The gravel terrace at Birnie housed an important settlement site in later prehistory, with a sequence of farms, comprising roundhouses and associated buildings, stretching over perhaps a millennium or more. In the Roman Iron Age it was a key centre in the local area, in touch with the Roman powers to the south; this is seen in a range of Roman goods, notably two hoards of late second century silver coins, part of a policy of bribing the tribes beyond the frontier to keep the Roman frontier secure. In 2003 the final small-scale season of exploratory excavations took place, setting the scene for larger-scale work in future years. The main focus was on a large ring-ditch roundhouse, c. 15.5 m in diameter, which had been partly exposed in 2001. The structure appeared to be single-phase with an entrance to the ENE; the central cooking pit had gone through several different forms. The good preservation of the remains meant the excavation was not finished, and it will be continued in 2004. The sequence of deposites uncovered in 2002 over the southern roundhouse in trench O was also explored. This turned out to be a complex series of events later than the roundhouse, associated with a hearth and cooking pits. It probably lay within a rectangular post-built building. Another focus was on the non-circular buildings on the site, which appeared on aerial photographs as sub-rectangular "blobs". These are likely to represent a medieval settlement, but a key question is whether this building type stretches back into the Pictish period, providing a continuity with the earlier settlement. Two blobs were sectioned in 2003. Neither produced artefactual dating evidence, but both had charcoal-rich layers suitable for radiocarbon dating. Both comprise worn sub-rectangular hollows subsequently filled with ash-and charcoal-rich debris. In one case a series of posts was found, and these appear to be the worn floors of rectangular post-built buildings. Trial work since 1998 has provided an outline history of the site. Funding has now been obtained for a larger-scale four-year project from 2004. This should allow a detailed picture of the settlement's development and its relationship to the Romans.
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