A slightly delayed blog post for our final day on site, as it’s been a busy weekend transporting kit, driving to airports, and planning for post-excavation analysis. While much of Friday was spent backfilling trenches and tidying up the site (leaving the hill as close as possible to how we found it), we were still able to make new discoveries, with Leanne investigating our post-holes in Trench D right up to the last moment. For more about what she learned read on below. While the weather stayed pretty cold and damp, spirits remained high – even when we arrived to find that our gazebo had collapsed!
So after two intensive weeks, what have we learned?
Perhaps the most important thing is that we can now be confident that a large ditch was cut into the side of the hill, and all the historical and morphological evidence suggests that it once formed a complete circuit (notwithstanding any entrances). It’s easy to forget that only two weeks ago we couldn’t even be sure of that! In addition to the ditch there have been several further finds and features which will help us interpret the site:
- Two post holes in the outer bank of Trench D suggest that the ditch was once surrounded by some kind of wooden structure. However, there is a space of about two feet between them, which implies that it was more likely to be some kind of fence, than a palisade. We were enable to find any trace of a rampart either, although our trenches did not extend far beyond either side of the ditch for health and safety reasons, so it’s possible that we have missed it. For now, though, the site seems more likely to be ‘lightly defended’, rather than ‘fortified’.
- Almost all of our trenches produced charcoal deposits of some kind. As it can be used for radiocarbon dating, these will be exceptionally important in establishing a date range for the construction of the ditch.
- A fragment of what looks to be a saddle quern was found in the in-fill of the Trench A. If confirmed, this hints at domestic activity (and thus possible habitation) at the top of the hill – something for which there are no historical records.
- In Trench E, near the summit of the hill, we discovered what looks like one or more layers of heat-damaged paving, along with charcoal and a small amount of iron slag. This suggests the likelihood of metal-working or other industrial activity. They are much closer to the surface than the ditch and in an entirely different soil matrix so, like the quern fragment, the context does not allow us to relate it to the construction of the enclosure, but the charcoal may help us to establish whether it is broadly associated with an earlier, contemporaneous, or later phase.
Overall then, two weeks work has brought us from being fairly sure there was hilltop enclosure on Cluny Hill, to confirming its presence for certain, and hinting at the exciting possibility of a settlement. Over the next few months we will be able to learn even more about it, including the essential question as to when it was constructed, and thus something of its historical context. You can follow our progress on those fronts here on the blog which we intend to publish regular updates on. If you’d like to be involved in post-ex activities as a volunteer, then please do get in touch via our webform.
It’s been an amazing couple of weeks up on the hill, blessed by a lovely location and (mostly) wonderful weather. Most of all though, it has been made possible by the kindness and generosity of a huge number of people. There’s a full list on our Acknowledgements page, but we’d especially like to thank Lancaster University, ACAS, Elgin Museum and the HLF for their financial support, and Piping@Forres, Forres Heritage Trust, Moray Council, John Pouncett and the Falconer Museum for essential contributions. We’re also grateful to everyone who came to visit us on site, at our stall, and on our tours – especially the woman who brought us cake and flapjacks 🙂
Most of all though, we wish to thank our incredible team of volunteers for their unflagging energy, enthusiasm and engagement through it all. We very much hope we’ll be able to work with you all again next year!