Project Diary: 2010 Excavations at Cults Loch

Read the diary of the excavation team here.

Day 1

We got the excavations off to a great start today, with blue skies and sunshine as we started cleaning off the trench. This year we’re aiming to uncover the rest of the floor excavated in 2009 and have opened up an area on the east side of the promontory. Already it looks like we have another floor, indicated by an ashy gravel spread, held in place by lots of piles and stakes. We found a couple of rubber and hammer stones too, so we are off to a good start!

day 1

Day 2

The loch level remained low enough today to allow smooth progress despite some lively showers today. We’ve continued to unearth a succession of Alder, Birch and Oak timbers in excellent shape, including a parallel track-like feature stretching for several metres along with a handful of charred timbers that are likely structural. The team also found a number of hammerstones along with a saddle quern for grinding grain. These artefacts fit well with the mid-first millennium BC radiocarbon dates gained from last year’s analysis. In all, excavation continued at a fair clip despite the damp day. We hope to have the upper sections of this well-preserved Iron Age crannog uncovered very soon so please check back!

day 2    day 2 quern

Day 3

Today was day three of the crannog excavation at Cults Loch. As the weather was excellent (quite sunny and not too much wind), we managed to put out a fair amount of work. Clearing back the surface revealed more timbers, displaying a similar pattern as yesterday. Today three more coarse stone tools were found as well, supporting the idea that the site was used for grain, textile and/or leather processing. During the afternoon Jackaline Robertson, the resident AOC botanist, dropped by and collected several plants from the area around the loch. She was able to find almost all the species that were identified in the crannog sediments, indicating that those plants were present then and are now. At the end of the day several photos were taken of the less disturbed sediment and timbers, to record the site at this depth.

Day 3

Day 4

A second day of gloriously sunny DRY weather, almost unprecedented in the history of this site! We were joined by Glenys, Fran and Ann from the University of the Third Age and, aided by the good weather we were able to make significant advances in our understanding of the site.

We have begun to explore more of the gravel mound complex which we partially uncovered last year. There appears to be a floor of roundwood timbers defined by larger timbers forming a hexagonal perimeter. Over this floor is a rectangular timber framework filled with gravelly sand which we are interpreting as a hearth base. This may have been the first of several such hearth bases within this structure, its position shifting as the gravel was cleaned and replenished.

We appear to be seeing the same phenomena in the gravel spread on the eastern side of the site. This first appeared as a semicircular spread with posts visible in the surface. As we removed the gravel it became apparent that it was interleaved with lens of charcoal-rich ash, and with layers of brown peat. The alternating layers of gravel and peat probably represent frequent refurbishment of the floor with clean gravel and plant litter.

More flint and coarse stone tools today – no glass beads or ardshares as yet!

Day 4    Day 4 pic 2

Day 5

Excavation at Cults went well today, with the sunshine and dryness supporting another good day’s work. A great deal of the trench was planned and drawn (the lack of rain aiding this!), so we are able to continue down on to the next level of wood and structures.


Digging began in to the gravel deposits of Structure 3 so we will hopefully be able to understand this area better in the coming days. The stakes in this section are now clearly visible.


A couple of quern stones were pulled out of the site, as well as a small flint tool (illustrated in photo below). All in all it was yet another good day for the Cults Loch team, the only future menace being the possibility of rain …….and the baby cows making their way over the fences in to the dig!!


Day 5

Day 6

Further excavation in the main area of the trench continued with the removal of the previously recorded upper peaty deposits and horizontal timbers. In Structure 1 work concentrated on removal of deposits in and around the probable central hearth feature revealing a number of tightly set horizontal logs in excellent condition, some with intact bark (see below). Further deposits were also excavated in Structure 3.

In an attempt to deter the bullocks in the neighbouring field who are showing a great deal of interest in the excavations once we’ve retired for the day, we’ve left a guard!

Day 6    Scarecrow

The team are having a well deserved day off tomorrow (Saturday), however we’ll be back bright and early on Sunday.

Day 7

Back to work and another sunny day- is this the same Cults Loch we came to last year? Today we completed excavating the timbers in the central -‘trackway’- area to the next level, and uncovered a forest of piling holding the timbers together. In structure 1, Alan exposed parallel roundwood timbers laid down as a floor around the hearth, and adjacent to structure 2 Anne began to uncover an intiguing timber and stone feature- possibly another hearth? We had the company of our largest number of volunteers and visitors so far on the site, so we are progressing well!

Day 7    Day 7 pic 2

Day 8

Excavation progressed well again today, and we began to excavate the deposits in what may be the second structure to be identified on the site. Anne began to excavate the deposits of a large hearth setting, built from large oak timbers and filled with gravel. It is possible that this hearth formed the focal point of a large building that occupied much of the eastern half of the site, but this remains to be seen…!
We found another saddle quern today and some more rubbing stones, to add to our growing coarse stone tool assemblage!

Day 9

As you might know, the team that is excavating the Cults Loch crannog is supervised by AOC Archaeology.  Several local volunteers are active on the site as well. These volunteers join in the excavation out of pure interest (and may be because of the recent sunshine). Next to these local volunteers, there are those who join out of scientific interest. I am one of those.

My name is Thierry Fonville (but I am not French, I am Dutch!) and I am about to start a PhD in Southampton at the department of Geography. I will be looking at what the vegetation looked like around the time of the crannog and how it changed over time. This is possible by means of identification of plant remains, found in lake cores taken a few meters away from the crannog.

You might wonder what a foreign student is doing at this site. I figured, the best way to get some understanding of the site is to get into the mud and meet the people who have been working on this site for a couple years. So far this worked out great, plus I managed to enjoy some great sunny days in the amazing Scottish countryside.

Day 9    Day 9 pic 2

Day 10

With the number of volunteers joining us each day (and the continuing good weather) work is progressing rapidly – we are removing, in arbitrary spits, the jumble of horizontal timbers which cover the centre of the site, and the distribution of piling is becoming clearer, although we still cannot discern any pattern! We are now encountering the layer of very large horizontal logs which we only glimpsed last year but which coring indicates is very near the base of the man-made mound.

In both Structures 1 and 2 we are peeling off the alternating layers of sandy gravel and wood-rich organic deposits which appear to form repeated renovations to the floor surfaces. This is not proving as easy a task as it sounds, as the layers tend to merge and mix with each other and defining extents is difficult. We made an exciting find within one of the organic layers in Structure 2 – wooden objects which look like they could be the staves of a wooden container – in the photo you can see one complete example and the partial remains of another one. The position of these objects, under a floor, is similar to the ard that we found last year in Structure 1. These have been carefully lifted for conservation and analysis.

Day 10

Day 11

Welcome back-I’d like to briefly introduce myself before we sum up the day’s work. My name is Robert Lenfert and I have been volunteering on the Cult’s Loch project for several years alongside other crannog investigations with AOC Archaeology including nearby Whitefield Loch. I am currently finishing a PhD in Archaeology at the University of Nottingham which focuses on Scottish lake-dwellings, examining how their use and meaning has changed over time. As this currently is the only ongoing crannog excavation in Scotland, it goes without saying I’m glad to be on the team! Today was another brilliant day with nothing but sun-this year has made up for all the long rainy days of past years. As we begin to wind the project down, recording the site in detail is taking the forefront of activity before it is covered over. With the hundreds of timbers exposed, this is not a quick task but is critical for an accurate record of the site. Features were cleaned for photographs while Alan and Thierry took core samples as well to gauge the lower levels below those excavated. Tomorrow marks the last full day of the project so we will be quite busy tying up loose ends and gathering as much data as possible. Thanks for reading and please check back with us soon.

Day 12

Well – the last day of the excavation – and what a day! As is very often the case the most exciting find is made on the last day but at Cults it was 4 finds, not 1!

Robert found the most recognisable of the objects, a little wooden box, deliberately placed at the end of a long plank under Structure 1. Under Structure 2 Tessa found another of the stave-like objects – this one had been pierced by a pile. In the same deposit she found a long flat wooden object which most resembles a cricket bat without a handle.

Pat was cleaning around a distinctive concentration of stones which look like they formed the surface of the N-S pathway through the site, and to one side encountered a very hard charred oak plank with a squared end and a hole at that end, possibly for manoeuvring the plank.

Amongst all this excitement we finished planning and drawing sections, and sampled as many of the piles and large horizontal timbers as we could.

The next stage will be the analysis of the finds and the samples of timber and sediments. This should give us clues as to the type of activities that were taking place on the crannog, while dendrochronological analysis of the wood samples will tell us whether this activity was taking place simultaneously or over a long period of time.

In the meantime, thanks to all the volunteers, friends and colleagues who joined us this year and made it such an enjoyable and successful excavation. The weather helped, of course!

Day 12 pic 1    Day 12 pic 2

Day 12 pic 3

Postscript: Day 13

The digger came to backfill the site today but before he began we asked him to remove the baulk so that we could fully expose the oak plank. It was eventually over 2 m long and was so heavy it could not be lifted manually. It is a chord cleft off a huge oak tree, unshaped apart from the squared end, with a huge burr covering most of the outer face, the underside. The entire upper surface is completely charred and is as hard as stone – a strange object to puzzle over in the coming months….

Day 13

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