The Society is pleased to announce the publication of four new Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports, available now via the SAIR website.
The most recent papers report on excavations at Knappach Toll on Balbridie Farm, Aberdeenshire; North Barr River, Morvern; 19 West Tollcross, Edinburgh; and St Mary’s RC Primary School, Edinburgh. The Society gratefully acknowledges funding towards the publication of SAIR 83 from Historic Environment Scotland, for SAIR 84 from Forestry and Land Scotland, for SAIR 85 from Watkin Jones, and for SAIR 86 from Morrison Construction.
To read the abstracts and access the papers, please see the details below:
SAIR 83 Knappach Toll, Balbridie: a late 3rd-millenium BC Beaker burial on Deeside, Aberdeenshire
by Olivia Lelong with contributions by Iraia Arabaolaza, Torben Ballin, Jane Evans, Richard P Evershed, Susanna Kirk, Angela Lamb, Dawn McLaren, Neil Wilkin and Lucija Šoberl
A short cist discovered during ploughing at Knappach Toll on Balbridie Farm, Aberdeenshire held the remains of an adult accompanied by a Beaker, fragments of a copper awl and 11 struck flints. Little survived of the skeleton except for cranial fragments, but these indicate that the person had been placed with the head to the west, with the artefacts also at that end. While the sex of the person is indeterminate, with the single surviving sexual dimorphic trait suggesting a male, the position of the body and the presence of the awl are more usually indicative of a female. Radiocarbon dating shows that the person died between 3775±35 years BP (SUERC-30852) and 2330–2040 cal BC (95.4% probability). Stable isotope analysis indicates that he or she grew up on basalt geology, like that of the region, or on chalk. Residue analysis of the Beaker has established that it had held ruminant animal fat such as butter or milk, probably for some time, and some of the flint pieces had been lightly used. The composition and constituents of the burial suggest links between north-east Scotland and East Yorkshire. They also evoke the cultural practices that were spreading across eastern Britain in the later 3rd millennium BC through the mechanisms of cultural transmission and migration.
SAIR 84 Mesolithic and later activity at North Barr River, Morvern
by Gavin MacGregor with contributions by Alistair Beckett, Ann Clarke, Nyree Finlay, David Sneddon and Jennifer Miller
At North Barr River, Morvern, inspection of forestry planting mounds on a raised beach terrace identified a chipped stone assemblage associated with upcast deposits containing charcoal. An archaeological evaluation of the site, funded by Forestry Commission Scotland, sought to better understand the extent and character of this Mesolithic and later prehistoric lithic scatter. The lithic assemblage is predominantly debitage with some microliths and scrapers. The range of raw materials including flint, Rùm bloodstone and baked mudstone highlights wider regional networks. Other elements, including a barbed and tanged arrowhead, belong to later depositional episodes. Two mid-second millennium BC radiocarbon dates were obtained from soil associated with some lithics recovered from a mixed soil beneath colluvial deposits. The chronology of a putative stone bank or revetment is uncertain but the arrangement of stone may also date to the second millennium BC.
SAIR 85 The changing face of industry in west Edinburgh
by Laura Bailey and Morag Cross
Excavations on a site at 19 West Tollcross, Edinburgh, produced evidence of activity in the area from the medieval period to the 20th century. The medieval remains are likely to relate to activity on the periphery of a settlement in the hinterland of Edinburgh, thus confirming the archaeological potential of settlements now subsumed under the modern city. Excavation through the deep stratigraphy, when supplemented with documentary evidence, offered a glimpse into evolution of the area from an ‘agricultural landscape’ to an ‘industrial’ area, constantly being transformed in line with contemporary technological innovations. More recent remains associated with Lochrin Distillery, slaughterhouses, Edinburgh Ice and Cold Storage Company’s unit, an ice rink and a garage were uncovered.
SAIR 86 ‘Great fears of the sickness here in the City … God preserve us all …’ A Plague Burial Ground in Leith, 1645: an archaeological excavation at St Mary’s (Leith) RC Primary School, Leith Links, Edinburgh
by Megan Stoakley with contributions from Richard Newman, Anne Crone, Lynne F Gardiner, George Haggarty, Janet Montgomery, Mandy Jay, Geoff Nowell and Jo Peterkin
Illustrations by Adrian Bailey
In 2016, Wardell Armstrong undertook an archaeological excavation at St Mary’s (Leith) RC Primary School, Edinburgh. The archaeological excavation revealed four phases of activity; Phases 1 and 2 comprised coffined and uncoffined human burials. The lack of infectious pathognomic skeletal lesions, the dating of the finds, the dendrochronological analysis of the coffin wood and technological data, along with the known historic land use of the area, all indicate that the burial ground relates to the 1645 outbreak of plague in Leith. Dendrochronological analysis revealed a terminus post quem felling date of c 1640 for the coffin wood, while analysis of the coffins’ manufacture revealed hasty construction methods. Phase 3 comprised a series of waste disposal pits of 19th-century date. Phase 4 comprised levelling deposits, which were likely associated with the construction of the school and the demolition of the 19th-century smallpox hospital located to the north of the site. A total of 81 individuals were interred at the site. Adults represent 68.3% while non‐adults represent 31.7%. All age groups were present except neonates. Artefacts including keys, coins, sewing kits and combs were recovered. That the bodies were interred seemingly fully clothed and the corpses not rifled prior to burial strongly indicates a fear of the diseased corpse. The presence of everyday items on the bodies may also indicate a more sudden death outside the sick bed, possibly indicating the occurrence of septicaemic plague. Frequent occupation and attrition-related skeletal and dental pathologies indicate lives characterised by poverty and toil. Strontium analysis revealed that almost all individuals were local to Leith; several individuals had rosary or paternoster beads, indicating a likely Catholic affiliation, which would have been risky given that the pro-Presbyterian Covenant was signed in Leith in 1638. In contrast to older children, the younger children were interred in coffins, indicating differing views on the treatment of the body.
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