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the Roman Gask Project

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Thann Lowery
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« on: September 02, 2007, 02:46:13 pm »



A long term programme to study the Roman Frontier works on and around the Gask Ridge in Perthshire, Scotland.

The Gask Ridge frontier system is the earliest Roman land frontier in Britain, built in the 70s AD, 50 years before Hadrian's Wall and 70 years before the Antonine Wall.

Since German archaeologists have now re-dated the start of their frontier to the Trajanic period 20 years later, it now seems that the Gask system is the first Roman land frontier anywhere.

As such, the Gask acquires a particular importance, because it is difficult to judge how Roman frontiers changed and developed over time unless one can study the prototype.

http://www.theromangaskproject.org.uk/
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2007, 02:47:32 pm »



MAPS OF THE GASK RIDGE RESEARCH AREA



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
 Gask home  The Gask Ridge at around 70 metres above sea level lies between the Highland massif and Fife, and forms part of a corridor northwards towards the coastal strip of richer agricultural land that extends to the Moray Firth. The Ridge forms the core of the Gask Project's Research Area.
The maps show sites of Flavian age in the research area.

 
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2007, 02:48:59 pm »



The Gask Ridge at around 70 metres above sea level lies between the Highland massif and Fife, and forms part of a corridor northwards towards the coastal strip of richer agricultural land that extends to the Moray Firth. The Ridge forms the core of the Gask Project's Research Area.
The maps show sites of Flavian age in the research area.
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2007, 02:50:36 pm »





The Gask Ridge at around 70 metres above sea level lies between the Highland massif and Fife, and forms part of a corridor northwards towards the coastal strip of richer agricultural land that extends to the Moray Firth. The Ridge forms the core of the Gask Project's Research Area.
The maps show sites of Flavian age in the research area.
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2007, 02:51:45 pm »





The Gask Ridge at around 70 metres above sea level lies between the Highland massif and Fife, and forms part of a corridor northwards towards the coastal strip of richer agricultural land that extends to the Moray Firth. The Ridge forms the core of the Gask Project's Research Area.
The maps show sites of Flavian age in the research area.
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2007, 02:53:41 pm »





The Gask Ridge at around 70 metres above sea level lies between the Highland massif and Fife, and forms part of a corridor northwards towards the coastal strip of richer agricultural land that extends to the Moray Firth. The Ridge forms the core of the Gask Project's Research Area.
The maps show sites of Flavian age in the research area.
« Last Edit: September 02, 2007, 02:54:13 pm by Thann Lowery » Report Spam   Logged
Thann Lowery
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« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2007, 02:55:31 pm »





The Gask Ridge at around 70 metres above sea level lies between the Highland massif and Fife, and forms part of a corridor northwards towards the coastal strip of richer agricultural land that extends to the Moray Firth. The Ridge forms the core of the Gask Project's Research Area.
The maps show sites of Flavian age in the research area.

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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2007, 02:57:20 pm »



The Roman fort of Ardoch, Braco.
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #8 on: September 02, 2007, 02:58:44 pm »



Barry Hill Iron Age hillfort, Alyth.
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #9 on: September 02, 2007, 02:59:52 pm »



Bochastle
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #10 on: September 02, 2007, 03:01:43 pm »

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« Reply #11 on: September 02, 2007, 03:05:10 pm »



Blackruthven Neolithic henges, Perth, showing as crop marks.
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #12 on: September 02, 2007, 03:05:56 pm »

THE ROMAN GASK PROJECT
ANNUAL REPORT 2004
D.J.Woolliscroft

Illustrations to the annual report

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
 Gask home  Fieldwork
2004 has been our busiest field season yet; with two excavations, three more of our series of very large, whole Roman fort geophysical surveys and a continuation of our air photographic program. As always, our work attracted volunteers from a wide geographical area, with diggers from Canada and the USA taking part alongside those from the UK.
Excavations East Coldoch.
Another three week season was conducted on this well preserved Roman Iron Age settlement and it continued to yield fascinating and often unexpected data. We already knew from previous seasons that we had a complex series of superimposed structures stretching over at least a thousand years, but the 2004 dig produced yet more structural complexity. The excavation centres around a large, c. 13m diameter, roundhouse which sits inside a substantial ring ditch. We already had glass and a C14 date which showed that it was occupied around the time of the 1st century Gask frontier and burned down, probably in the third century. It thus spanned the time of Roman involvement in Scotland and so formed an excellent resource for studying Roman/native interaction. We also knew that it had been rebuilt at least once, suggesting a lengthy occupation. The 2004 season was largely dedicated to studying the floor levels of this house and revealed signs of a still longer period of use. Traces of a later floor than so far encountered had survived the plough towards the eastern side of the site and this was accompanied by late third to fourth century glass beads and a fragment of fourth century Roman vessel glass. The latter was particularly interesting as it showed that the site continued to have access to Roman material culture long after any military involvement in the area had ended. This is not the first such evidence that the Project has uncovered, for Roman pottery of much the same date was found some years ago on what appears to be a native site adjoining the Gask tower of Peel, and it will be interesting to see if other sites produce similar evidence in future.

Beneath this late floor lay parts of another, which had been heavily burnt and produced Roman Samian pottery of mid second century, Antonine date. It too was badly plough damaged, but the date would fit with that of the house whose carbon dated destruction by fire has already been mentioned
 
http://www.theromangaskproject.org.uk/Pages/Introduction/AnnualReport04.html
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Thann Lowery
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« Reply #13 on: September 02, 2007, 03:07:09 pm »



Fig 1. East Coldoch main roundhouse, showing paved area.

The excavation was able to study the burnt floor over a much wider area and there are emerging signs that it may have been subdivided into areas of differing function. The house entrance faced east and to its north a substantial area of paving was revealed. A small part of this was found in the 2000 season and interpreted as make up, to level the floor on what would otherwise have been a slight slope to the north. Certainly it was not used directly as a floor. It was too uneven and showed no sign of wear. Instead, it was coated with a skin of clay which had acted as the true floor surface. This year's work, however, showed that the stones were less extensive than might have been expected for levelling, and covered only about 70o of the house's circumference, rather than the 180o that lie on the slope. Instead, it is tempting to wonder whether it might mark an area whose use demanded particular strength, for example stabling or stock accommodation. Further west, a radial line of stake holes was found in 2003, which might delineate another specialist room or area, and this year's work found evidence for metal working concentrated in a similarly sized sector to the south of the entrance.

The C14 dated building was known to have been the second phase of the house to have burned down and that fire had been thought to be the end of the structure, until the discovery of the third/fourth century floor this year. Equally, the first house to burn was thought to be the building's earliest incarnation, but this too now seems not to be the case. Two small sondages were cut through what had been thought to be the primary floor, just to confirm its nature and to look at any levelling deposits. Instead, they found a complex of layers which probably represent another two phases, one of which might represent a so called "ring ditch house" floor. This leaves us with further issues to sort out and, although 2004 had been planned as the final season, another will be needed in 2005.

The site has developed quite a tradition of springing a major surprise on us at a time too late in the dig for anything much to be done about it, and this year was well up to standard. The lower levels of the less well preserved eastern side of the house had produced a complex series of inter-cutting pits, few of which seemed to be structural. Their sequence was sorted out without undue difficulty, although some of their functions remain unclear. The final day, however, saw the excavation of the two earliest, and both produced human remains in the form of teeth and skull fragments. The site has already produced evidence for much earlier funerary activity, but these pits do not appear to fit with this. Firstly, the remains were in simple dug pits and not in the stone cists found elsewhere and, secondly, they seem too closely associated with the house. For one of the pits was located almost exactly under its centre point, whilst the second lay in the entrance. This raises the possibility that both may be that most chimerical (and probably over claimed) of archaeological phenomena: a ritual deposit, perhaps associated with the house's original foundation. Certainly, they are not ordinary burials. The entrance pit, at least, was only large enough for the head found and not for a whole body. Moreover, the skull fragments were found with a single vertebra and, as this was presumably still attached when the head was buried, it must surely have been still fleshed and thus fairly newly severed. This does, of course, raise all sorts of bloodthirsty possibilities but, in fact, there is no way of telling whether the head was removed post or ante-mortem and the remains are so poorly preserved that we are unlikely to be able to determine a cause of death. To the north of the main house, a new area was opened to further investigate a series of ephemeral later features found in 2003, which may have had a funerary function. A few more faint traces were revealed, but these had been largely masked by a long, linear, stone packed cut. This produced something of a stratigraphic riddle. It closely resembled an old fashioned stone filled field drain, but it did not continue across the backfilled remains of the roundhouse ring ditch. At first sight this seemed to suggest that it had been cut by the ditch and thus predated it, but an examination of previous seasons' records has shown that it did not resume on the ditch's far side. It also seems to cut the later funerary features and it seems that the ditch may have been used as a sump for a field drain built to run into it at a time in the early modern era, when it was still partly open.

As in previous seasons, the preservation of organic materials was superb, with grain and hazel nut shells again being particularly abundant. Most of the grain was barley, but our macrofossil expert, Jacqui Huntley (University of Durham), has again confirmed our field impression that wheat and oats were also present. Wheat is common on Roman installations, but rare on Iron Age sites, especially as we are now told that the site has produced bread wheat as well as the more normal spelt and emmer. This could be a hint that local people changed their agricultural practices to provide the occupying army with supplies, but there is a problem here because Jacqui also tells us that there are few signs that the grain was processed on site (apart from a small amount of chaff in the ditch silts). Indeed, the entire cereal corpus currently presents something of a mystery. For our pollen expert, Dr Susan Ramsay (University of Glasgow) has only been able to find a single barley pollen grain from the entire site (and none of wheat and oats), despite our asking her to make an intensive search of the many samples taken. This would suggest that the cereals were not being grown on or near the site. The unusually large roundhouse would certainly suggest high status occupants and it may well be that they were able to trade for, tax or otherwise command bulk produce grown by others. If so, however, the presence of wheat raises an interesting possibility, for it might suggest not that the inhabitants were growing food for the Romans, but that they were actually adopting Roman tastes. The fact that we had already found fragments of Roman bottle glass certainly suggested that the house was no stranger to Roman wine (or perhaps condiments), but the adoption of Mediterranean drinking patterns is quite common in native societies all round the imperial fringe. Eating habits are often thought to have been much more conservative, however, so this may be a particularly interesting hint. Moreover, the 2004 season found seeds that we suspect may be grape pips, although this still awaits expert confirmation. Fresh grapes are unlikely to have been available this far north in Britain, given the local climate and the slowness of ancient transport, and this leaves two possible alternatives. One is that the pips came from Roman wine. Ancient wines seem to have come with a good deal more sediment than we would expect to find today, so much so that sieves were a standard part of Roman drinking equipment. Another possibility, however, is that the pips came from imported raisins and, if so, this may be another example of a taste on site for Roman foodstuffs to go with their taste for Roman beads, glass and pottery.

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« Reply #14 on: September 02, 2007, 03:08:55 pm »

Innerpeffray
Just to the south of the well known library and chapel at Innerpeffray, a substantial (and obviously artificial) cutting runs up a steep wooded slope from the east bank of the Earn.




Fig 2. Plan of the Innerpeffray excavation.

Quite plausibly, local lore has always had it that this was the Roman Gask road coming up from its crossing of the river. There is an old ford at this point and aerial photography has shown what seems to be the Roman road from the nearby fort of Strageath approaching its opposite side. Likewise, there is a bend in the upper (eastern) end of the cutting which turns it onto the line of the next known length of the Gask road, around 900m further East, approaching and crossing Parkneuk Wood on the Gask Ridge proper.



Fig 3. Innerpeffray cutting.

Nevertheless, no archaeological work had ever taken place to check. This seemed a great pity, for the cutting is a major engineering achievement. Ironically, the wood is so dense that it is possible to get within a few meters of the cutting without seeing it, but it is around 130m long and up to 3.5m deep as a surface feature. Almost 2,000 cubic meters of soil have been removed in its construction and walking up it in winter, when the trees have lost their leaves, can be awe inspiring. Consequently, when Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust offered to fund a training dig here for Perth Archaeology Week, we jumped at the opportunity.

The results were even better than we had hoped. The excavation revealed a metalled roadway under a full 1m of overburden, which meant that the cutting was originally up to 4.5m (15') deep. The road itself was very badly worn, suggesting a long use, and had well preserved wheel ruts 1.57m (5' 1") apart, which is just slightly larger than the modern standard railway gauge. The cutting itself ran through sand which would normally have made it vulnerable to weathering and collapse. To counteract this, it had been thoroughly revetted with a thick layer of puddled clay that also passed under the road bed. No Roman datable material was found, but the road did yield Medieval as well as 18th century pottery. This would suggest that the cutting was already in existence in the Middle Ages and, as this is not an era known for its well engineered road projects (bridge building excepted), a Roman date for the feature seems all but certain.

Interestingly, the road was only 2.8m wide in the cutting, which is markedly narrower than any of the known Gask road stretches: which range from 5.8m to 7.9m (19'-26') in width. There are, however, quite a number of similar cuttings that have been proved to be Roman and where a comparable narrowing of the road has been found. The best known examples are found in and around the Alpine passes in Switzerland and these are often similar in width. The narrowing is presumably a labour saving measure to allow heavy traffic to move up and down a more gentle gradient, albeit only in one direction at a time, without the need to excavate the full width of a two carriageway road. If so, the saving would have been considerable. For had the Innerpeffray cutting been dug to the full average width of the Gask road (c. 6.8m), more than 1,000 cubic meters of extra earth would have needed to be moved: a 54% increase in an already considerable workload.

Geophysics
For the last few years the Project has been conducting a series of very large geophysical surveys, taking in entire Roman forts and their surroundings, and we are eventually hoping to survey most of the forts north of the Forth-Clyde line. This year we were able to survey two more known forts along with a third suspected example. Drumquhassle.

The Roman fort of Drumquhassle lies within sight of Loch Lomond, near Drymen, and is (so far) the southernmost of the line of so called "Glen blocker" forts which stretch as far as the Tay. It was found from the air in the late 1970s, but has never shown very well and, apart from a couple of exploratory tranches dug to confirm its suspected 1st century date, little excavation has taken place. As a result significant parts of its defences have never been traced and we really know very little about it. Our own work consisted of a 17 acre resistivity survey and an almost equal sized magnetometer survey. We have traditionally done our resistivity work with a Geoscan meter taking readings at 1m intervals with a 50cm electrode separation.

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