Three Phases of Wooden Wagon Way Uncovered in Scotland
BBC News reports that three layers of wooden tracks constructed for the horse-drawn Tranent Waggonway have been uncovered in East Lothian by researchers from the 1722 Waggonway Project.
The Tranent Waggonway in East Lothian was first constructed in 1722.
It was initially built for hauling coal from a pit at Tranent to Cockenzie and Port Seton for use as fuel in a process for making salt.
New archaeological excavations have revealed three wooden railways, each one laid immediately on top of the last.
The 1722 Waggonway Project said it appeared to have been an attempt to upgrade the railway with “crudely cut timbers” over a short period of time.
The gauge – the distance between the two rails – was also changed from an initial 3ft 3in (about one metre) in the first phase to 4ft (1.2m) in the second and third phases.
The project team said there was no other site like it in railway archaeology.
Its research has identified the three phases of upgrades happening between 1722-25, 1728-30 and 1743-44.
The second phase was described as “extremely well constructed”, with cobbles laid to form a track between the rails for the horses that pulled the waggons.
Railway historian Anthony Leslie Dawson said: “Whilst we know these railways had a limited lifespan due to their method of construction, to see this process of continual replacement and upgrade – including a change of gauge – in the archaeological record is outstanding.
“The waggonway excavation has shown that these waggonways are far more complex than the single-phase structures previously excavated, and the survival of timber on-site including joints helps us further understand the construction of these early railways.”
The project’s archaeologists also excavated a salt pan building in Cockenzie, and discovered evidence of use of the site in the production of salt lasted from 1630 to about 1780.
Mysterious stone balls made 5,500 years ago were discovered on the island’s ancient tomb
Two polished stone balls shaped about 5,500 years ago — linked to a mysterious practice almost unique to Neolithic Britain — have been discovered in an ancient tomb on the island of Sanday, in the Orkney Islands north of mainland Scotland.
Hundreds of similar stone balls, each about the size of a baseball, have been found at Neolithic sites mainly in Scotland and the Orkney Islands, but also in England, Ireland and Norway, Live Science previously reported.
Some are ornately carved — such as the famous Towie ball discovered in northeast Scotland in 1860 — but others are studded with projections or smoothly polished.
Early researchers suggested that the balls were used as weapons, and so they were sometimes called “mace heads” as a result. Another idea is that rope could have been wound around the lobes carved into some of the balls to throw them.
Archaeologists Reveal Medieval Saint’s Hut on Scottish Island Archaeologists have found evidence that the remains of a hut on the island of Iona date to the late sixth century A.D., the exact period when Saint Columba lived and worked at the site. Credit: University of Glasgow.
But most archaeologists now think the stone balls were made mainly for artistic purposes, perhaps to signify a person’s status in their community or to commemorate an important phase of their lives, said archaeologist Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancashire in England, who led the excavations of the tomb on Sanday.
The two stone balls found at the tomb near the beach at Tresness on Sanday — one made of black stone and the other of lighter-coloured limestone — are very early examples of such objects and were smoothly polished, rather than being carved like the Towie ball. Carving balls tended to happen later in the Neolithic period, she said, while polishing balls was generally an earlier practice.
The two polished balls “are much simpler, but they are still beautiful objects,” Cummings told Live Science. “They would have taken quite a long time to make because it is quite time-consuming to polish a stone … You’ve got to sit there with some sand and some water and a stone, and basically put the work in.”
This is one of the few times that stone balls have been found in their true archaeological context, Cummings said, which could shed light on the purpose of the mysterious objects. Each of the balls was found in the corners of two different compartments used to inter human remains in the burial chamber of the tomb, while other objects — especially pieces of pottery — were found along the compartment walls.
“Probably what was happening was that people were putting little slabs down and putting pots on top of these slabs,” Cummings said. “They really seemed to be interested in the walls and the corners.”
Inside the tomb, archeologists also found a deposit of cremated human bones near the entrances of two of the five compartments in the burial chamber, as well as several “scale knives,” which were made by breaking beach pebbles into flakes that had a sharp edge.
“You can use it as a really good butchery tool — and we found tons of those in the [tomb], which is really surprising. And that begs the question of what they [the makers] were up to,” Cummings said.
People may have used knives to separate the flesh from the bones of the dead. “It might suggest they were manipulating the human remains that were placed in the chamber — there are many traditions and lots of examples of that,” she said.
“The Orkney Islands might seem remote when you look at a map, but when you come here you see they are incredibly rich agricultural land that’s very easy to work,” Cummings said. “I think Neolithic people got here and were really successful — they found an environment that they just thrived in.”
The excavations on Sanday have been a joint effort between the University of Central Lancashire team, led by Cummings, and archaeologists from the National Museums Scotland led by Hugo Anderson-Whymark. The ancient tomb is near the coast and is vulnerable to being disturbed by a storm at sea, so the researchers are trying to find out as much as possible before the site is damaged, Cummings said.
The tomb and a Neolithic settlement they’ve excavated about a mile (1.6 kilometres) away would have been farther from the coast about 5,500 years ago, and the landscape would have had more trees than it does now, she said.
Although the tomb was investigated in the 1980s, only superficial excavations were made that didn’t reveal its old age. During the latest excavations, which took about four years to conclude, the researchers applied the latest archaeological techniques to the tomb, including making a three-dimensional photogrammetric model of it, Cummings said.
The archaeologists will now conduct analyses of the data gathered during the excavations, she said, which hopefully will provide even more information about the Neolithic people of the islands.
Scientists Reconstruct First-evolved Plant Roots Using 400-million-year-old Fossil
A plant fossil from a geological formation in Scotland sheds light on the development of the earliest known form of roots. A team led by researchers at GMI – the Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Oxford realize the first 3D reconstruction of a Devonian plant-based exclusively on fossil evidence.
The findings demonstrate that the appearance of different axis types at branching points resulted in the evolution complexity soon after land plants evolved sometime before 400 million years ago. The results are published in eLife.
New research demonstrates how the oldest known root axed developed more than 400 million years ago. The evolution of roots at this time was a dramatic event that impacted our planet and atmosphere and resulted in transformative ecological and climate change.
The first evidence-based 3D reconstruction of the fossil Asteroxylon mackiei, the most structurally complex plant from the Rhynie chert has shown how roots and other types of axes developed in this ancient plant. The fossil is preserved in chert (a type of flint) found near the village of Rhynie in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
The specimens are exceptionally well-preserved in the 407-million-year-old rocks from the Early Devonian period.
The extinct genus Asteroxylon belongs to the group of plants called the lycophytes, a class that also comprises living representatives such as isoetes and selaginella.
The reconstruction has allowed researchers, for the first time, to glean both anatomical and developmental information of this mysterious fossil. This is of particular significance because previous interpretations of the structure of this fossil plant were based to a large extent on comparisons of fragmentary images with extant plants.
The reconstruction demonstrates that these plants developed roots in an entirely different way than extant plants develop roots today. The rooting axes of A. mackiei are the earliest known types of plant roots.
“These are the oldest known structures that resemble modern roots and now we know how they formed. They developed when a shoot-like axis formed a fork where one prong maintained its shoot identity and the second developed root identity,” says Dolan.
This mechanism of branching, called “dichotomous branching,” is known in living plants within tissues that share structural identity. However, as Dolan stresses: “No roots develop in this way in living plants, demonstrating that this mechanism of root formation is now extinct.” Their findings demonstrate how a now extinct rooting system developed during the evolution of the first complex land plant.
“100 Years after the discovery of the fossils in Rhynie, our reconstruction demonstrates what these enigmatic plants really looked like! The reconstruction also demonstrates how the roots formed” exclaims GMI group leader Liam Dolan, co-corresponding author on the work.
Understanding the structure and evolution of these plants from the Early Devonian period provides us with an insight into events at a key time in Earth history just after plants colonized the dry surfaces of the continents as they began to spread – radiate – across the land.
“Their evolution, radiation, and spread across all continents had a dramatic impact on the Earth system. Plant roots reduced atmospheric CO2 levels, stabilized the soil and revolutionized water circulation across the surfaces of continents,” states first author and co-corresponding author Alexander (Sandy) J. Hetherington, group leader at the University of Edinburgh. At the root of the environmental and ecological impact of the plant, evolution are the plant roots themselves!
Hetherington highlighted how his research was enabled by fossils that were collected by generations of palaeontologists that are housed in many different museums and universities.
“The answers to so many of the key questions of evolution are lying in shelves in these institutions,” said the scientist who is now based at the University of Edinburgh. “Using digital 3D techniques it is possible for the first time to visualize the complex body plan of A. mackiei allowing us to discover how these enigmatic plants developed. It was brilliant to finally see details that had previously been hidden.”
5,000-Year-Old Wood Uncovered at Scotland’s Ness of Brodgar
Over the years of excavation, the Ness has produced so many surprises that some archaeologists thought we had exhausted all the possibilities.
Today we have yet another “first” as of Jan and Jo, working in Structure Twelve, and in the area to the east of the southern hearth, found Neolithic wood!
To be precise, this astonishing new discovery is in the vicinity of robbed-out orthostats close to the grand eastern entrance, which regular readers will remember is flanked and made special by two large external orthostats.
To the astonishment of Jan and Jo, the new post-holes are rectangular – indeed one is almost square – and at around 5 cm and 10cm wide, they are noticeably bigger than the stake-holes that represent cooking arrangements throughout the building.
Their unusual shape is likely to come from the way in which the wood was prepared, most probably being split radially and thus having a rectangular profile. Site director Nick thinks they may have been replacements for an orthostatic division that had provided a screen relating to the east entrance in the second phase of Structure Twelve’s life.
The wood is not in good condition, which is hardly surprising after thousands of years in the ground. It is, however, in a slight dip in the floor which may have allowed moisture to be present, thus preserving the material. As it is far too mushy to be lifted there are ongoing discussions as to the next move.
The aim is to recover it in a manner that might allow identification of the type of wood present. It might also be possible to see if the wooden stakes had been sharpened before being driven into the floor.
The post-holes could be half-sectioned, which might allow a view helping identification. Alternatively, micromorphological Jo may be able to insert one of her Kubiena tins (little open-ended square tins) to retrieve material.
We will let you know what happens.
Elsewhere in Structure Twelve, Sigurd is now planning his area of the north end and we have welcomed back Jenna and Andy Boyar, who has replaced Chris working outside the blocked north-west entrance. We wish safe travels to Chris and his wife, Jenny, and look forward to seeing them again next year.
In Structure Ten, Travis has been transferred from Trench J to give him a change of scenery and some new challenges as he works towards his archaeology diploma.
He has taken over the area where Ellen was removing the last of the black deposit over the yellow clay floor in the northern recess. Travis will complete the task.
This was also Holly’s last day in Structure Ten, but we have no doubt that she will be back in the future. In Trench J, and as mentioned yesterday, Michaela has continued to remove dumps inside the blocked south-east entrance of Structure Five and this will put us in a position to remove more of the stone blocking.
Also in Trench J, but this time in Structure Thirty-Two, Ceiridwen and Ray are uncovering a large pottery spread. The pot appears to be fairly fragmented so they are progressing with the utmost care. It is unlikely that this pot will be lifted until next week, so we will let you know what happens.
Speaking of pot, Roy has been working on the early round-bottomed vessel from Structure Five, which we mentioned earlier in the week.
Much of the pot was covered in clinging, and rapidly hardening, midden material but careful cleaning has revealed several more sherds, all with the distinguishing striation marks on the exterior surface made by the potter’s finishing process.
In addition, the two main sherds can now be seen to join, as can three other sherds which seem to be from the pot rim.
More may yet be discovered and, once more, we will let you know.
We were visited today by a film crew from Caledonia Productions in Glasgow.
They are doing preparatory work for a full-scale documentary next year and interviewed Nick, Mark, Clare and Gianluca.
Archaeologists make ‘astonishing’ discovery of 5,000-year-old piece of wood in Orkney
Archaeologists found the wood while excavating the Ness of Brodgar, home to a vast network of buildings, including a temple-style complex, that thrummed with activity during the Neolithic period.
Sigurd Towrie, of the University of Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, said it was the first time wood had been found on the site.
Mr Towrie said: “Over the years of excavation the Ness has produced so many surprises that some archaeologists thought we had exhausted all the possibilities. Not so.”
He said the “astonishing new discovery” of the wood was made at ‘structure 12’ on the site, a large rectangular building that is some 17-metres long.
The building was divided up inside by pillars to create a series of bays, alcoves and recesses which surrounded two large hearths.
Access to this was by three entrances, one that was flanked by a pair of standing stones that faced the burial chamber at Maeshowe, with the building likely a “stunning sight” in the immense Neolithic landscape of mainland Orkney.
Mr Towrie said the wood was found in a post hole and had survived probably due to its preservation under a tiny amount of water.
“Preservation of organic material is very rare,” he said.
“The post hole sat in a depression and we think some water had gathered. It creates anaerobic conditions, which slows down decay.”
While few trees stand on Orkney today, the islands were once rich in the woodland that disappeared over time due to rising sea levels.
Recent studies of the “woodlands under the waves” included analysis of remains of a forest, which had been pushed under the water at Bay of Ireland near Stromness, which has been dated to around 6,000-years-old.
“The earliest Neolithic settlements were made of wood and then they later switched to stone,” Mr Towrie said.
“The wood that we found is in very poor condition, but hopefully we will be able to tell what kind of wood it is and whether it was grown locally or imported.”
The Ness of Brodgar site covers around six acres between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
The earliest structures on the site were built around 3300 BC, with the site closed down and abandoned after around 1,000 years. The site was first excavated in 2003 with the summer excavations ending with Ness of Brodgar being covered up again for the winter.
Decorated stone slabs, thousands of sherds of pottery and a temple-style building are among key finds at Ness of Brodgar, an incredible site given its scale and central function to Neolithic life in Orkney.
Earlier this year, a potter’s fingerprint was discovered on a vessel made some 5,000 years ago, creating a “poignant connection” to the people who lived and visited here. Around 30 archaeologists are on the site this summer, with hundreds of visitors dropping by the site as work progresses.
Mr Towrie said: “On one day, we had 450 people here. It’s been great to be back on site again and to see so many people, and to still know that people really care about this place.”
Possible Medieval Road Uncovered Near Bannockburn Battlefield
A long stretch of road was uncovered on Saturday during the first-ever dig at Coxet Hill in Stirling. The hill is believed to be where the Scots King Robert the Bruce set up his camp to prepare for the battle ahead of the first day of fighting, on June 23, 1314.
It is also likely to be where the Scottish camp followers and soldiers untrained in Bruce’s tactics were based during the decisive second day when the English army was forced to flee.
These “Sma’ Folk”, concealed by the hill, are said to have emerged once victory was assured to block the line of retreat of King Edward II’s army to Stirling Castle and turned the Scottish victory into a rout.
Stirling archaeologist Dr Murray Cook, who organised the dig to mark the 707th anniversary of the battle, said the stone-built road would have gone around the hill, which was established as a hunting wood for game birds by King Alexander III in the 13th century.
It would have been used by Bruce and his army around the time of the battle, and Dr Cook believes it may also have been the route taken by the Sma’ Folk when they caused panic in the English ranks.
Dr Cook said: “Where we thought we had a boundary around Alexander III’s New Park, it now appears we have a road. We’ve got a 100-metre section of it, probably four metres wide.
“This hard-packed stone road or track curves around the bottom of the Coxet Hill and doesn’t show on any of the maps going back the last 200 years, which suggests a medieval origin.
“The fact it is around the medieval royal wood suggests it was there before the Battle of Bannockburn and was in use at that time. It is logical that it was used by Robert the Bruce.
“Potentially this was also the route used by the Sma’ Folk on the way to [the Battle of] Bannockburn.”
The Battle of Bannockburn was fought on June 23-24, 1314. King Edward II travelled to Scotland to find and destroy the Scottish army and relieve Stirling Castle, which had been under Scottish siege.
Edward’s army of up to 25,000 men far outnumbered the force assembled by Robert the Bruce, but the Scots were victorious. After a day of skirmishes, the second day of the battle ended in a decisive victory for the Scots.
Had the English army retreated to Stirling Castle they might have regrouped to fight another day – and even secured a longer-term victory – but their path was blocked.
The Sma’ Folk, seeing the tide turn in Bruce’s favour, emerged from behind Coxet Hill and caused panic among the English ranks, who fled at the sight of a new force.
Dr Cook added: “When you walk around this area, you are walking where legendary heroes like Robert the Bruce walked. It is astonishing just how much survives.”
The treasure inside beer lost in a shipwreck 120 years ago
Long-forgotten strains of yeast are searched for in wrecks, abandoned breweries and other places in the hope that they can be put to good use if they are resurrected. gently relieving himself through a hatch in the sunken hold, he could see the wreckage treasure waiting for him. He had been there for over 100 years. But now a part was about to be released from its resting place.
The explorer in question, Steve Hickman, a dive technician and amateur diver, was carrying a small bag in the net with him.
The treasure he was looking for was beer. Rows of glass beer bottles, partly buried in the silt, were kept in the hold of this ship. With visibility reduced to zero, Hickman was effectively blinded. But he knew this shoulder wellve and had visited it several times before. He continued, searching for more bottles in the dark. Once he gathered and bagged a few, he escaped and his team carefully brought the bottles to the surface.
The wreck was Wallachia, a cargo ship that sank in 1895 off the coast of Scotland following a collision with another ship in thick fog. Wallachia had just left Glasgow and was packed with
Since he began diving in Wallachia in the 1980s, Hickman has collected tens of bottles containing whiskey, gin and beer. But his recent visit, teamwork with several fellow divers, led to something unusual.
The bottles they recovered were turned over to scientists at a research company called Brewlab, who, along with colleagues at the University of Sunderland, was able to extract live yeast from the liquid in three of the bottles. . They then used this yeast in an attempt to recreate the original beer.
In 2018, a similar project in Tasmania used yeast from 220-year-old beer bottles found on a wreck forget close to a drink from the 1700s. But the study of Wallachia yeast revealed a surprise. These beers contained an unusual type of yeast and the team behind the work is now evaluating whether this strain perishes. long overdue could have applications in modern brewing or could even improve the beers of today.
In any case, there is a
“Yeast species apart from Saccharomyces cerevisiae are often more tolerant of things like using frozen dough and sometimes even have increased lifting capacity, ”Heil explains.
Thomas says he wants to sample and study yeast sealed containers found on even more shipwrecks, or other times well preserved and watered capsules. And by studying the genetics of ancient yeast strains, it might also be possible to identify previously unknown but desirable genes, which might influence genetically modified yeast in the future.
But the Wallachia Wreck is a sobering reminder of how lucky we are to have access to a handful of historic yeasts that keep us alive. can partner with confidence at a specific time and place.
In the 30 or so years since Hickman dived there, he has witnessed the wreckage deteriorating over time. The structures and walkways above and around the engine room collapsed. The cracks in the ship’s ageing walls widened. The ship is disappearing.
“I suspect that maybe in the next 20-30 years it will be completely gone,” he says.
Wallachia will disappear. probably taking her remaining beer bottles with her as she slowly shatters on the seabed. Precious link with 19th-century brewers will finally disappear forever, taking with it the precious yeasts it carries in
Prehistoric animal carvings found for the first time in Scotland
Prehistoric animal carvings thought to be thousands of years old have been found for the first time in Scotland.
Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said the carvings – thought to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old – were discovered inside Dunchraigaig Cairn in Kilmartin Glen, Argyll.
They are thought to date to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age and include images of deer. Hamish Fenton, who has an archaeology background, found them by chance.
Kilmartin Glen is viewed as one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in mainland Scotland.
Valuable as sources of meat, hides, and with bones and antlers used for a variety of tools, HES said deer would have been very important to local communities at the time.
Dr Tertia Barnett, the principal investigator for Scotland’s Rock Art Project at HES, said: “It was previously thought that prehistoric animal carvings of this date didn’t exist in Scotland, although they are known in parts of Europe.
“So it is very exciting that they have now been discovered here for the first time in the historic Kilmartin Glen.
“This extremely rare discovery completely changes the assumption that prehistoric rock art in Britain was mainly geometric and non-figurative.”
Dr Barnett said there were a few other prehistoric carvings of deer in the UK, but the only others created in the Early Bronze Age were “very schematic”.
“It is remarkable that these carvings in Dunchraigaig Cairn show such great anatomical detail and there is no doubt about which animal species they represent.”
Mr Fenton said he had been passing the cairn at dusk when he noticed the burial chamber in the side of the cairn and decided to slide inside with a torch.
“As I shone the torch around, I noticed a pattern on the underside of the roof slab which didn’t appear to be natural markings in the rock.,” he said.
“As I shone the light around further, I could see that I was looking at a deer stag upside down, and as I continued looking around, more animals appeared on the rock.”
He said the discovery had been completely unexpected.
“To me, discoveries like this are the real treasure of archaeology, helping to reshape our understanding of the past,” he added.
The cairn is currently closed while HES carries out further evaluation and puts measures in place to protect the carvings.