Excavation Blog by Findlay Cormack

Today on the fifth day of our Holyrood Park field school, we in the excavation team continued our work to remove any excess pebbles and soil surrounding parts of the rampart revealed in the previous days. Using trowels and brushes, loose material was swept away to allow the recording and planning of the trenches to begin. With drawing taking place in the top trench, excavation continued in the bottom trench in search of evidence for a possible second rampart. Large angular rocks were revealed which look promising, however only time will tell in the following days with further digging. Many rusty nails were discovered in the top trench (likely a remnant of previous work) and comprised all the artefacts found in the trenches today.

Community engagement with the project remained high with members of the public being very interested in what we were doing and what it was we were excavating? Many people did not know the extent of the parks archaeological wealth and were keen to learn more.

Angela Gannon, a surveyor from Historic Environment Scotland who has been involved in previous survey work in the park, took the excavation team on a tour after lunch. She showed all the major archaeological sites in the park from the likely Iron Age fort on Dunsapie hill to Hunters Bog, an area in the park that was used as a firing range by the likes of the castle garrison and the Royal Scots in the 19th and 20th centuries. This helped us gain a deeper knowledge of the range of sites in the park and how historically rich it is as an archaeological landscape.

Survey blog by Emiley Beasley

The survey team had a bit of a lie-in today with a 9.45am start at Dunsapie car park! When we arrived, we met Historic Environment Scotland’s Angela Gannon, an archaeologist (and Edinburgh graduate!) who spent the morning giving us a tour of Holyrood Park and an overview of the many historic sites that have shaped this landscape.

We heard that the park was named after King David I was thrown from his horse and almost killed by a stag in1128. The king’s life was spared as he had a vision of a cross that formed between the stag’s antlers. King David believed God had intervened, and in gratitude, he ordered the construction of the abbey on the location on which he had seen the stag. King David named the abbey and the palace Holy Rood, which means “Holy Cross”. We then continued round to Duddingston Loch where a significant hoard of bronze age metalwork was found in 1778 – one of the most significant finds from the park. We then examined the Iron Age fort on the narrow rocky ridge above Samson’s Ribs where the remains of a stone rampart can be clearly seen. It is both the best example of a fort in Holyrood Park and the smallest.

Angela next took us to the beginning of the Salisbury Crags, which we were told was mined for its dolerite in the 19th century by the Earls of Haddington. Unhappy locals soon put a stop to the mining however, as they felt the use of dynamite in the mines was damaging the iconic Edinburgh skyline.

We then headed to Hunters bog – once a shooting range in the 19th century, and also used for pasture up until as recently as the 1970s – which is also overlooked by old sandstone quarries in use at the time of Holyrood Palace’s construction in the 16th century.

Next, we had a look at the largest hill fort in the park, sitting atop the Salisbury Crags and defined by one rampart. It likely dates to the Bronze Age and rampart encloses over 9 Hectares. Down the hill we could see the 15th century St Anthony’s Chapel, and the top of Holyrood Abbey too.

We stopped just below the summit of Arthurs Seat in the early afternoon to have a quick look at the remaining ramparts from the fort at Arthur’s seat/Crow Hill. Looking out from so high up the fort and ramparts at Dunsapie where a bronze hoard was discovered are clearly visible, as well as many cultivation terraces speculated to be anywhere in date from the later prehistoric to the medieval period.

The survey team then spent the afternoon at home working on the survey data on a Zoom call with Jamie and Gemma from AOC Archaeology. This is the culmination of all of our work with the total station, GPS and plain tables over the past week, mapping out the main features of Dunsapie Fort. Jamie and Gemma were able to draw up the results over a Lidar map for us and we were able to see how well our survey matched with what is actually there.
We then were taught how to use Inkscape, a professional vector graphics programme, to mark out features more clearly on a digital image, such as using hachures to mark out slopes and how steep they are, and colour coding certain features.

Survey blog by Matt Reid

The survey team spent the morning walking around the park and noting points of archaeological interest such as ramparts found in the remains of the four hillforts forts found over the park. The tour was led by Angela Gannon, a professional surveyor from Historic Environment Scotland. She shared a lot of interesting history of the park.

We finished off the rest of the day in a zoom meeting where we got to see the results of our hard work over the last five days and had the post surveying process explained. We were taught the importance of creating accurate and clear maps during surveys and the basics of using programs like Inkscape or Illustrator to create clear maps and plans from our survey work. We also got to see the results of the photogrammetry and magnetometry work that we done. Overall, it was a satisfying end to the first week of our 3-week field school.