Underwater Investigation at Loch Kinord – 16-18 October

Work at Loch Kinord continued again this past weekend. Surprisingly, visibility conditions in the loch surpassed all expectations allowing more to be achieved in this single weekend than all of the previous underwater work conducted to date. With help from volunteers from the Aberdeen University Sub-Aqua Club and Deeside Sub-Aqua Club, we examined the submerged portion of Castle Island.

Castle Island is first recorded as being in use in AD 1335, when the remnants of the Earl of Atholl’s defeated troops took refuge there following the Battle of Culblean Hill (they surrendered the next day). The castle was in use throughout the next 300 years, but was razed by Act of Parliament in 1649. My previous work at Castle Island indicated that remains of the causeway structure referred to in Reverend J. Michie’s 19th century antiquarian account of Loch Kinord survive, and one of the timbers likely to be part of that structure returned a radiocarbon date from the 10th century AD. The work we undertook this past weekend aimed to shed more light on what remains on the loch bottom, and take C14 samples that might add further detail to the chronology of use at Castle Island.

Timber C14 dated to the 10th century AD.

Timber C14 dated to the 10th century AD.

Submerged Timber on north side of Castle Island.

Submerged Timber on north side of Castle Island.

What we discovered did not disappoint. It is now clear that there are a group of vertical piles on the west side of Castle Island. These piles stand about 5-10 metres from where the artificial mound meets the natural loch bed. For what structural purpose these piles relate to is unclear, but an outer palisade or some kind of pier or jetty seem possible. I suspect that many more vertical piles survive just under the sediment of the loch bed, having eroded away through time. The piles that do survive above the loch bed have done so because they are likely to be oak heartwood, the sapwood having disappeared already (if it wasn’t removed during the fabrication of the pile).

In addition to the piling, the west side of the island has also at least two examples surviving of horizontal timbers emerging from the artificial mound. This is also the side of the island where we identified a possible logboat in 2011. That feature was found again, but its status as a logboat is very much in doubt having now been able to look at it completely in good visibility. Close examination of the images captured of this tree/logboat will hopefully settle the issue.

Despite the good visibility, as always, when the bottom sediment was stirred up, the visibility quickly reduced.

Poor visibility always occurs when even the lightest touch or fin stroke is applied to the loch bed.

Poor visibility always occurs when even the lightest touch or fin stroke impacts the loch bed.

There is a lot more work to be done at Castle Island, including upcoming excavation on the island itself.

I would very much like to thank the divers and helpers who made this work possible. Thank you to Dimitris Papakonstantis, Tim Stephen, Ailidh Brown, Julia Scheel, Seòna Wells, Duncan MacGregor, Ross Cairnduff, Euan MacKenzie, Claire Christie, and Carly Ameen. Thanks also to Catriona Reid for help and permissions to do this work at the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve. Finally, thank you to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for providing funding for this archaeological investigation.

Probable New Crannog on Deeside

Back in July a small excavation was undertaken on a site called the Houff near the town of Lumphanan. The excavation was testing the theory that drained lochs in eastern Scotland contain recorded archaeological sites that are crannogs rather than what they have been recorded as – which range from motte, to natural feature, to mound. The Houff was just such a site, located within what I have proposed was the former area of the now drained Loch Auchlossan. The loch was first partially drained (including the area of the Houff) around 1700, with the rest of the loch drained about 1868. To finish draining the loch, tunnels had to be dug to reduce the water level. It appears now that the tunnels have given way to a very large machine cut ditch, that is still very evident along the roadside there.

The Houff looking to the north-west.

The Houff looking to the north-west.

The Houff is a mound about 45x35m and rises about 2.5m above the surrounding field. It is recorded as a burial ground, and indeed the site was probably used as such. There are still upstanding remains of dry-stone structures that perhaps could be described as mausoleums.

The excavation was very limited in scale and was addressing a simple question – is the mound that makes up the Houff artificial? If the mound is artificial and within the former loch, then this is a strong (although not absolute) indication that the site is a crannog. If the site is a crannog, then it would not only be the first excavation of crannog in eastern Scotland since the 19th century, but it would also be the first excavation of crannog that has so long been in a drained situation (about 300 years).

The trench was put in on the north side of the mound to avoid the areas that had been obviously disturbed by quarrying in the 1960s. What we found appeared to be too good to be true. The mound was obviously made-up of a completely anthropogenic soil. This dark soil below the top-soil had visible chunks of charcoal come out of it, and was remarkable uniform throughout. This soil was sitting atop a sterile gravelly sand, which is a sediment that would not be out of place on a lake bed.

The excavation revealed an anthropogenic soil sitting on a sterile, probably lacustrine, sand.

The excavation revealed an anthropogenic soil sitting on a sterile, probably lacustrine, sand.

It is my interpretation the normal organic matrix that makes up crannogs, in this case, has been disintegrated and is now the anthropogenic soil – most organic remains have simply been lost to the processes of soil formation in the last 300 years. Although no artefacts were recovered and no obvious structural elements were identified (normally a defining characteristic of crannog sites), it seems likely the Houff was originally constructed as a crannog in the former Loch Auchlossan given the nature of the sediments encountered. Further work is currently being undertaken on samples from the site that will hopefully determine that the anthropogenic soil was formed in a lake. A radiocarbon date will also be taken from this site that will give us an idea of when the site was constructed and used.

Thanks to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland who have funded this excavation as part of a broader programme of work investigation crannogs in Deeside. Thanks also to Veronica and Irvine Ross whose help made the excavation possible.