Category Archives: SCOTLAND

An archaeological dig in Scotland reveals the medieval building

An archaeological dig in Scotland reveals the medieval building

Archaeologists working in the Scottish town of Dunfermline have uncovered the remains of a medieval building.  Dig Dunfermline was a community project that included an archaeological team and 83 volunteers who spent several weeks examining an area where a museum and art gallery will be built next spring.

Thomas Rees of Rathmell Archaeology who started the six-week dig in late August described the top discoveries as follows

A Building

The test dig discovered a building in the southeast corner of the car park just to the north of the Abbey graveyard.

This year’s full dig revealed only three courses of the foundations of the structure and there was very little in the way of dating evidence.

However, archaeologists are confident that it is the remains of a medieval building – we’re just unsure what it was used for.

There will be more investigation in the block-paved car park area before the construction work on the new museum starts.

A Stove Tile

Perhaps one of the smallest finds from the site was a small fragment of pottery that has been identified as a stove tile that would have formed part of a smokeless stove.

North German in style this tile is probably from the 16th century and is a rare example of a prestigious, high quality and desirable household device.

Not only does this show the wealth of some of the homes in Dunfermline, but also the trading links across the North Sea into Germany and the Baltic States.

Leather Fragments

The remarkable discovery of fragments of preserved leather will provide great information as to how the early monastic community lived.

Discovered at the very base of the excavation within waterlogged sediment this material will allow for accurate dating of this earliest midden deposit and has changed the understanding of this area.

Such a boggy midden suggests a damper and more unpleasant environment to the east of the Abbey than was previously thought, showing the Abbey to have been sited on a rise when approached from the east.

Councillor Helen Law, Chair of the City of Dunfermline Area Committee said, “I think these are excellent and exciting discoveries that show what can be revealed when we excavate within an important burgh.

The dig was a real community effort that created a lot of interest in what was going on and I’m thrilled that so many local people have already been involved in helping make the new museum and art gallery a reality.”

Douglas Speirs, Archaeologist for Fife Council added, “It was so encouraging to see the project team commit sufficient resources to undertake such a thorough archaeological excavation.

Combining planning requirements with the public’s enormous appetite for local heritage has surpassed expectations and resulted in real, immediate and tangible benefits for the whole community.

“Due almost entirely to the hard work of the scores of volunteers we have shed more light on Dunfermline’s medieval past than any previous excavation.

The project is contributing a great deal to the history, identity and future economic potential of Dunfermline as a premier cultural destination and this dig is already being hailed as an exemplary approach in community archaeology!”

Along with the people who participated, another 500 people visited during the dig to find out about the project and nearly 100 children took part in specially organized events for young people.

Viking Chess piece bought for less than $10 sells for over $1.3M

Viking Chess piece bought for less than $10 sells for over $1.3M

A 900-year-old Viking chess piece purchased for $6 in the 1960s recently sold at auction for $1.3 million.

The Lewis Chessmen are intricate chess pieces in the form of Norse warriors that were carved from walrus ivory in the 12th century. A large hoard of the chess pieces, totaling 93 objects making up some four chess sets, was discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

The elaborately carved pieces soon became featured attractions at museums. Of the 93 pieces, 82 are now in the British Museum in London and 11 are in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Five of the pieces, however, were missing. In June 2019, Sotheby’s announced it had authenticated a missing piece, the equivalent of a rook, and would sell it in with an estimated value of $1 million.

The missing piece had been bought in 1964 by an antique dealer in Edinburgh and passed down through this family. For some time, the Chessman was kept in a drawer at the home of the antiques dealer’s daughter.

Lewis Chessmen set

According to The Guardian, a family member said it had been stored away in their grandfather’s house, with everyone unaware of its importance

“When my grandfather died my mother inherited the chess piece,” said a family spokesperson. “My mother was very fond of the chessman as she admired its intricacy and quirkiness.

She believed that it was special and thought perhaps it could even have had some magical significance. For many years it resided in a drawer in her home where it had been carefully wrapped in a small bag. From time to time, she would remove the chess piece from the drawer in order to appreciate its uniqueness.”

Lewis Chessmen Queen. 
Lewis chessmen Queen (back view).

Alexander Kader, the Sotheby’s expert who eventually examined the piece for the family, told The Guardian that his jaw dropped when he saw it, and he knew immediately what it was. “I said: ‘Oh my goodness, it’s one of the Lewis chessmen.’ ”

Lewis chessmen Bishop.

He added: “They brought it in for an assessment. That happens every day. Our doors are open for free valuations. We get called down to the counter and have no idea what we are going to see. More often than not, it’s not worth very much.”

Lewis chessmen King.

The 3.5-inch warder is a bearded figure with a sword in his right hand and shield at his left side.

Experts believe that this Viking chess piece along with the rest of the Lewis chessmen hail from Trondheim, Norway, which specialized in carved gaming pieces in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Isle of Lewis was Norwegian territory until 1266, and one theory is that the chess set was buried there after a shipwreck.

Lewis was on a thriving trade route between Norway and Ireland and another theory is that they were hidden for safekeeping by a traveling merchant.

They became arguably Scotland’s best known archaeological find when they were found buried in the beach of Uig Bay in 1831, said The Guardian. :How they were discovered is still disputed, with one account claiming they were uncovered by a grazing cow.”

The Lewis Chessmen are “steeped in folklore, legend and the rich tradition of story-telling,” Sotheby’s said in a press release, adding that they are “an important symbol of European civilization.”

Alexander Kader said in a statement, “It has been such a privilege to bring this piece of history to auction and it has been amazing having him on view at Sotheby’s over the last week—he has been a huge hit. When you hold this characterful warder in your hand or see him in the room, he has real presence.”

Since their discovery in the 19th century, a Viking chess piece and the Lewis chessmen has become an important symbol of European civilization, often inspiring portrayals in pop culture, such as the life-size chess game in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Huge Dinosaur Footprints Discovered on Scottish Coast

Huge Dinosaur Footprints Discovered on Scottish Coast

A newfound site on Scotland’s Isle of Skye contains about 50 dinosaur footprints, many belonging to long-necked dinosaurs called sauropods. This footprint preserves the outlines of a sauropod’s toes—and even traces the animal’s fleshy heel pad.

MORE THAN 160 million years ago, long-necked dinosaurs called sauropods lumbered through the ancient lagoons that dotted what is now Great Britain. Now, dozens of their footprints have been found on the forbidding, wave-pounded coast of Scotland’s Isle of Skye.

Researchers Davide Foffa and Hong-Yu Yi, University of Edinburgh paleontologist Dr. Stephen Brusatte and his student Paige dePolo went back to the site to take a closer look at the prints and learn more.

They are not so easy to access, located in the wave-pounded tidal zone of a headland called Brother’s Point. A collaborative study of the footprints by the University of Edinburgh, Staffin Museum, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led by dePolo, was presented in the Scottish Journal of Geology, along with a full catalog of images of the 50 footprints.

The team has dated the tracks at about 170 million years of age, and conclude that they were made by the gargantuan animals as they waded through a shallow lagoon. In the distant past, when these tracks were made, Earth was a very different place. It was shortly after the time when Pangaea started to break apart, and our planet was transforming into the continents we know today.

In those days, experts believe that the area of Skye was positioned somewhere in the subtropic belt, with a much warmer climate. According to Brusatte, “This was a subtropical kind of paradise world, probably kind of like Florida or Spain today.”

The latest find of dinosaur prints in Scotland is a source of great excitement in the worlds of paleontology and geology because they are from the Middle Jurassic epoch.

As Brusatte explained to National Geographic, this was an important time in dinosaur evolution. It is probably the era when the first birds appeared and the largest species of a sauropod were thriving, but dinosaur fossils from this period are scarce compared to other periods.

The recent find follows hot on the heels of the discovery in 2015 of hundreds of Middle Jurassic sauropod tracks at another location on the Isle of Skye, Duntulm beach. The Brother’s Point prints were found in older rocks than those of the 2015 discovery.

The study has increased knowledge of dinosaurs from this era significantly and offered some valuable insights: for instance, sauropods were roaming this corner of the globe for a greater period of time than previously thought.

Sauropods were the largest land-dwelling animals at that time, and despite their size, they were plant-eating creatures. The field team not only mapped tracks from sauropods; scattered among them are distinctive three-toed prints belonging to theropods, a distant and more primitive relative of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. These meat-eating dinosaurs were able to grow to about 6.5 feet in height.

The largest sample of theropod footprint left on the Isle of Skye was about 19.6 inches across, which is still nowhere close to the largest belonging to a sauropod–one example of these was reportedly some 27.5 inches across.

The endeavors of the researchers were not without challenges. As the area is continuously hammered with cold winds and rain, the team could not easily proceed with mapping the area. Another challenge was the high tides that regularly reclaimed the footprints, hence the team was constantly clock-watching while they measured and inspected the tracks on the rocky ledges. They also had to improvise with cameras and equipment, but in the end, it paid off, as 3-D images of the terrain were produced.

Part of the dinosaur traces found were actually hand prints, Brusatte explained, a clue that it was a huge creature in question, like the sauropod. This enormous animal, which could grow up to 50 feet long, needed all four limbs to support itself while lumbering around. The theropod tracks indicate that these dinosaurs walked only on their hind legs.

Sauropods were previously thought to have been purely amphibious creatures, the Smithsonian notes. Paleontologists of the early 20th century believed that sauropods could not walk on the land because of their weight.

Evidence that was acquired later on proved the contrary. And the recent finds coming from Scotland suggest that, while some representatives of the species were able to move comfortably on land, others opted to wade through waters near the coast.

Related story from us: This dinosaur had a swan-like neck and crocodile teeth and walked like a duck and swam like a penguin

In fact, Brusatte remarked to National Geographic, sauropods “were so dynamic and so energetic,” meaning it is likely that they were abundant in various environments as their species spread around the world.

Brusatte also acknowledged that more Middle Jurassic era dinosaur fossils could lurk hidden on the Isle of Skye, hence this might be only the beginning of what this Scottish island has to offer to the knowledge of dinosaurs in the world.

Ancient Well With Stone Stairs Unearthed in Scotland

Ancient Well With Stone Stairs Unearthed in Scotland

An ancient well at the top of one of Scotland’s most iconic mountain peaks has been unearthed for the first time in hundreds of years.

Archaeologists from Aberdeen University’s Northern Picts projects made the incredible discovery this week at the Mither Tap, one of the summits of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire.

Ancient Well With Stone Stairs Unearthed in Scotland
The well was discovered at the top of Mither Tap, on Bennachie

The deep granite well would have served as a water source for the occupants of the impressive fort at the top of the hill, the remains of which can still be seen today.

Although it was previously discovered in the Victorian period, it was recovered and has lain beneath thousands of hillwalker’s feet ever since.

Gordon Noble, the head of archaeology at Aberdeen University, said: “We have been interested in this site for some time because Mither Tap hasn’t really been excavated in any scale since the 19th century.

“We received permission from Historic Environment Scotland – as it’s a scheduled monument – to open up a number of trenches in the area to get dating evidence from all around the fort at the top of Mither Tap.

“We were really expecting to find a pretty bog-standard well, but we uncovered these fantastic steps leading all the way down to the well chamber.

“It’s particularly sophisticated for the period and created a huge amount of excitement both in the team and online.

“It really gives you an idea of the efforts that would have gone into building this fort – the ramparts would have been huge.”

It is not yet known precisely what historic period the well belongs to.

Mr. Noble said a shepherd put a large rock into the well at one point to prevent his livestock from falling in, and it currently blocks access to its lower levels.

He added: “We’re hoping to try and get the stone out to look underneath, but we’ll see what happens.

“I hope we’ll be able to find intact deposits we can sample for dating, or do some pollen sampling to find out about the environment at the time the well was used.

“But even without that, it’s still an incredibly exciting sight to see.”

The team hope to conclude their initial excavations by the end of next week and could return to the Mither Tap in the future subject to funding.

Visitors are invited to go and see the well and the rest of the ongoing archaeology work on Sunday, from 11 am to 1 pm.

Roman Army Camp Uncovered in Scotland

Roman Army Camp Uncovered in Scotland

The remains were uncovered during building work
The remains were uncovered during building work

A marching camp used by the Legions as they made their way along the coast was found by a team carrying out work prior to the building of the new Ayr Academy.

It is thought to date back to the 1st century AD, when an army under Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britain, fought its way up to Aberdeenshire and defeated an army of Caledonians at the battle of Mons Grampius.

The only two known routes for the Roman invasion were previously thought to be further east; these same routes are followed by the current M74 and A68 roads.

But the new marching camp at Ayr reveals another route down the west coast towards the south-west tip of Scotland, from where Ireland is readily visible.

The discovery was made during archaeological excavations undertaken by GUARD Archaeology but only became apparent upon post-excavation analyses and radiocarbon dating.

Iraia Arabaolaza, who directed the excavation, said: ‘There was a ford across the river Ayr just below the Roman marching camp while ships may have been beached on the nearby shoreline.”The Ayr marching camp is 20 miles from the nearest Roman camp to the south at Girvan, which corresponds to a day’s march for a Roman soldier.”

There is a little more distance to other Roman camps to the north-east near Strathaven. Altogether this suggests that this site was chosen as a strategic location for the Roman conquest of Ayrshire.”

Roman marching camps have been described as the temporary bases of a tented army on campaign. While most Roman camps are usually recognised by the regular linear ditches which enclose them, landscaping or ploughing at the Ayr Academy site appears to have destroyed any such remains.

The camp at Ayr Academy, however, shares other similarities with Roman camps in Scotland, which have also revealed similar formations of fire-pits or camp-ovens. Ms Arabaolaza said: “The Roman features comprised 26 large, often double, fire-pits that were distributed evenly in two parallel rows 30m apart.

The arrangement and uniformity of these features implies an organised layout and the evidence suggests that they were all used for baking bread.”The location of the oven was recognised by the scorching of the subsoil base, stone slabs and burnt clay fragments, some with wood imprints and with dome moulding.

Ash pits were identified at the opposite end to the ovens within these figure-of-eight features, filled with burnt and charcoal-rich soil comprising the raked-out material from the clay-domed ovens.”It is also possible that the archaeological remains only represent a portion of the camp, which may have extended into the flat land to the north, where the modern racecourse is situated.

Archaeologists said that the Romans were not the first people to occupy the site. Traces of the local Iron Age population were recovered during the excavation, including a fragment of a shale bracelet, along with pits and post-holes that date to much earlier times.

Evidence of Bronze Age ritual activity from the late third and second millennium BC, a Neolithic settlement from the fourth millennium BC and a Mesolithic hunter/gatherer camp from the sixth millennium BC was also discovered, revealing the area to be one of the earliest and most complex prehistoric sites in this part of the west coast of Scotland.

This indicates the earliest occupation of the Ayr Academy site goes back to around 5200 BC, roughly twice as old as the Roman Marching Camp.

After defeating the Caledonians, Agricola returned south. Scotland would be invaded by the Romans again a century later when the Emperor Septimus Severus ventured north to put down raiding tribes.