Category Archives: SCOTLAND

Scottish storms unearth 1,500-year-old Viking-era cemetery

Scottish storms unearth 1,500-year-old Viking-era cemetery

The native Picts, a Celtic-language speaking tribe, once populated the Scottish Islands, similar to the natives that live on what is now Scotland. 

Archaeologists and volunteers are working to preserve human bones exposed by recent storms in an ancient cemetery above a beach on the Orkney Islands.

Several powerful storms on Scotland’s Orkney Islands have now revealed ancient human remains in a Pictish and Viking cemetery dated back to about 1,500 years ago.

To order to protect the damage to the former Newark Bay cemetery on Orkney’s largest island, volunteers are now placing sandbags and clay around. The site dates from the middle of the sixth century when ancient Pictish people inhabited the Orkney Islands.

The site is currently being protected by sandbags.

Picts or Norse?

The cemetery was used for about 1,000 years, and numerous burials from the ninth to the 15th century were Norsemen or Vikings who had seized the Orkney Islands from the Picts. Now, storm waves are destroying the low cliff where the ancient site is located, Peter Higgins from the Orkney Research Center for Archaeology (ORCA), said.

“Every time we have a storm with a bit of a south-easterly [wind], it really gets in there and actively erodes what is just soft sandstone,” Higgins explained.

Approximately 250 skeletons were taken out of the cemetery about 50 years ago, but researchers do not know how far the site extends from the beach. They believe that hundreds of Pictish and Norse bodies are still buried there.

“The local residents and the landowner have been quite concerned about what’s left of the cemetery being eroded by the sea,” Higgins said.

Uncovered bones are usually either coated with clay to protect them or removed from the site after their positions are thoroughly labeled, so it is rather unusual for bones to end up on the beach, he explained.

Researchers do not know yet of the exposed bones belong to Picts or Vikings, as no burial objects or funeral clothes were spotted, and the bodies were buried four of five layers under the surface.

Cultural Transition

Historians claim that the first Norse immigrants to the Orkney Islands established there in the late eighth century, leaving a rising new monarchy in Norway. They used the Orkney Islands to begin their own voyages and Viking raids, and ultimately, all the islands were ruled by the Norse, according to The Scotsman.

The relationship between the Picts and the Norse on the Orkney Islands is highly argued by scholars. They cannot know for sure whether the Norse took over by force, or were settlers who traded and entered marriage with the Picts. However, now, the ancient cemetery at Newark Bay may help researchers answer their questions.

“The Orkney Islands were Pictish, and then they became Norse,” Higgins said. “We’re not really clear how that transition happened, whether it was an invasion, or people lived together. This is one of the few opportunities we’ve got to investigate that.”

A part of the scientific work on the remains would require testing genetic material from the ancient bones, which might demonstrate that some people living on the Orkney Islands today are successors of people who lived there more than 1,000 years ago.

The scientific study of bones from the ancient cemetery at Newark Bay could reveal clues to the cultural transition from Pictish to Norse domination of the Orkney Islands.

“We’re fairly confident that we’re going to find that some local residents are related to people in the cemetery,” Higgins said.

Traces of 18th-Century Glass Factory Uncovered in Scotland

Traces of 18th-Century Glass Factory Uncovered in Scotland

Interesting traces of Leith’s glass-making past are being uncovered as preparatory works to construct a new residential development gather steam.

The City of Edinburgh Council lodged proposals by Barratt Homes to develop 212 new apartments plus commercial units on a former industrial land stretch near Leith Docks at Salamander Lane. two years ago and are currently at the consultation stage.

Work is already underway to prepare the site ahead of full planning approval, with a number of buildings that were once home to Garland and Roger Ltd timber yard and a six-metre-high boundary wall cleared at the start of the year.

Workers and archaeologists are now starting to uncover traces of an almost extinct Leith industry which has flourished for centuries and was even responsible for the naming of the road on which it was situated.

There was evidence of the once enormous glasswork in Salamander Lane, which can trace its origins from more than two and a half centuries to 1747.

Remnants of the Edinburgh and Leith Glass Works, which can trace its roots back to the 1740s, have been uncovered.

Aerial photographs show the re-emergence of what’s left of one of the glassworks’ six huge furnace cones as well as a number of other buildings, including workshop and warehouse remains.

The furnace cones measured between 80 and 100 feet in height with a diameter of around 40 feet at the base. The brick-built sixsome towered above the Leith skyline at the time and could be easily spotted from the slopes of Calton Hill more than two miles away.

Archaeologists are currently on-site examining the glassworks buildings and deep layers of ancient beach sand deposits that have been exposed as a result of the excavation.  John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Council’s Archaeologist, said his team is hopeful of uncovering important artefacts during the dig.

Remains of one of the glassworks’ six furnace cones (right-hand side of image) are now visible from above.

He said: “Archaeological investigations have just started on the site which once housed the nationally significant Edinburgh and Leith Glass Works and formed an iconic element of Leith’s industrial skyline.

“It is hoped that the excavations will reveal important evidence as to its development since it moved to this site in the mid 18th Century.”

This image taken by Thomas Begbie in the 1850s captures two of the glassworks’ furnace cones.

From the 14th century onwards, Leith boasted trading links with Europe and the world, importing and exporting a wide range of shipments. Alcohol was among the most sought after produce being brought in and the harbour was regularly flooded with casks and barrels of fine French wine, sweet Spanish sherry and Portuguese port.

Leith’s growing whisky industry and Edinburgh being a burgeoning centre for medicine meant an increasing demand for glass products, further underlining the need for a dedicated glassware and bottling works. As chance would have it, the old port was the perfect home for such an industry as the district boasted substantial quantities of sand and kelp – both of which were essential in glass manufacturing during the Georgian era.

Following the opening of earlier works elsewhere at Leith Citadel and in Edinburgh, the first furnace at what would become the Edinburgh and Leith Glass Works on Salamander Street was fired up in 1747. The works opened on the border of what was then Leith Sands, which, for more than 200 years, was home to Scotland’s main horse racing event, the infamous Leith Races.

A total of six giant, brick-built cones had risen from the site by 1783 and would continue to belch out fire and smoke for the best part of the next century. The amphibian-sounding Salamander Street appeared on maps in the early 19th century and was even coined, it is thought, as an allusion to the glass-making industry – the salamander being supposedly fire-proof, according to medieval legend.

At its height, the glassworks had a lot of bottles, producing in excess of one million glass vessels per week – but it wouldn’t last forever. Editions of The Scotsman dating from 1874 record that the dissolution of the Edinburgh and Leith Glass Works Company occurred in December of that year.

The site was put up for lease and the entire plant, stock and materials of the glassworks, which included a 6-horse power horizontal steam engine; a grinding mill; a “first-class nearly new” turning lathe; and all manner of pot-boards; tank rings and “bottle moulds of ever variety from flasks to carboys”, were listed for auction.

Local Blue Badge tourist guide and historian Fraser Parkinson says he hopes chiefs of the ongoing residential development are respectful of the history being uncovered.

He said: “The glass making industry had a strong footing in Leith until the second half of the 19th century, so it is really exciting to be able to view the footprint of the old glass making buildings and especially the foundations of the old cones which could be seen from Calton Hill.

“It’s a brief but appreciated glimpse back in time. Let’s hope that the developers make good recordings of what is unearthed before moving onto Leith’s future buildings.”

The last of the glass works’ furnace cones was demolished in 1912. The timber yard of Garland & Rogers Ltd filled the space in the decades that followed, as one by one Leith’s traditional industries slowly began to disappear.

Pictish Hillfort Unearthed in Central Scotland

Ancient ‘power centre’ uncovered in Perthshire, Scotland

A hilltop fort near Dunkeld was an important Pictish power centre, say archaeologists who excavated the site. Evidence of metal and textile production were revealed at King’s Seat Hillfort, a legally protected site.

Finds such as glass beads and pottery suggested the Picts who occupied the site in the 7th to 9th centuries had trade links with continental Europe.

Other finds included pieces of Roman glass that were recycled and reused as gaming pieces.

In a new report on last year’s excavations, archaeologists said the wealth of finds suggested the site had been a stronghold of the elite in the local population, with “influence over the trade and production of high-status goods”.

Fragments of pottery – of the kind made in continental Europe – and Anglo-Saxon glass beads suggested the Picts were trading far afield. As well as evidence of metal-working, spindle whorls used in textile production were found.

Roman glass recycled and reused as a gaming piece was among the finds at the site

Archaeologists said the artefacts uncovered were in keeping with other high-status, royal sites of early historic Scotland, including the early Dalriadic capital of Dunadd in Argyll and the Pictish royal centre of Dundurn near St Fillan’s by Loch Earn.

Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT) worked with Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society, archaeological contractors AOC Archaeology Ltd on the digs.

Thirty community volunteers and Pitlochry High School students assisted with the excavations.

Last year’s work marked the third and final season of excavations as part of the King’s Seat Hillfort Community Archaeology Project. The site is a scheduled ancient monument and digs can only be done with prior permission.

A fragment of Anglo-Saxon drinking vessel

David Strachan, director of PKHT, said: “We have uncovered lots of evidence of how people were living and working, and the remains of a building with a large hearth on the summit, with fragments of glass drinking vessels, gaming pieces, animal bone and horn.

“They paint a vivid picture of high-status people gathering and feasting, decorated in the latest high-status jewellery and ornamentation.”

Cath MacIver, of AOC Archaeology, said crucibles, whetstones, stone and clay moulds found indicated that craft production took place at the hillfort.

“What’s particularly interesting is that evidence of this activity has been found in all of the trenches [excavated areas],” she said.

“There must have been a lot of iron and other metalworking going on here making the site an important centre for production – not just the home of a small group of people making items for their own use.”

Mysterious 5,000-Year-Old Rock-Cut Tomb On Dark Enchanted Island Of Hoy, Scotland

Mysterious 5,000-Year-Old Rock-Cut Tomb On Dark Enchanted Island Of Hoy, Scotland

 An ancient and huge piece of red sandstone which called “Dwarfie Stane”. This 5,000-year-old block is surrounded by mystery, which has not been solved until today. There is no record who, in what manner and for what purpose or purposes, made this great job.

The curious stone lies in a steep-sided and remote valley between Quoys and Rackwick on the island of Hoy, in Orkney, Scotland and is believed to be Britain’s only example of a rock-cut tomb.

Between the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age, probably estimated 3,000 BC, it was thought to have been built. Similar tombs found in the Mediterranean region are the basis for this assessment.

What is so special with this gigantic slab? The “Dwarfie Stane” was once hollowed out by someone who had at his disposal rather simple tools, patience and enormous muscle power of his body.

The stone slab is about 8.5 meters (28 ft) long, by 4 meters (13 ft) wide and up to 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) high. An opening, a 1 meter (3.3 ft) square was cut out into the middle of the stone’s west face and leads into the inner chamber.

Inside the tomb is a passage 2.2 meters (7.2 ft) long and two rock-cut cells similar to bed-places and measuring 1.7 meters (5.6 ft) by 1 meter (3.3 ft). Both the passage and the side cells are 1 meter (3.3 ft) high.

Interestingly, both “bed-places”, which seem to be too short for anyone of normal stature, are responsible for diverse folk tales and legends about dwarfs and these old stories surround the site.

Both cells (bed-places) have curving walls, the southern one is somewhat larger and has a small ledge at the back end.

There was a time when visitors to the “Dwarfie Stane” used to leave offerings at the site. Why? Was the chamber built for a hermit, a monk perhaps, who lived there alone?

It is said that a large sandstone block lying outside the opening was initially used to seal the opening; the mysterious tomb was still sealed in the 16th century.

There is no record of any archaeological excavation being carried out on the mysterious stone slab, nor do we know what, if anything, was found inside.

However, there is a trace after a hole (later filled with concrete), probably an attempt to break into the stone ‘s interior via the roof.

According to an ancient Orcadian legend, the Dwarfie Stane was said to be the work of a giant and his wife. A third giant, who wanted to make himself the master of the island of Hoy, imprisoned the gargantuan couple inside the stone. But his evil plans failed because the imprisoned giant managed to find his way out through the roof of the chamber.