Excavations at Birnie, Moray, 2005. - NMS Research Repository
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Excavations at Birnie, Moray, 2005.

2006

Abstract

The 2005 excavations on the later prehistoric and medieval site at Birnie, Moray investigated two very different roundhouses. The main focus was a large house (c. 16 m in diameter), occupied around the time of the coin hoards, which had burnt down and was very well-preserved. Its full extent was exposed, with an entrance to the south-east, central hearth and internal ring of large structural posts. Preservation was best to the rear, where a ring-ditch lay against the outer wall. In the western half of the building the destruction deposits revealed burnt turfs from the roof and substantial charred timber fragments from the structure of the building. In the eastern half the layers overlying these burnt deposits were removed. Finds included Iron Age yellow glass beads, a sherd of Roman coarse ware (the first Roman pot from Birnie), and two pieces of cannel coal jewellery, another first for the site. These show the inhabitants had connections across the Moray Firth - the nearest source of raw materials is Golspie in Sutherland. Another house partly examined in 2000 was fully exposed. Any internal features had been ploughed away, but a three-phase ring-groove 13.8 m in diameter was revealed, with an eastern entrance. It is probably a house which was reused as an enclosure. Excavation of a sub-rectangular feature showed it was the sunken floor of a turf-walled building with no earth-fast foundations. It went through a series of phases, the lateste with a cobbled floor. Similar features have been interpreted as medieval, but the finds from this structure suggest a late Iron Age of Pictish date. This is the first hint of Pictish activity at Birnie, but radiocarbon dates are needed to confirm this. A speculative trench on the west of the site, where the site cabins are normally located, uncovered a very rare late Bronze Age metalworking area. A series of pits contained fragments of clay crucibles and moulds for axes pins and bangles. One pit contained the charred remains of a large oak object, perhaps a charred tree trunk from use as an anvil. In another pit, saddle quern and rubber fragments had been deliberately buried, apparently as part of a ritual. A successful series of visits for local schools was held, and around 300 people attended an Open Day.

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