A restful day

A good part of today was spent cleaning in order to photograph the site. We have now reached the levels where Tress Barry and his team stopped and after lunch we began to excavate inside the buildings. The team worked hard excavating hearth fills, floors etc. The ubiquitous stone tools and pottery were recovered. Next week promises to be exciting when we get into the Iron Age levels.

General shot of the Jelly Baby building, taken facing east.

Today was tinged with sadness as we said farewell to a number of volunteers. The Belfast crew: Gary, Stephen, Neil and Paul had their last day on site. They have been terrific and totally committed. They are a credit to Queens University Belfast and we look forward to seeing them again soon. Each day they have travelled many miles to come to site and have always been full of enthusiasm and kindness. We will miss them. They were last seen heading to Wick.

We also said goodbye to Roland and Jenny from Beauly. They have been a wonderful couple to work with and we will miss their brilliant company. And the unrelenting banter….

Over the week we have been really pleased with the number of visitors to the site. We have noticed an increase in the number of visitors who have travelled to the county primarily to see the archaeology. This is a welcome trend and one we would not have seen a few years ago. Finally, people seem to be appreciating the rich heritage of the area.

We end today’s diary by saying hello to AOC’s Graeme, who has headed off to spend a couple of days on other AOC projects. Hurry back. Jack says hi.

Day off tomorrow. Off to see more archaeology!

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Contact with the Romans

Bad weather on site today: rain and wind but our hardy volunteers persevered.

Colin continued digging outside the rampart confirming that the rampart and ditch were monumental. It is incredible how much rubble and earth Colin has moved in two days.

Most of the team continued  cleaning up the two probable Pictish houses. Eric and Anne came down to layers where Tress Barry stopped and found burning and pottery. We are confident there are untouched deposits lurking beneath.

Ronald (aka Roland) did a great job cleaning up the other building and tomorrow we will be ready to excavate the interior deposits.

At the end of the day Rhona uncovered part of a beautiful glass melon bead in the area of burning to the north-west of the Jelly Baby building. These beads are dated to between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD.

Fragment of melon bead found in context 2011

During this year’s dig we have found evidence for non ferrous metalworking and jewellery. Together with the previous Roman finds and the emerging structural monumentality there can be no doubt of the site’s importance during the first millennium AD.

We are now at a stage to delve into the emerging Iron Age deposits. Who knows what we will find.

Volunteers numbers remained very high today as did the number of visitors.

As I write this, the Scrabble game is too close to call….

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Beautiful bone needle discovered

Meg found one of the nicest finds from the excavations today- a complete bone needle, in excellent condition.


The bone needle immediately after discovery

As we should have expected, things are becoming more complex than initially appeared, and we now seem to have at least three cellular ‘Pictish’ buildings, perhaps all of different date. The plot thickens…

Our post-excavation work is going well too, and Mark found what may be a fragment of crucible in one of the samples from Thrumster broch.

Thanks to everyone for sticking with us during some challenging weather today- the results are worth it though!


Our hardy volunteers dig on despite the inclement weather. What a team!

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Progress on Day 3

Work today focussed mainly on the building in the northern area of the trench (OB1) as Paul continued in his painstaking task of drawing the rest of the trench to scale. The walls in OB1 are becoming clearer as rubble and topsoil is cleared away, and the structure’s true shape continues to become apparent.

Volunteers Sheila and Jenny excavated slots in the wallhead of the southern wall of OB4, the large building in the east of our trench. We wanted to try to establish if the wall was free standing or dug into the ground (a common feature in so-called Jelly Baby houses); it appears to be free standing.

Sheila and Jenny hard at work

Colin, Neil, Gordon and Mark continued to investigate the southern end of the rampart excavated during the first phase of excavations. They revealed the earliest phase of the rampart’s structure, which probably relates to the early Iron Age. Tomorrow they will continue to excavate and remove the rubble from the rampart’s collapse.

AOC’s post-excavation specialist Jackaline has been processing the soil samples from Yarrows Heritage Trust’s excavations at Thrumster Broch in July. Jack had three willing volunteers with her at the Castlehill Research Facility in Castletown today. The samples have yielded Iron Age pottery, peat, charred cereal remains including barley and oats, charred heather leaves and identifiable shards of animal bone. The presence of charred heather leaves suggests the burning of peat. Although the samples are a silty clay (and so harder to wet sieve), Andi, Hazel, Diana and Paul have been powering through them with boundless enthusiasm.

The volunteers both at the Broch and at the Research Facility have been toiling away without showing any signs of slowing. We are making great progress and are excited by the prospect of what remains to be revealed.

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Thank you!


We’re very pleased with our excellent thank you card from the pupils of Keiss primary!

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Iron knife


The bone handled knife found by Jenny yesterday.

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HRH Prince of Wales visits Nybster Broch

Second day on site was very exciting and eventful. Following a tour of the Caithness Broch Centre HRH Prince Charles visited the site. He met various members of the excavation team, including pupils from Keiss Primary School. Graeme gave a tour of the site, during which Jenny found a wonderful bone handled knife which the Duke of Rothesay found very interesting.

After Prince Charles left it poured down. Work then continued on cleaning up the possible jellybaby house and the surrounding area. Already we are revealing more walls and pottery. Mark, Colin, Gordon and Neil starting digging outside the rampart looking for evidence of pre-broch activity. A hard day deturfing and cleaning will prove beneficial tomorrow.


Some of us were muddier than others at the end of the day...

Volunteers and visitors numbers remained very high with around 50 people on site. We have to welcome Gary, Paul, Neil and Stephen who have come all the way from Belfast. Our youngest member on site, Danny, enjoyed digging and rolling in the mud!!


Trench tour at the end of the day

It has been a good day. As we write this the Princes’s visit has gained national press coverage which is great for the site and testament to the hard work of the local community in increasing interest in their wonderful, but understudied, heritage.

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Back on site


The team returned to Nybster today after a three month break. The community turnout was very high with over 30 volunteers: a good mixture of Caithnesians and visitors from as far afield as Belfast and Switzerland.

Over the next two weeks were are concentrating on digging a building that looks like a cellular or ‘jellybaby’ house. In other areas these date to the Pictish period, roughly 1500 years ago.

The team worked tirelessly and deturfed almost all of the site. Tomorrow we will clean back but already walls, paving and possible hearths are appearing. Local school teacher Rhona, surprise surprise, was the first person to find pottery! We also found an antler pick which may be Iron Age in date.

Andy and Graeme from AOC Archaeology gave an evening lecture in Auckengill Community Hall which outlined what the team found a few months ago and what we hope to achieve in the coming weeks.

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Traditional skills workshop, Saturday 9th July

Auckengill Heritage Trust will be holding a free traditional skills workshop on Saturday 9th July – have a go at farming and dairy skills such as grinding flour and making butter, and learn about sheep shearing.

All ages are welcome (children must be accompanied by an adult) and all materials will be provided.

Workshop will be held at the Caithness Broch Centre in Auckengill, 2pm-4pm, Saturday 9th July.

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Wet sieving of soil samples

Jackaline Robertson of AOC Archaeology Group went up to Castletown last week to supervise the wet sieving of the soil samples collected during excavations in April/May. Eight volunteers were trained over the course of a week,  processing around 45 10l buckets of soil at the Castlehill Archaeological Research Facility.

Preliminary findings include cereal grains, charcoal fragments, burnt bone fragments, limpet shells and animal bone fragments (pig, juvenile sheep, cow). Evidence including a charred seaweed pod suggests that seaweed may have been burnt for fuel.

Fragments of daub were also discovered, as well as small pieces of pottery, a possible fragment of crucible, and a fragment of what looks like a large bead. Photos will be posted soon.

Thanks very much to everyone who helped process the numerous samples.

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