Kids, corbelling and ceramics

Over the past two days we have been bringing the Iron Age to local primary school pupils, and its fair to say they relished the opportunity! Yesterday, 22 P2-P7 pupils from Dunbeath Primary came up to visit us at the broch, learning all about the broch and our work there, and trying their hand at some corbelling. Today, we went to Lybster Primary School and the P5-P7s from from Dunbeath and Lybster participated in two workshops, one with AOC’s communtiy archaeologist and one with re-enactor and experimental archaeologist James Dilley of Ancientcraft. Participants learned all about brochs and the Iron Age and made their own mini replica coil-built pots.

We were delighted to receive a bundle of drawings from pupils from Dunbeath who had visited the broch yesterday, and we’ve included a few below.

We’d like to say a massive thank you to pupils and teachers from both schools for clearing time in their busy calendars to participate in the  project, and for showing such enthusiasm for the Iron Age.



A selection of coil-built pots made by pupils from Dunbeath and Lybster Primary Schools
A selection of coil-built pots made by pupils from Dunbeath and Lybster Primary Schools


The tale of the cell

In order to investigate the cell within the walls of the broch we have been excavating a trench in front of its entrance. The main aims of this work are to determine whether this is a pimary feature or a later rebuild and to establish the extent of clearance carried out within the broch in the 19th century.

We started with removing the turf and topsoil across the trench. Then  we dug into a deep deposit of rubble and shattered stone extending to the base of the broch walls, within the rubble we found a clay pipe and a button discarded or lost by Victorian diggers. Underlying the rubble was a buried ground surface, upon which the broch appears to have been built.

Volunteer Erland recording the trench section

We are now in a good place to start to answer some of our research questions of the project. The lack of any soft deposits within the centre of the broch implies that these were all removed by Sinclair’s excavations in the 1860’s who must have excavated to the bottom of the broch walls. We can now also be quite sure that the cell is a later insertion into the structure as we can see that the threshold of the entrance to the cell sits around 75cm above the bottom of the broch walls. This implies that when the cell was constructed material had collected within the interior of the broch to this level.

There is still lots of work to do recording and backfilling the trench, as well as ongoing work in other areas of the broch but that is for another post.

Work begins at Dunbeath Broch

We have started our programme of archaeological investigation and consolidation at Dunbeath Broch!

We began by opening a trench in the broch interior, placed in front of the entrance to a cell within the wall thickness. This aims to clarify the nature of this cell and whether it is a primary construction or a later insertion into the broch.

Excavating the trench in front of the cell entrance.

We have also started to clear the guard cell on the right hand side of the entrance passage and are beginning our work on stabilising the stonework of the broch wall.

We’ll share more here as work continues – in the meantime, do come and pay us a visit, or get involved!

Untangling the walls

In order to consolidate and stabile the west wall of the broch, we have been excavating a possible opening within the inner wall. This has also given us a great oppertunity to investigate the opening as it was potentially the entrance to the stair gallery.

Our excavations in this area were through a thick deposit of rubble and shattered stone, that was the backfill of the Victorian excavations. From this backfill deposit we found two squared pieces of bone decorated with groups of concentric circles. These are possibly gaming pieces, the style of decoration is common in Iron Age and Early Historic bone objects such as combs and handles.

Renna shows off the first of two decorated bone pieces that she found at the broch.

After the excitement of finding broch period artefcats in the Victorian backfill, what of the possible stair entrance? The walls of the opening through the iner broch wall are built on rubble from the collapsing broch, and are not a primary build. It is likely that these walls are an artefact of the Victorian excavation and repair, but they may reflect original openings seen during these early excavations and no longer visible.

As with at much of the broch we are now finished excavating in this area and will need to start the consolidation and conservation of the monument.