Amusement in Aberdeenshire as newly discovered stone circle turns out to be… well, new.

There has been much amusement in the media over the past few days around the official recording of a stone circle before Christmas by archaeologists from the local council and the national heritage organisation, Historic Environment Scotland, which has turned out to be only around 25 years old.

Described earlier as a smaller variation of sites typical of the region, it was noted that is was in very good condition, and that it was surprising that the site had not been formally recorded before now. The former owner of the land, however, has recently got in touch with the officials explaining that he built the replica in the mid-1990s.

Cue much collective guffawing and some professional embarrassment – neatly summed up on the BBC’s Newsround website as, “Awks!”  The local archaeologist took to twitter noting ruefully, “If you are having an awkward day at work at least you’re not that guy who identified a new prehistoric stone circle to the press that now turns out to be about 20 years old.

A nice piece in the Scotsman this week puts this all into a wider perspective, noting that many archaeological sites of this kind remain mysterious; flags that the honesty and candour of professionals involved will do them good rather than harm; and that there is a history of making ‘new’ monuments.  The example of the Sighthill Megalith is given – and I would encourage you to read Kenny Brophy’s blog on this site, and his other investigations into the past around us in the everyday urban environment.

I agree with the Scotsman article and forsee that the site will indeed become of greater interest to visitors, and should rightly do so.  Given the ’30 year rule’ which applies to listing sites in the built environment, the site is already almost of an age where it could officially be ‘heritage’, and in due course could indeed merit protection – and why not?  It may be a site of its time, and hopefully investigation won’t stop entirely – it would be great to professionally record the motivation of the builder of this new/old site – and, as archaeologists often say, to gain an insight into the society which created it – an advantage we don’t have for sites which really are 4000 years old.

Vindolanda: the military bath-house

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Military bath-house, Vindolanda during conservation © David Gill

The military bath-house at Vindolanda lies on the northern side of the excavated vicus outside the west gate of the fort. The bath-house was one of the first structures to be excavated by the Vindolanda Trust as it was felt that it would provide visitors with something to see and therefore would generate income for the site. This was undertaken over two seasons in 1970 and 1971.

This view from the mid 1970s shows the view across the bath-house looking south towards the replica stretches of the stone and turf walls. Note the placing of a seat within the bath complex to allow visitors to look across the excavations. The conservation was undertaken by a team from the Department of the Environment.

This same view, some 40 years later, shows the present display of the bath-house taken from the viewing platform. Note how the grass has been replaced with gravel.

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Military bath-house, Vindolanda © David Gill

Vindolanda: the Replica of the Turf Wall

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Turf Wall replica, Vindolanda © David Gill

In 1972/73 the Vindolanda Trust decided to construct a possible replica of the turf wall that had formed part of Hadrian’s Wall west of the river Irthing. This photograph must have been taken in the mid 1970s as the ditch appears to have been cut relatively recently.

The replica did not meet with enthusiasm. J. McMillan, the Deputy Director of Education for Gateshead, wrote to The Times (27 April 1974) in defence of the project: ‘the replicas add another dimension to the site’. Indeed there was a libel case that found in favour of the archaeologists working at Vindolanda (‘Apology to Vindolanda archaeologists’, The Times 21 May 1974).