The East Lomond Hillfort Archaeological Dig – 17th May to 4th June 2017

At the end of week one of the archaeological dig on the East Lomond Hillfort, Project Director Joe Fitzpatrick expressed his delight at the culmination of six months of hard work in preparation for the Centre for Stewardship’s 2017 summer dig. Focusing on the positive participation of local volunteers and schools in the excavation, he said ” Without exception every volunteer who participated in the first week put in a solid shift and showed passion and determination as we gradually exposed some fascinating archaeological structures. I’d like to thank them all for their effort and commitment and I know that a few are hoping to come back if spaces become available.

We had three schools with us this week – Levenmouth Academy, House of Falkland School, and Viewforth High School. Pupils and teachers alike spent time trowelling, recording, sieving and also understanding the landscape, history and archaeological heritage of the Hillfort and its surrounding environment. I know our core Project team of archaeologists and ambassadors were impressed by the enthusiasm and conduct of the pupils who came along and proved to be such impressive ambassadors for their school. The Falkland Stewardship Trust is very pleased to have established a good and positive rapport with our surrounding secondary schools and the Local Authority.”

Appraising progress on the Archaeology front, Dr Oliver O’Grady, Lead Archaeologist for the Project looks back on some initial highlights :

Our hard-working community volunteers and visiting school pupils have helped uncover a fascinating array of archaeological remains and artefacts on the southern shoulder of East Lomond Hill. It is an amazing thought to think that most of these finds have not been seen by human-eyes for between 1500 to 3000 years ago !

The start of week one involved exposing the stone structures previously discovered in 2014. With the protective matting removed, the surface quickly ‘cleaned’ and then some excellent trowelling-work, we could clearly see numerous stone ‘post-settings’, metal-working remains and possible stone walls that had been left waiting for our volunteers to explore. Earlier radiocarbon dates indicate that these remains date from between the 3rd-7th centuries AD. We think they represent important survivals of Late-Iron Age settlement and craft activity beside the hilllfort, so excitement levels were high as we started to dig.

Almost straight away the team made some exciting new discoveries in the form of sherds of pottery (one found by volunteer Harry). Probably of medieval date, these suggest that the hillside continued to be farmed during the 12th-13th centuries following the abandonment of hillfort. Each volunteer was then given a separate feature and part of the site to investigate with the help of the archaeologists. Some of the around 10 post-settings – small clusters of stones packed around a cavity where a wooden post has rotted away – were carefully excavated in half, drawn and soils sampled. These features indicate the existence of probably more than one roofed building and they sit in a floor surface packed with burnt animal bone, charcoal and heated clay. Trowelling to expose this occupation layer lead to more finds: two agate stone blades (found by Marek!) that are earlier prehistoric tools probably washed over the site from elsewhere or brought up from lower levels by animal burrowing, a pebble stone playing-piece and a rare fragment of a metal-working crucible used for pouring molten metal.

The most exciting find in this layer came at the end of the week, in the form of an apparently perfectly preserved stone-lined hearth (uncovered by Roy, Nicola, Kirsty and Sam). This would have formed the central living space of an ancient building. The discovery created a great buzz around the site with lost of speculation about what we’re going to find next !

Excavation of our metal-working area revealed a refuse pit filled with metal slag, charcoal and fragments of a clay kiln or furnace. Right next to this was a curious stone box. Volunteers Nicola and Marietta, who is also a Trustee of the Stewardship Trust, carefully dug into this intriguing feature, revealing a paved base that was fixed into place by a thick layer of heat-affected clay. This looks like it was a tank used to hold water for quenching metal as part of smithing activities at the site – an amazing and rare find for Scottish archaeology!

We have a second smaller trench. This was placed to trace the line of what we now know is a path, and the trench provides an area were the visiting schools can learn hands-on archaeology skills. Key discoveries here were the tracing of the path feature at the southern end of the trench and the discovery of a previously unknown large stone wall at the northern end. Finds included a broken flint arrowhead (again probably disturbed from lower levels) and right at the end of the day on Sunday a lovely stone hammer tool was found amongst the stones of the large wall. This was found by volunteer Jean and is a great find. It is a water-worn stone clearly brought some distance to the site. The damage on one side indicates it’s use for preparing food, such as breaking up bones or hemp fibres, the everyday domestic life in late prehistoric times.

A big thank you to all our week one volunteers for all their dedication and good cheer. We will be exploring more of this amazing site during week two. Visitors are welcome to drop by for a chat or maybe sign up for one of the Saturday morning tours of the trenches.

Critical to the success of the Project are the experienced group of Archaeology Ambassadors who are often the point of first contact for visitors to the site. As well as providing information and sharing their knowledge with the public, they undertake a number of roles on the dig, including mentoring, some initial post excavation work, bagging samples and other practical support work. So what were their thoughts after week one of the 2017 Hillfort Dig ?……

So excited returning to my very first archaeology experience back on East Lomond.
I was there on one of the last days of the previous dig in 2014, and had the pleasure of helping to unwrap the site for the 2017 dig. A brilliant first few days catching up with guid friends I’ve met over the years, meeting new ‘time team’ enthusiasts, sharing experiences and stories of best finds and the ” just a nice stone ” moments. It was good to return to the hill where I made my TV passion for archaeology become a reality.

Here’s to the next two weeks uncovering the hill’s hidden past and helping to seal its importance in the history of the ‘Kingdom of Fife’     Veronica

I wasn’t present for the 2014 East Lomond dig so was especially keen to see what lay underneath the tarpaulin when we uncovered the site on Wednesday morning. It didn’t take us long to clean it back, and what was revealed is a real joy to see. The structures there are so clear. Being a layman, I’m not able to immediately identify an Iron Age wall from a Medieval path but there is so much archaeology in our two trenches that the presence of those past inhabitants of East Lomond is palpable.

We have had a cracking week of digging. Highlights for me were uncovering a potential hearth, burnt clay and all, at the end of a wet and windy Sunday; meeting all the volunteers, some of whom had never been digging before; and Mary’s tale of wrestling with the welcome tent as it made its bid for freedom in the teeth of a force 5 gale. Week one – laughs, stories, surprises and cakes – it lived up to expectations and then some.”    Nicola 

The first week?… perched high on the side of East Lomond, stunning views in all directions, larks singing overhead, knee deep almost literally in the most exciting archaeology with a trowel in hand, surrounded by great craic from fellow Dig enthusiasts, what’s not to like? Even the vagaries of Fife weather in May didn’t daunt an intrepid bunch of volunteers from making great headway in uncovering and recording some really interesting archaeology.

Watching a few random stones as they were cleaned back transform themselves into a probable hearth, perhaps used by people living and working here 1500 years ago or more, felt like a real connection with the past. Other memorable moments for me were the energy and enthusiasm of the school pupils that came to work with us on the site this week, infectious and inspiring; the small, but perfect, round smooth pebble that was uncovered as a find, possibly used as a gaming piece, perfect for nestling in the palm of your hand; and the wall that gradually transformed into a probable path, looking like it might wind on well beyond the site.

All that and home-made cake – roll on week 2!”     Anne

What a start to our dig!

Everyone was excited about what we might find and  our imaginations were going into overdrive on this point. From day  one it was great to see the school pupils quietly settle to their tasks, their enthusiasm rise over the course of the day then when told to finish hear shouts of “just one more scrape” and ” in a minute”.

All the volunteer s worked with a purpose punctuated with bouts of banter and laughter but there were many quiet times when we were so absorbed in our tasks that we had to be told three times to break for coffee!

It has been great to see amazement on the faces of members of the public, adults and children, when I show them the artist’s impression of what is at the top of the hill. I think the biggest reaction has been from local people. Over the last few days at ”base camp”  I have spoken to people from America, Holland, England and Japan so I am sure our story will go far and wide!

PS. For me one of the biggest wow moments was managing to get to the top of the hill on day one!    Mary

All in all a great start to the Centre for Stewardship’s first significant archaeological excavation and everyone is raring to go on Wednesday 24th May for the next round. We’ll post another Blog with updates in one weeks time. Thanks for reading and do come up to see us.