6 August 2012

Just received Ewan Campbell’s assessment of pottery, crucible and mould fragments from our excavation of Trusty’s Hill. Two sherds of pottery were recovered in all. Both were imported to Britain. One of the pot sherds was first thought to be African Red Slip Ware when it was found on the dig, but it is in fact a rim of a Roman samian vessel of Gaulish manufacture and dated to the late 1st or 2nd second century AD. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the occupation of the site dates to this time as the samian pot sherd has been rubbed down on one edge, a common practice on native sites, and sometimes associated with metalworking often at periods later than the Roman period, which is interesting. The other pot sherd is the rim of a small E ware jar, imported from western France in the late 6th or 7th centuries AD, and used to import luxuries such as spices, exotic foods and dyestuffs. The E ware has sooting deposits surviving under the rim on the exterior which we are going to try and sample for radiocarbon dating (of the vessel independently of the context). Sixth/seventh century dates have been obtained from similar deposits on the E ware from Loch Glashan Crannog in Argyll and are the only direct dates from this type of pottery. E ware is associated with high status, often royal, sites in Atlantic Britain such as Dunadd, Dumbarton Rock and Whithorn. As Ewan notes, coastal fortified sites such as Trusty’s Hill often acted as importation centres for E ware and other luxury goods, which were then distributed to client sites in the region.

There was also a variety of evidence for fine metalworking recovered during the excavation, including crucibles, heating trays, a mould, furnace lining, and a possible crucible stand. In addition there is evidence of iron working in the form of hearth bottoms. The crucibles show a wide range of sizes, but all appear to be of unlidded types similar to those from the Mote of Mark. One has thick red enamel deposits which may have resulted from glass melting, though could be from copper. Other deposits may indicate silver working. All these need XRF analysis to determine the metals being processed. The presence of gold and silver in metalworking is characteristic of royal sites in the Atlantic West. This material needs further analysis as it is key to understanding the status of the site, and the activities of the inhabitants. Two of the mould fragments seem to be from radiating groups of pins similar to those from Mote of Mark, Dunadd and the Brough of Birsay. The range of evidence from only a few small excavation areas suggests to Ewan that this is an important metalworking site with access to significant resources and craftworkers.

Ewan also looked at the copper alloy and iron roundel with a central setting and concentric decoration with possible interlace on the outer border. It has some similarities to material being produced at the Mote of Mark under Anglo-Saxon influence. The iron socketed tool we found is a slotted and pointed object characteristic of early medieval sites and probably associated with leather working. The spindle whorl is made of quartzite and a glass bead recovered during the post-excavation wet sieving and sorting of soil samples may be Iron Age as post-Roman opaque yellow beads are more globular.

So it seems, upon this initial assessment of finds, that we have good evidence for 6th or 7th century AD occupation but perhaps some evidence of earlier Iron Age occupation. However, the radiocarbon dates we hope to get later this summer from charcoal recovered from the various archaeological contexts (layers) of the site, will hopefully enable us to better understand the date of the contexts for all of these artefacts. We might then know if some of the earlier artefacts were brought to site (as heirlooms for instance) rather than deriving from Iron Age occupation of the site itself. The story of Trusty’s Hill just gets more interesting as we go on.

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