing while Peter and George worked on the offset drawings and then completed the GPS survey. We got the site photographed at the end of the day and trudged off towards the vehicle in good time.

Slateheugh farmstead viewed from the south

Survey of Slateheugh Farmstead

Today the whole group went to Slateheugh to survey the ruinous farmstead there. The northern wall stands almost to full height, with the outline of the rest of building clearly visible on the ground. The footings of at least two further ruined buildings are also visible.

Chris and Helen began recording the profile of the upstanding remains at a scale of 1:10, while Dave, George and Peter worked on offset drawings of the footings of the outbuildings, and Gemma taught Kirsty to record the breaks of slope using the GPS.

After battling the elements until mid-afternoon, we gave in at about 3pm and headed for home. We’ll continue tomorrow!

Surveying at Slateheugh in fabulous November weather.

Glasserton Mains Dovecot and Cup and Ring Marked Rock

Today Peter, Ellen and Rosie went with Charlotte to record the 18th century dovecot at Glasserton Mains. The tall square tower has a vaulted basement beneath, and the brick-built interior has hundreds of slate-shelved nesting boxes. The team then trooped off to find a cup-marked rock recorded in 2006. This rock did not make itself apparent. Bah humbug.

After deciding that we definitely could not see a cup-mark ANYWHERE, we headed off to Carleton Fell, where we easily found Machermore’s Millstone. Marked on the OS map, there is an unfinished millstone 1m in diameter visible in a rocky outcrop. According to local tradition, “the millstone was carved in the late 19th century by workmen rebuilding Carleton Farm” ( From here, it was a short walk towards the sea to the site of a prehistoric homestead. With the walk back to the vehicle, we must have walked about 5 miles. What a long day!

To add insult to our previous no-cup-mark injury, Gemma, Helen, Mike and Janet came home with a lovely scale drawing of a cup and ring marked rock from Glasserton. Gemma taught the team a method of offset drawing, and a grand job they did of it too.

Port Castle, Glasserton Church and Glasserton Hill

On the first day of this month’s survey, half the group headed to Port Castle and the others to Glasserton Hill.

Port Castle is a walled enclosure set high on a rocky promontory near St Ninian’s Cave. The enclosure is very overgrown with thorn, brambles, ivy and bracken, making survey a little tricky! Kirsty, Chris and Peter persevered, however, writing a site proforma, drawing a sketch plan and photographing the site.

We then walked to Glasserton Church, where there is a roofless burial aisle to the east of the church, with an inscription dating to the 16th century. We managed to record a number of features along the churchyard walls before it got dark.

Mike, Helen and Janet went with Gemma to record the earthworks at Glasserton Hill. A new phrase was coined: “doing a Janet” can be used when describing someone walking through deep mud, losing their boot and having to rootle around for it in the mire. On their way over they discovered and recorded a building with an associated granite-lined tank.

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!