Finds, results and discussions are set out in full in the Final Report.
Please see Radiocarbon Results for the C14 results.
RESULTS: Loch Raa Hut Circle, Achiltibuie 1
The results from the first of the six round houses to be investigated are encouraging with hearths and a well-defined wall section being exposed and recorded.
Trench 1, laid out just off the centre of the structure produced a stack of 3 hearths with associated ash and charcoal deposits. The earliest hearth also had an associated stone lined tank – a small, well preserved feature.
Trench 2, placed across an upstanding section of walling revealed a stone-built house wall some two meters thick, constructed with inner and outer laid faces retaining an earth and rubble core.
There were no small finds other than nice examples of fragmented pot-boilers, a possible quartz tool and two small fragments which may be pottery.
Charcoal samples were collected from all contexts for C14 dating and soil samples were collected for environmental analysis.
RESULTS: Rhue, Ullapool 1
The 14th of May saw the commencement of the second of the six proposed round house excavations. Results were interesting, if less spectacular than the 1st excavation – with a possible hearth/post-pad slab found within the structure and the lower courses of a collapsed wall revealed.
Trench 1, laid out just of centre within the structure revealed a large stone slab set directly on the natural. The slab showed no indication of heat but was surrounded and part overrun by a black, charcoal rich, occupation horizon.
Trench 2, placed across a well preserved section of turf bank, revealed a tumbled stone wall with the inner face surviving 4 courses high. The outer face had tumbled down the slope.
Small finds included a nice pebble polisher from the occupation horizon and a pebble hammer and much used pebble anvil from the tumbled wall core. The last two perhaps indicating earlier occupation in the vicinity.
Charcoal samples were taken for C.14 dating and soil samples for environmental analysis.
RESULTS: Auchtercairn, Gairloch 1
A spell of fine June weather provided perfect conditions for the excavation of the third round house in the ‘WEDIGS’ program. This site, which sits on a level platform on the south-west slope of Torr na h-Ulaidhe, is somewhat exposed to poor weather but has spectacular views over Loch Gairloch.
Once again results were interesting and in part quite different to the previous two excavations.
Trench 1, placed just to the south-east of the centre of the site revealed 3 levels of human activity. Removal of the turf exposed an area of well laid, stone slab, paving possibly related to the remains of a small rectangular (shieling type) structure lying immediately to the north of the trench. Sealed beneath this paving was an area of burning so intense that the underlying earth had been reddened to a considerable depth with closely related stones also heavily reddened. Removal of the burnt level revealed a quadrant (in the NE corner of the trench) of a shallow scoop in the natural subsoil containing a dark char rich earth.
There were no associated finds. Soil and charcoal samples were taken from all levels.
Trench 2, placed across a well preserved section of wall on the southern side of the site revealed the monumental foundations of a 2 meter wide wall consisting of massive boulder faces with a rubble and soil core. This wall, judging by the amount of collapsed rubble removed would have stood circa 1.5 meters high. Trench 2 extended some 2 meters towards the centre of the site and at no point was an occupation surface or any evidence of activity encountered. This absence of evidence, although not conclusive, and the massive area of burning in the centre raises the possibility that this site was not a round house, but served some other purpose.
A single find (a pebble hammer/rubber) was recovered from the rubble fill of the wall perhaps indicating the presence of an earlier site close by. Soil and charcoal samples were again taken from all levels. A series of core samples was taken from within and around the site for magnetic susceptibility and phosphate analysis.
RESULTS: Achnahaird, Achiltibuie 2
The excavation of the fourth round house in the six excavation program saw the return of normal summer weather with rain, wind and midges being the order of the day. This did not deter the hardy project diggers with 15 volunteers turning up for the weeks digging.
Results were again interesting with the fourth completely different site being revealed. The site proved to be two period with the later phase overlying the earlier.
Trench 1, laid out just off centre within the structure revealed a quadrant of a rubble-stone hearth with much reddened stone surrounded by areas of char and ash. The rake-out from the fire spread across a compacted sandy earth floor forming a well defined, charcoal rich, occupation horizon.
Below this occupation was a layer of clean sand (levelling) which sealed an earlier, and similar, occupation horizon which lay directly on the levelled summit of a 350mm deep sand dune.
Trench 2 was placed across a well preserved section of stone wall, revealing a tumbled stone wall with an inner face comprised of laid boulders and slabs. The later phase of occupation butted up to the foot of this wall. The earlier phase of occupation however ran under this wall to butt up to the remains of an earlier wall consisting of orthostatic facing stones with rubble fill. The later phase round house appeared to be built within the earlier phase.
Three further trenches were excavated during the weeks work.
Trench 3: A small soil profile trench outwith the round-house amongst lazy-bed cultivation.
Trench 4: A trench across what appeared to be the entrance to the later phase house
Trench 5: Across a related boundary wall.
Trench 3 provided a profile of the post glacial soils and an old ground surface sealed below the lazy-bed cultivation.
Trench 4 showed that if the entrance to the later phase house was in this quadrant it had subsequently been destroyed by later farming/crofting activity. A well defined post hole was however recorded, sealed below the later phase wall and associated with the earlier phase occupation.
Trench 5 provided a plan and section of a boulder boundary possibly contemporary with one of the phases of occupation.
Small finds included several pebble hammers and many fragments of pebble potboilers.
Charcoal samples were taken for C.14 dating and soil samples for environmental analysis.
RESULTS: Strathain, Ullapool 2
The excavation of the fifth round house in the Wee Dig program found the excavation team on an exposed hillside in An Strathain, a small glen some 3km to the north of Ullapool.
The results were, once again, interesting with the fifth completely different type of monument being revealed. The site proved to be a recessed platform with no apparent associated structure.
Because of the shallow nature of the deposits and lack of result associated with the initial platform, a second platform in the group of three was tested with similar results.
Trench 1, laid out just off centre within the structure revealed a shallow and very greasy black horizon lying immediately below a peaty turf and resting on the local clay natural. There were no features, other than a small arc of stones, or finds, associated with this horizon. Several small, water worn, white quartz pebbles were associated with the black horizon.
Trench 2 was placed across what appeared to be a collapsed wall on the east side of the circle. This proved to be a random pile of stone which overlay the greasy black context and therefore post dated it. A random collection of flat slabs lay at the western end of the trench. There were no finds at all. Once again white quartz pebbles were found in the black horizon.
Two further trenches were excavated during the work on Site SRA1.
Trench 3: A 1m square soil profile trench some 10m to the SW the platform.
Trench 4: A second soil profile trench some 15m to the W of the platform.
Trench 3 & 4 The soil profiles of trenches 3 and 4 almost exactly matched that of trench 1 with a shallow, greasy, black horizon lying immediately below the turf.
Site SRA 2 lay some 100m to the north and upslope of SRA 1 and appeared to be identical to SRA1. A single trench was excavated from just outwith the front of the platform to the centre.
Trench 5 demonstrated that the platform had been revetted at the front with a five course wall behind which was a fill of small stones. A cut had then been made into the hill slope to create the platform. The greasy black horizon was again present but once again, other than the black horizon, there was no evidence of occupation. At some point after the abandonment of the platform (a layer of peaty soil had formed) a small peat fire had been built at the centre of the platform.
There were no small finds associated with either platform.
Soil samples were taken for later analysis. No charcoal samples were recovered.
RESULTS: Auchtercairn, Gairloch 2
The final excavation of the Wedig Project took place between the 22nd and 26th of October during a week when the weather turned from a beautiful late summer to an early taste of winter. The site chosen was a small, (8m overall diameter), stone built structure with an extended south-eastern entrance. A total of four trenches were excavated; one across the round house, two soil trenches and a small test trench within a second site some 25 meters to the north-east.
Trench 1 was placed across the round-house on a north to south alignment revealing a fine orthostat faced wall with a boulder fill on the north and south sides. A well built buttress supported the downhill north wall. A compacted clay floor butted up to the inner face of the walls. An oval hearth area, (char filled black earth), lay roughly central to the interior space. A second hearth, constructed of stone, which post dated the clay floor lay against the inner face of the northern wall.
Lifting of the clay floor revealed a truncated posthole which still retained its post pad some 1.25m in from the southern inner wall face. A second truncated post hole was found 1.25 inside the northern inner wall face. Removal of the wall stones showed that the stone wall was a secondary feature and that an earth walled round house pre-dated the stone structure.
Finds included a broken sandstone rubber which had been used as a pot boiler, a pebble hammer and a quartz flake.
Trench 2: A 1m square soil profile trench some 10m to the NE the round-house.
Trench 3: A second soil profile trench some 10m to the W of the round-house.
Trench 4 was placed within a circular stone setting some 25m down slope of the round-house. This structure was named Achtercairn 3. Excavation showed that the stone setting was not a structured wall but a surface scatter of boulders encircling an area of red loamy soil. Within the stone setting was a small cobbled area, which showed no signs of burning, associated with charcoal , concentrated in a possible hearth area, and an assemblage of quartz fragments.
Further investigation in 2014 yielded a charcoal spread from the hearth area under and beyond the boulder wall. Dates were obtained from these areas.
Auchtercairn 2 started life as an earth banked round-house with a ring of posts some 1.5m inside the bank supporting a ring beam as part of the roof structure. This earth structure was then replaced with a stone walled round-house, a new floor was inserted (truncating the earlier post holes) and a central hearth built. No evidence for a ring of posts was found within the trench for this secondary structure. At some point after the abandonment of the stone-built house a hearth was built and used within the structure. The position of this last feature indicates that there was probably no longer a roof on the round-house.
Soil samples were taken for later analysis. Charcoals were collected for C.14 dating.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS
The finds, charcoal samples and soil samples were all handed over to AOC Archaeology for post-excavation analysis.
The charcoal found was passed on to SUERC (Scottish Universities Environment Research Council) for carbon-dating.
The results are given under the radiocarbon tab; they are accurate within 30 years. Dates ranged from 2769 BC to 275 AD.
Stone Tools. Selected finds were examined by AOC Archaeology, who confirmed:
(1) A small number of general purpose pebble stone tools with pitting due to percussion damage, indicating use for pounding: i.e. hammers.
(2) At Achnahaird a possible polisher.
(3) At Rhue a heavy duty hammer which was also used as an anvil or working surface.
(1) At Loch Raa a rim fragment of steatite-tempered pottery (clay mixed with
pieces of soapstone) whose shape suggests a shouldered vessel, with rim diameter around 160mm; comparison with similar shouldered vessels in Atlantic Scotland shows that the date is consistent with the Early Iron Age date from the upper hearth.
(2) Also at Loch Raa a damaged rim fragment made of steatite; the shape of the external surface suggests a vessel such as a small cup or bowl with diameter around 60mm. (Steatite or soapstone is found not too far away, at Achmelvich.)
An assemblage of 71 chipped quartz pieces was recovered from the small Neolithic stone circle beside Achtercairn 2. An assemblage of 71 chipped quartz pieces was recovered from Achhtercairn 3. The pieces suggest a rather unskilled technique using a variety of reduction (shaping) techniques. Most pieces were debris (chips or flakes). There was one manufactured tool, a borer with a strong point, formed on a thick flake — used, for example, for making holes in leather.
Excerpts from the “Initial Conclusions” in the Data Structure Report (DSR), by Martin Wildgoose and Anna Welti (see the final report for full details):
• The initial results of the Wee Digs Project, together with those from the study on Skye, have demonstrated that the terms Hut Circle and Roundhouse, both implying living accommodation, are perhaps misnomers as it would appear that not all of these circular features were lived in. Better perhaps to call them Circular Structures as this removes the suggestion of residence and allows for multiplicity of function.
• Of the 6 roundhouses studied, 3 of the 4 which appear to have been habitations had entrances which faced south-east regardless of local terrain or aspect; the position of the entrance at Achnahaird could not be identified. The only other structure where the entrance could be positively identified, Achtercairn 1, had an unusually wide entrance which faced to the south-west. The work on this site suggested that it had not been constructed as a habitation but perhaps served some other purpose. This result is similar
to that from the work carried out on Skye during the Landscape Analysis at High Pasture Cave, where all structures with entrances facing other than to the south-east showed no evidence of occupation and appeared to have served some other function.
• The excavation of these structures has highlighted the fact that bracken is a major current and future threat to the archaeology of Scotland.
• The provision of plentiful amounts of cake is essential for the running of a happy and successful excavation project.