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Excavations give glimpses into north east's past 15,000 years
Artefacts and structures found during archaeological excavations on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route/Balmedie to Tipperty (AWPR/B-T) project are shedding light on land use and settlement in the north east over the past 15,000 years, including Mesolithic pits, Roman bread ovens, prehistoric roundhouses and a cremation complex.
Since the archaeological excavations were completed, specialists have been analysing the artefacts and samples recovered from the various sites and will be detailing the results in a new limited edition book due to be published later this year.
Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work said:
“When complete, the AWPR will help to reduce congestion, cut journey times, improve safety and lower pollution in Aberdeen City Centre, as well as enable local authorities to develop public transport solutions. However, the archaeology has also proven to be yet another huge benefit coming from this project, helping to shine a light on Scotland’s ancient past.
“The discoveries along the AWPR route, which would have remained undiscovered had the new bypass not been built, are truly remarkable and underline the importance of the value we place on meeting our environmental obligations as we plan and construct this new infrastructure.”
Bruce Mann, Archaeologist for Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council, explained:
“There has been a range of fascinating discoveries from the archaeological works carried out on site. Some raise more questions than they answer about what we thought we knew about the north east. For instance, a very unexpected discovery was the presence of Roman activity at Milltimber, likely dating from around 83/84 AD. Ninety bread ovens were uncovered, which were probably constructed by the Roman army at a time of invasion led by the Roman General Agricola. However, no evidence of an associated camp was found, which is unusual for these types of features. We can only speculate as to why the ovens were at this specific location, and what it says about what was happening in the area at the time.”
"Going back to the very earliest finds, there was also evidence of stone tool production dating between about 13,000 and 10,000 BC at Milltimber, a near unprecedented body of evidence which pushes back our understanding of human activity in north east Scotland by several thousand years. The same site revealed spreads of flints along with large pits dating between 10,000 BC to 4,100 BC that could have been used by hunter-gatherers to trap deer, elks or aurochs (an ancestor of modern bison). What is particularly exciting is that these finds have been made in an area where our knowledge is rapidly expanding through research projects such as Mesolithic Deeside.”
The discoveries made during the works were not confined to the environs of the River Dee. A structure dating between 7,000 BC to 6,700 BC was also found at Standingstones, in the hills to the west of Dyce. This tent-like shelter was likely only used for a few nights by a small group of people while they collected nuts, berries and tubers or hunted animals in the immediate area.
Bruce continued: “Bronze Age activity was identified from Nether Beanshill in the form of a roundhouse and contemporary cremation complex dating from around 1,600 to 1,250 BC.BC. The burial comprised of an urn in which the cremated remains of an individual in their 20s had been placed. This urn was placed in a pit which was then marked by a horseshoe-shaped arrangement of timber posts. Two other similar burials were covered by miniature mounds and surrounded by small ditches.”
Although artefacts of a wide range of dates, materials and types were discovered across the scheme, a particularly well-preserved Beaker period pot found in a post-hole at Milltimber was a highlight. The pot was completely intact when it was found and must have been placed in the ground with a great deal of care. It dates to between 2,400 BC to around 2,200/2,000 BC.
Bruce added: “These archaeological finds provide real insight into the history and culture of the north east. They are impressive in both in time depth and range of activities represented. They push back known human activity in the region by at least 2,000 years, add new detail to how our ancestors lived and died, and reveal a new dimension to Rome’s invasions of Scotland.”
Leader of Aberdeenshire Council Cllr Jim Gifford added:
“The AWPR project isn’t just about construction of the route itself, as important as that is. It’s also about our relationship with the environment and the history of the north-east of Scotland.
“The book, when it becomes available later this year, captures a slice of history and I would like to thank Bruce and those who worked on this element of the scheme for their hard work in producing this excellent document.”
Aberdeen City Council transport and regeneration spokesman Councillor Ross Grant said:
“The archaeology finds are fascinating and highlight just how rich the entire area is in history.
“It is interesting to find out how our forebearers lived and the Roman bread ovens found at Milltimber paint a picture of everyday life of the incoming army while they were invading.
“While modern-day residents are looking forward to the completion of the AWPR and the benefits it will bring to Aberdeen and the surrounding area, I’m sure they will find these discoveries interesting.”
Other excavations include a small hub of Iron Age activity at Goval dating from around the first and second centuries AD where a roundhouse of around 10 metres in diameter was found which would have provided space to live comfortably. The roundhouse was built of vertical wooden posts supporting a large conical thatched roof and there would have been a central hearth. An area of stone paving – or work surface – was also found outside the entrance of the building.
A furnace found nearby showed evidence of iron smelting, the process of extracting iron from ore. The ore which was most likely extracted from nearby peat bogs, would have been heated in the furnace causing the iron to separate and pool in the bottom of the furnace.