Excavation blog by Ita Ossowska

Today was a day of unexpected developments. The day started quite auspiciously with a very nice, calm and warm weather. However (and quite fortunately), just before we were about to start our daily journey uphill to the site (which is always quite exhausting), we received a message from Project Manager Mel Johnson at CFA Archaeology. One of the excavation team tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend and has been isolating ever since and one of the team has been pinged (and is also isolating). As a result, we were directed to get tested ourselves just to be on the safe side. The likelihood of our having contracted the virus was rather low, but nevertheless we adjusted our plans and instead of going uphill went downhill to the Newington Covid-19 Testing Centre to get our PCRs. Afterwards, following the government guidance on self-isolation, we were ordered to go home and wait for our results. Quite dejected, we all left. However, we are hoping that the results will turn out to be negative and we will be able to go back to work with even more zeal on our excavation.

Although, we are under time-pressure as we are nearing the end of the project, we do fully appreciate the hierarchy of importance – health and safety come first, no matter how eager we are to continue working. The survey team are working in a different area of the park in their teams so they have been able to keep on working. Let’s hope we get good news tomorrow.  

Survey blog by Verity Limond

Today was a day of many tasks for the survey team as we finished working on Salisbury Crags and prepared to move operations to Crow Hill. Surveying today involved a good deal of thrashing through long grass and foliage while we tried to find any visible remains of sites identified from the LiDAR survey.

It is tempting to rely on the pre-existing survey data, but it’s important to bear in mind that archaeological records are constantly being added to and revised in order to correct previous inaccuracies. For example, we had a walk around a knoll overlooking Hunter’s Bog where there were reports of the existence of several hut circles. These were observed and recorded in the mid twentieth century but could not be located later on by other surveyors and archaeologists. Angela Gannon of Historic Environment Scotland was one of those surveyors and on the tour she gave in the first week she said she did not think any trace of the hut circles existed. This may be due to inaccurate observations in the first place or possibly severe erosion which has removed once-visible traces. We also could not find any remains at this site, putting us in the camp with Angela who thinks there was an error when the features were initially described.

It particularly struck me today how reliant archaeology remains on paper recording and hard copies. During our erosion and walkover surveys, we used two tablets to view maps and LiDAR data of the park as we photographed and recorded sites including firing platforms and targets from a nineteenth-century rifle range. But despite all the tech at our disposal, we noted down each photo taken on a photo register and wrote detailed descriptions of the sites on a template called a topographic record sheet, making our clipboard and pens just as important to the survey as the tablets.

We came full circle at the end of the day by walking up to Crow Hill to have a look for the visible parts of the fort ramparts which we were excavating last week. We will be surveying this fort with GPS tomorrow, but we made a start by trying to match up the LiDAR data with what we could see on the ground, involving a walk along the cliff top and several encounters with gorse bushes. As someone pointed out, the gorse has effectively preserved sections of ramparts from modern-day footfall and erosion, it’s just unfortunate for us as archaeologists that we have to venture through it to get good photos and accurate GPS readings!

Survey blog by Ross Dempster

Following on from yesterday, we continued work on the resistivity survey of the interior of the fort on Salisbury crags with the team completing multiple 30-metre grids over the course of the day. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing as the long grass and dense clumps of nettles caused issues with readings not registering properly. Nevertheless, we persevered and made good progress even though the heat was extreme today.