2016… Hm…

Just realised it’s not long until the new year, with Hogmanay tomorrow, so I figured I should probably do my “new year’s resolutions” although I don’t like that term so I’ll just call them aims.

Therefore, my aims for 2016 are (I’m thinking of these on the spot):

  1. Identification skills: Keep on building on what I already know. Birds are obviously pretty sound, and trees are good but obviously need continual effort to keep learning how to identify them at varying distances and in all four seasons. Mammals aren’t too bad, mind you most aren’t difficult to ID in the UK. They’re mostly pretty distinct, however I’d like to get better at tracking them and finding signs of their presence in hopes I’ll see some of the shyer creatures that aren’t always so easy to see. I’ve started on flowers for the time being and they’re going well so far. By the end of the year I hope that I’ll have a good knowledge of the majority of the commoner species and will be able to ID most flowers to at least family level without the book. Mosses and fungi are on hold until I get a hand lens and perhaps get some experience with someone who really knows what they’re talking about. Lichens I reckon are just going to be something that I’ll build up my knowledge of relatively slowly until I’m good at identifying other things. Then it’ll probably be inverts…
  2. Recording: I’d like to do more recording of everything I see. I used to do a lot of recording on Birdtrack but that tailed off at some point after summer. Disgraceful, I know. I record mammal species quite frequently and send those in to the Mammal Society. I’ve started using iRecord for my plant sightings but I think I’ll start sending them to county recorders instead.
  3. Voluntary: I’m not sure what a would be a realistic number of hours for me to achieve in a year so I’ll just say lots. Loads of voluntary, but not just volunteering to help, also trying to learn from what I do. If you go on my Flickr page you’ll see quite a few of my pics from volunteering will have an explanation beneath them as to why we’re doing what we’re doing and I’d like to keep learning from being out in the field like this. I find I learn best that way!
  4. I need to have more than three targets… Um… Well obviously I’d like to add to my life list (I’m talking birds now). But perhaps beating my 2015 year list of 202 in total, 167 in the British Isles, would be a good aim to have.
  5. Meet people: Meeting people is great, especially when they have the same interests as you! Volunteering should help with this quite a lot. In fact, this is probably a sub-aim of the volunteering aim.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. So I’ll leave you with some pics of stuff I’ve found over the past couple days…

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Herb-Robert – Geranium robertianum
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Feverfew (I think) – Tanacetum parthenium
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All these logs have been swept quite far downstream due to the large volume of water that’s been dropped on our heads recently. I’ve noticed the Dippers aren’t where I usually see them along the burn since seeing these logs piled up so I think I’ll head out and place the logs all back roughly where they used to be to sort of re-improve the habitat for the Dippers who obviously like their perches.
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Likely just Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus, however it could possibly, just maybe, be Water Vole Arvicola amphibius and that would be a very exciting find in this area. Unlikely but possible. I’ll no doubt set up my trail camera (when I buy one) in this area to see what’s about.

 

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2016… Hm…

Staring at the ground

Spent most of today’s walk looking down as I was looking for flowers to ID and also making sure I didn’t accidentally slide into the burn. More on that later, because first I’d like to show you how beautiful this next creature is. Look at the markings on its back, the placement of its incredible eyes, the hairs on its legs that it uses to detect vibrations, the legs it uses to charge across your bathroom floor, sending your brother into your room asking for you to catch it… And I’m not even being sarcastic. I genuinely find House Spiders Tegenaria domestica to be very beautifully dangerous creatures (for other things its own size of course, of no danger to you and me).

Back to today’s wander. It was perfect weather, mostly blue skys with the occasional whispy cirrus cloud adding to the blank sky. However, yesterday it was raining non-stop all day. Fortunately for me we were not hit as bad as parts of England, and my thoughts are with those affected. It was wet here though, wet enough for the Puddle Pond on the Hermitage Golf Course to be overflowing, almost every path to be a small stream, and for there to be streams in places I’d never seen them before!

One thing that stood out even more was that part of my usual route had been washed into the burn. It was quite clearly going to happen and I have no idea why nobody has dealt with it yet. So I set about dealing with it myself by blocking the path with gorse branches and diverting the path higher above the burn, round the section that is going to completely disappear sooner-or-later, and back to the bit of the path that isn’t at risk.

Happy that that was sorted, I continued with my walk through the Hermitage. Here’s what I’ve IDed so far…

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Welsh Poppy Meconopsis cambrica
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Cleavers Galium aparine
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Rape Brassica napus
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White Dead-nettle Lamium album
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Gorse Ulex europaeus
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I think this is Rough Hawkbit Leontodon hispidus
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Same again, Rough Hawkbit Leontodon hispidus
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Giant Butterbur Petasites japonicus
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Hard Rush Juncus inflexus
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Soft Rush Juncus effusus
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Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium

The last two there are unidentified at the moment. Although I suspect the first one is Cleavers, despite looking quite spiny. The second one I’d thought would have been a Willowherb of some sort but they don’t have as many petals, and Red Campion… actually I think that’s it. Red Campion Silene dioica!

Having my eyes on the ground also helped me spot these, Red Fox footprint in the mud, Otter spraint on the golfcourse near the pond, and what I’m pretty confident are Wood Mouse droppings!

As well as these, I found these tracks just after coming across the bird that made them. Any guesses? In a very wet area, thick undergrowth, mainly reedy type plants and tall ones in an aquatic habitat with very shallow, slow-moving water.

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Yup, patch ticked Water Rail, and about flipping time! Flushed it while taking a shortcut over the burn. Speaking of patch ticks, a Raven flew over Blackford Quarry on the 23rd I think, so that got ticked off. Another one I’d have thought I would have added earlier seeing as they live in the Pentlands and are occasionally seen at Arthur’s Seat, and my patch is smack bang in between the two.

Anyway, we’ll see what the weather’s like tomorrow, and whether it’s good enough for me to be out again. Cheers for reading!

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Staring at the ground

Christmas is awesome

Quite simply, awesome. I’ve already mentioned my early Muck Boots which have come in handy a lot, and after 3+ weeks of use I can honestly say nothing bad about them!

Other presents received this Christmas have included chocolate, new earphones, Lynx Africa (classic), a beany hat, new earphones, loads of nice stuff. But this being a blog on my life as a (hopefully) rising ecologist/naturalist, I will focus more on those sorts of presents.

This year I asked for field guides for Flowers, Fungi, Lichen and Mosses, and whaddayaknow, I got all four!

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In total I got 2600+ pages given to me by my dad. Plenty to be digesting!

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Collins Flower Guide, Collins Fungi Guide, Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland, and Lichens: An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species. Two of these I had already checked out from the library on my college campus, the fungi and lichens, and I’d loved both of them so those were easy choices. Given the fact that I’ve liked all the other Collins Guides that I have, I decided I best stay loyal and went for the Flower Guide by them as well, and I was recommended the bryophyte guide by @warrenmaguire on Twitter, a bryophyte enthusiast living in Edinburgh.

I haven’t had much use out of them yet, given it’s the end of boxing day today and it’s been raining virtually non-stop all day, but I have used the Flower Guide and Lichen Guide to attempt to ID some flowers and lichens that I had noted as “unidentified” on flickr. They worked well so far, although lichens are definitely quite tricky, and it might take me a wee while to get used to the terms they use in describing them.

Adding them to my current collection of field guides was quite nice as it shows how much I’ve learnt in the past year, and pretty much all of it self-taught! Obviously I have had help with some things and for all the help I’ve received I’m very thankful because I doubt I would have gotten to this stage without a lot of it 🙂

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Hoping to get out tomorrow as the rain is supposed to clear off so I’m planning on checking for any flowering plants on patch so I can partake in the #NewYearPlantHunt run by BSBI. Check it out because it’s not hard to do and you don’t have to be an expert whatsoever! I’m doing it and I only just got a flower guide.

Anyway, hope all readers had a very Merry Christmas and I’m sure I’ll post again before New Year.

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Possibly Small-flowered Cran’s-bill Geranium pusillum, which would be a good record for the area I found it, near Tarves, Aberdeenshire.
Christmas is awesome

Ferns n’ Christmas

Ferns again, I know, *yawn*. I’m enjoying them though, it’s a nice wee group of plants that I can keep an eye out for, and I’m really looking forward to spring when the deciduous ferns are to be found amongst the Broad Buckler-ferns and Bracken. But it’s going to be a while until then so I have to make do with stumbling across ferns that I wasn’t looking for. Such as this lovely Hard Shield Fern Polystichum aculeatum that I happened to notice in my torchlight as I wandered through Arniston Estate at 17:00 hoping for Badgers.

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Hard Shield Fern – Polystichum aculeatum

No luck on the Badger front but was a nice walk with a bonus fern. Suspect Arniston Estate has more to offer in terms of ferns. Also out towards my dads are the Moorfoot Hills which I’d like to have a wee look at in terms of flora. I suspect there will be some nice ones about that you wouldn’t find at lower altitudes.

Another fern that I may or may not have happened upon (awaiting confirmation at the moment) is Intermediate Polypody Polypodium interjectum in Holyrood Park. It’s clearly marked in the area on the BSBI Hectad Map (brilliant resource:  https://www.brc.ac.uk/plantatlas/index.php?q=title_page) so I think it might be, also based on comparing my pics with other pics.

 

Anyway, in other news, Christmas Eve tomorrow, and obviously Christmas the next day. Therefore I’d like to wish all readers a Merry Christmas! I’ll probably be spending my entire day wishing I could go out and use my presents to identify anything and everything in sight (I’m pretty certain I’m getting a few field guides, unless dad is playing some sick prank on me and has bought me a bunch of fiction books). But it’s always nice to be around family and even nicer seeing their faces as they receive the presents I’ve bought them and laugh at my terrible wrapping… Every year…

And looking further into the future… i.e. next year, I’m aiming to greatly increase my field skills, through self learning and possibly through courses that will certainly make the process a lot quicker. I also need to get a job… and at the same time I’m looking forward to more voluntary work all over the place, forever expanding my knowledge! And of course, the brilliant course that I’m doing at SRUC Aberdeen, which is everything I hoped it’d be!

Merry Christmas!

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Ferns n’ Christmas

Fern Finding Frolic

As mentioned in my last post, I was going to get my John Muir Award certificate today. And I did. Here it is, a lot of work went into getting it so it’ll be put up somewhere obvious! Maybe next to my cone display…

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I went to get it this morning from Lily, one of the rangers in Holyrood Park who works for what used to be Historic Scotland but is now something with a longer name. I also helped out with the junior rangers which was good and I suspect I’ll return in my Easter break to do some birding/tracking/etc with them.

After a nice morning with them I decided I’d go for the Forked Spleenwort Asplenium septentrionale that I knew was fairly easy to find on the south side of the hill just next to the road. I swithered as to whether or not I should check for Common Adderstongue Ophioglossum vulgatum in Hunter’s Bog but decided not to as I wasn’t sure if it was deciduous and if it was, then my walk would’ve been significantly longer for no good reason.

Finding the desired spleenwort didn’t take long, but not before I’d found some others…

Also confused some Sorrel Rumex acetosella with a weird Wall Rue and assumed it might be one of the hybrid ferns that can be found on Arthur’s Seat.

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After that I did find the much sought after A. septentrionale and plenty of it. Shame it’s not on patch… I’ll find it there someday.

Also managed to ID a few wildflowers for #wildflowerhour on Twitter.

 

Even managed to find a lichen, or is it a fungi? I’m gonna try ID it now… Nope no idea but it looks cool. EDIT: Collema auriforme.

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Later on in the day me and James went for the Mandarin at Figgate Park but drew a black, and same again for Bittern at Duddingston. A good day of botanising, not so good on the bird front!

 

Fern Finding Frolic

John Muir Award

I’m going to pick up my certificate for my John Muir Award on Sunday and that’s reminded me, I never posted my final John Muir Award on my blog, so I’m going to do that now… If I can find it…

Yup, I’ve managed to find it in an email from July, so I’ll stick it up here… It’s quite a long read and in JPEG format for some reason, hope that’s not too inconvenient!

On a side note, I’ve given up my search for Asplenum septentrionale (Forked Spleenwort) on Blackford Hill. I’ve searched the quarry and quite a lot of the crags around the top of the hill, but had no success. Thus I’m going to have a look for it on Sunday when I’m in Holyrood Park as it’s apparently quite easy to see there!

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John Muir Award

History and Archaeology Essay

At Loch Tay there is a crannog by Oakbank which has had multiple excavations reveal lots of finds. A crannog is an island which is often made artificially on a loch, usually dating from prehistory to medieval. This particular crannog dates back to around about 595 BC, making it an Iron Age site. Finds at this site included bits of iron slag, confirming that the people at the time were definitely in the Iron Age. This iron slag may have been spilt from moulds that the people living at the crannog had been using to make tools. This means the Iron Age had civilised tools and were therefore quite advanced when compared to earlier inhabitants of this part of Scotland. This is further demonstrated by the other finds from the same dig: a peg, whistle, and cereal remains. All of these show that these people were capable of carrying out a number of more complex tasks. The peg means that the inhabitants of the crannog had clothes, probably made from wool, which they dried on lines. The fact that they had woollen clothes means they must have farmed sheep, and the cereal remains means they must have also practiced arable farming as well. The whistle means these people were capable of carving some very complex shapes from wood, and perhaps had some advanced techniques for doing so.

 

 

 

Castle Fraser standing stones are situated in an arable field not far from Castle Fraser itself, at grid reference NJ 71508 12533. It is a recumbent stone circle thought to have been made at some point in the late Bronze Age. It is identified as a recumbent stone circle by the recumbent, a stone laid on its side between two tall, upright rocks called flankers, and several other shorter rocks placed upright in a circle around a slightly raised centre area. The original circle of stones no longer stands because some of the rocks have been knocked over, at least one was knocked down by agricultural machinery, possibly more, or over time the rocks have become less stable. Below is a very rough sketch made at the time of the visit, rotated so north is at the top edge of the sketch.

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As can be seen from the sketch, the recumbent is on the south-southwest side of the circle and there are six other stones that can be seen around the circle. There were originally ten stones; one recumbent, two flankers, and seven others around the circle. At the time of visiting the site there were nine stones visible, one had been removed at some point, and three of them were lying on their sides. There is also evidence that the circle was paved with rocks to a diameter of 16 metres, sort of shown by the circle in the centre, although obviously not to scale.

The main technique used to investigate the site was field walking whilst visiting the site, to see the arrangement of the stones and the area in which they were situated, although the site was not very easy to study due to the long grass that has grown over it. Field walking was the easiest technique to use to gain an understanding of the site and it was also the only one that could be carried out without using special equipment. Pictures were taken of the stones for reference at a later date and I have researched on the internet to find any details of features that I may not have seen. This has revealed that others have used other techniques to survey the area including aerial photography, photography from ground level and excavation. The photos taken from above have helped me see the layout of the stone circle in a way that I could not see it from the ground, and the photographs taken in the past, such as one on the Canmore website taken in 1902, have helped me see the previous condition of the site and therefore helped explain its current condition.

The archaeological excavation which was carried out by Charles Elphinstone Dalrymple in the 19th century has helped to reveal roughly when the stone circle was built. Dalrymple’s finds included three potsherds from Late Bronze Age flat-rimmed ware, a lot of pieces of daub (plaster, clay, or another substance used for coating a surface) with wattle impressions, and two pieces of charcoal. Charcoal has also been found around the bottoms of some of the standing stones.

To clarify, an archaeological excavation is a method of discovering objects of historical interest, such as was done by Dalrymple at this site. Excavations typically take place at sites where there is a strong suspicion that there will be something to find buried beneath the earth. The main concept of excavation is that the soil is built up in layers over time, and therefore the layers nearest the surface are the youngest, and the layers further down are older, and will hopefully hold finds which can be excavated. This is called stratification and it helps archaeologists to work out how old their finds are, so layers of soil are removed one-by-one. In this case, they were right to carry out an excavation. The site was appropriate as it was clearly a place that was used by people quite often. The excavation helped to date the Stone Circle that could be seen at ground level, and it helped to give an insight into the lives of the people that used the stone circle all those many years ago. However, the archaeological dig that was carried out back in the 19th century will not have been as exact and precise as a dig that would have been carried out today. Technology has advanced, we are more knowledgeable and we have better ways of doing things now. It is quite possible that Dalrymple has missed out on some finds because his excavation technique was not what it could have been if it had been done in the 21st century. That said, how would we have advanced to this stage in our ability to excavate an area without missing anything? The archaeological excavation carried out on this site was necessary for the deeper understanding of what this site was for.

 

This site is protected by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, meaning it is protected and cannot be removed or destroyed. If someone were to do so they would be breaking the law. There is free access to the site for anyone who respects the Countryside Access Code. Since this site is in the middle of an arable field, there is no easy access and most people may not want to bother walking across a field to see the remains of a recumbent stone circle which is becoming overgrown with grass. There is a muddy car park in one corner of the field which offers little space for cars as the farmer uses it for his equipment, therefore there is restricted access but that doesn’t appear to be a problem as few people visit the site anyway.

 

The organisation responsible for the site is Historic Scotland, and they will check the site every few years to ensure no damage is being done to it or has been done to it. I suspect they will want to clear the grass from the area as the roots may be digging deep enough to mess with the layers of deposits which may be finds if a dig is carried out in the future. There is also a small local group which occasionally check archaeological sites and do a bit of voluntary work to keep them tidy.

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The recumbent between two flankers

 

About 200 metres to the east of the site discussed above is another small patch of standing stones which I did not study. This is however quite an important piece of information because it means there is another site very nearby so there is a possibility that more finds may be found if a dig were to take place between the two sites. There is a possibility that there was something between the two stone circles, perhaps just a path, but even then there may have been objects left next to the path which would reveal more about the history of the area.

Since the sites are on agricultural land which is being used, it would be difficult to start an excavation as this would mean stopping the farmer from working on his own land. There is the possibility of something being brought up to ground level by ploughing which takes place on the land anyway, so someone could go to the site on the day that the farmer decides to plough his field to check if any finds are made visible. Even easier than this would be to walk between the two groups of standing stones and studying the ground between them to search for anything that may have already been brought to the surface.

Other techniques would be expensive as they require quite technical equipment, such as phosphate analysis which might reveal that there was a small animal pen where lots of dung has left a high phosphate concentration. Metal detectors may not be very productive as the only dig that has been done on this site has turned up non-metal finds so it is perhaps unlikely that there is any metal to be found at or between the recumbent stone circle and the other standing stones.

Another method which may be used to reveal other sites for conducting archaeological techniques would be to look for areas nearby which have the same features as the sites already discovered, such as the fact that the recumbent stone circle is on raised ground. This means that it is likely any other sites nearby which have been lost will have been on slightly raised ground. Any small mounds may be worth exploring.

 

Site management at the Castle Fraser recumbent stone circle is minimal. There are very few visitors to the site so there has been nothing done to accommodate visitors. There’s a small, muddy car park but that is there for the farmer, and there is no path to the stone circle, you must walk along the edge of the field and then across it to get to the stone circle, where the ground is rough underfoot and the grass is overgrown. This provides many problems for visitor access. It is possible that someone would injure themselves whilst walking about on the uneven ground, and then it would be difficult to get back to the car park because they would need to get through the field. This could be avoided if the vegetation is cleared fairly regularly from the site so visitors could see the ground they are standing on. There is space at the side of the field for a narrow path to be made, although this may have been left by the farmer for a reason, so it would be best to consult the farmer as to the possibility of putting a small path in place.

Parking is limited, but this isn’t a problem because, as mentioned already, very few people visit the site. One problem that may arise at some point would be if wheelchair access was needed. It would be extremely difficult for a wheelchair to get to the stone circle, and harder still to move about once at the circle. Due to the area in which the site is, I don’t feel it is possible to put measures in place which would allow wheelchair access.

A stone has already been damaged by agricultural practice, although that happened quite a long time ago. I think that may have been what made Historic Scotland decide to request the farmer left a sort of buffer zone around the stone circle (an extra metre or so of space on all sides of the circle) to leave the farmer room to manoeuvre machinery without damaging the stones. If the stone which fell over and split in half was knocked over despite the buffer zone, this zone may need extended slightly.

 

Traprain Law, situated in East Lothian just south of East Linton, is a hill surrounded by low, flat ground on which a fort was discovered after numerous archaeological finds. These have ranged from ‘bone objects’ to a silver hoard, and cover many different ages from Neolithic to Roman. The age that I will focus on here though, is the Neolithic age. There have been a few finds at this site to indicate humans took up some sort of settlement here during Neolithic times. Polished stone axes discovered relatively recently point towards Neolithic settlement, as they did not have the knowledge required to form Bronze into tools, hence the period after the Neolithic ages being called the Bronze ages as technology became more advanced. Some rock art that was discovered at Traprain Law also pointed towards Neolithic settlers occupying the area, however a new panel being discovered has possibly changed this view. There is brief mention of some other Neolithic implements being discovered at the site but there is not sufficient evidence that people stayed here permanently in Neolithic times, but perhaps they used the site as a ritual focus or as a burial site.

 

All the ages discussed above (Neolithic, Bronze, Iron) quite clearly have different signs when it comes to finds. When an excavation reveals stone tools, you immediately think that the other finds from this layer of soil will be from the Neolithic age, because at that point in history, humans had not yet developed methods in which to extract metals from the earth and therefore had to use stone tools. There are other signs, such as the fact that farming was introduced from mainland Europe around this time, so finding traces of piles of grain may indicate that a site has ties to Neolithic times, however farming is still practiced with grains and therefore you couldn’t rule out the Bronze-age or Iron-age based on that evidence alone. But you could rule out any time period before then. Buildings and architecture can be a good sign of an age, although this isn’t so true for the Neolithic age because the houses they built in this period were made of wood, and remains are not often found.

Tools can continue to be an indicator of a time period, as in the Bronze-age humans had managed to gain access to bronze and they used this material for tools such as axes, and also weaponry. Agriculture also spread rapidly across the British Isles in the Bronze-age and this can be seen as more sites will show signs of farming. But tools are really the best indicator in this age as bronze was used a lot around this time period.

Again, the clue is in the name. Iron-age sites will have signs of the use of iron. Whether this is recovery of iron tools, or just bits of iron (e.g. iron slag at Oakbank Crannog) and sometimes there are signs that humans have been extracting iron and forming it into shapes. Weaponry in particular can demonstrate Iron-age influence; it is known that Britain became more tied to mainland Europe as sword types became more like those found across the rest of Europe. Other artefacts from northern Europe brought across the North Sea, and from Mediterranean Phoenician traders who came to Britain looking for minerals during this time will also be clear signs that a site is of Iron-age origin. Again, architecture can be used to suss out when a building was made. Hill forts and many other defensive structures such as Brochs were built in the Iron-age which makes it very easy to work out what time period a site is from if it’s a large building.

 

Reference:

 

  1. Canmore, 2015, Traprain Law, https://canmore.org.uk/site/ [accessed 15 Nov 2015]
  2. Canmore, 2015, Loch Tay, Oakbank, https://canmore.org.uk/site/ [accessed 15 Nov 2015]
  3. Canmore, 2015, Castle Fraser, https://canmore.org.uk/site/ [accessed 15 Nov 2015]
  4. For Dummies, 2015, The Historical Periods of Britain, http://www.dummies.com/how-to/ [accessed 15 Nov 2015]
  5. Wikipedia, 2001, Recumbent Stone Circle, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recumbent_stone_circle [accessed 15 Nov 2015]
  6. Wikipedia, 2001, British Iron Age, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Iron_Age [accessed 15 Nov 2015]
  7. Wikipedia, 2001, Bronze Age Britain, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronze_Age_Britain [accessed 15 Nov 2015]
History and Archaeology Essay