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St Kilda Archaeologist's Report

Executive Summary
Introduction
The 2002 Season
The 2003 Season
Acknowledgements

 


1.0 Executive Summary

This report summarises the work undertaken on the island by The National Trust for Scotland St Kilda Archaeologist in 2002. During the summer there were six work parties, four undertaking repair and maintenance work and two involved in archaeological excavation. The repair and maintenance work parties carried out a number of tasks under archaeological supervision that included; repairing cleit roofs, drystane dykes and planticrues; investigating the drains around the roofed buildings and carrying out experimental lime-pointing work, all as approved/agreed with Historic Scotland through the Management Agreement. The archaeological work parties continued to excavate the site on Mullach Sgar. A number of cruise ships and smaller vessels visited with a total of approximately 1600 visitors, a number of which came on guided walks. A coastal erosion survey was carried out in Village Bay; the structures in Gleann Mor were monitored; a photographic survey of certain cleitean carried out and a photographic and measured drawing survey of the Munitions Store was completed. Fuller reports on some of these topics will be produced before the next season.


2.0 Introduction

The post of St Kilda Archaeologist in 2002 was held by Susan Bain, initially this post was managed from the NTS Highlands and Islands (south) Office in Oban, with archaeological advice from Jill Harden, NTS Highlands and Islands Archaeologist. However with the closure of the Oban office and the redundancy of all the staff, management moved to the Inverness Office. The post and duties of the St Kilda Archaeologist were unaffected by the restructuring of the NTS.


3.0 The 2002 Season

3.1Coastal Erosion
A photographic survey of the coastline in Village Bay was carried out in June. Photographs from the last coastal erosion survey in 1999 were used as a reference and also to gauge the extent of any erosion. Previous erosion surveys had taken "face on" or oblique views of the cliff face. This was supplemented this year by top edge views which may better help gauge the depth of material lost.
The survey indicated that since 1999 there had been a loss of 1m or more from sections B, C, the lower terrace in section F and the east end of section E. There was also noticeable erosion in section A and E. The remaining sections were either unaffected or only had slight vegetation loss. Whilst the rate of loss may be unusual because of the severity and direction of the winter storms in 2001-2002, this rate is clearly very worrying and will affect the Store.


A Fragment of handmade pottery
Photograph: Susan Bain

Two sherds of handmade pottery (STK02/21) were recovered from section B; a layer of burning was also noted in this exposed section.
A fuller report on the coastal erosion will be produced.

3.2 Gleann Mor Structures - condition survey
All the structures in Gleann Mor were re-visited this year. The photographs from previous visits in 1996 and 1999 were taken into the field in order to replicate the views taken and also to note any change since 1999. Most of the structures appeared to be unchanged since the last monitoring visit, although minor changes were noted in a few. These changes are presumably the result of severe weather and/or the activities of the Soay sheep.
A fuller report on the condition of the Gleann Mor structures will be produced.

3.3 Cleit Preservation Project
Of the 311 cleits listed for active maintenance in the Cleit Preservation Programme (Taylor 2001), 80 did not have a complete photographic record. Unfortunately it was not possible to visit all of them to complete the record but 68 cleits were visited and a photograph taken of each elevation and interior (where possible).
The majority of cleits showed no change from the description and photographs taken between 1996 and 2001. However a few had suffered some minor damage, these included:

Cleit 120 corner A/D collapse
Cleit 479 corner C/D collapse
Cleit 799 stone lintel collapse
Cleit 513 (The Chimney Cleit) corner A/B collapse
Cleit 900 recent tumble in front of side A

Sixteen of the seventeen cleits identified for annual monitoring in the Cleit Preservation Programme were also re-visited and checked.

3.4 Rubble in Houses 7,9,10-13 & 16 and Blackhouse F
The Management Agreement with Historic Scotland includes the proposal to remove the builders' rubble from within houses 10,11 & 13 in 2002, following appropriate investigation and consideration. The assessment of the rubble in the houses was not completed this year but a report will be produced before the 2003 season, so that detailed consideration can be given to the work by Historic Scotland before the 2003 work party season begins.

3.5 Munitions Store Survey
A standing building survey was carried out on the Munitions Store. Where possible all internal and external elevations were photographed (STK02:18/16-25). All the external and two internal elevations were sketched at 1:50.
A fuller report including a statement of significance and assessment of its condition will be produced.

3.6 GUARD Excavations
Excavation by the University of Glasgow continued on the eastern slopes of Mullach Sgar. A large area was opened up to expose the 'horned structure', structure 3 and the area in-between, in order to determine any relationship between the two. Handmade pottery was again recovered from the area of the horned structure. The interior of structure 3 was fully excavated and several stone tools recovered from the floor levels. Walls of a larger structure were exposed in the area between structure 3 and the 'horned structure' although their full extent remains unclear.
An increasing amount of time allocated to the excavation is being spent exposing and back-filling the site. The possibility of using repair and maintenance work parties in this process was discussed. The St Kilda Archaeologist assisted in some of the fieldwork and liaised with the Project Directors, Bob Will and John Duncan.

3.7 Work Parties
During the 12 weeks of the summer when there are work parties on the island a great deal of the Archaeologist's time is spent working with them. This year, as always, they were an enthusiastic and hard working bunch with a range of skills that could be adapted and used on St Kilda.
i) Sections of walling were repaired including: the dyke to south and north of cleit 2; planticrue 3, cleitean 15, 18, 31, 36, 94 and the enclosure behind house 3. A number of artefacts were noted during these repairs.


Photograph: Susan Bain

ii) Repairs to the turf roofs were carried out on cleitean 3, 11, 18, 63, 73 and 82

iii) Two areas on the east front elevation of House 14 were picked out and re-pointed with lime mortar as specified by Historic Scotland. Each area was re-pointed using a different mortar mix; to the west of the window a St. Astier mix was used, a Jura Kaulk mix was used on the east side of the window

iv) The work parties also investigated and cleaned out the drains around Houses 1, 3 and 4 under archaeological supervision. This showed that, as expected, the drains had been repaired and replaced in the recent past. It also highlighted the need to include a drain clearance schedule in every year's work programme.
The St Kilda Archaeologist investigated the nature of the drainage around House 6. This appeared to show a complete lack of drainage which may account for the flooding problems around and within the house each winter. The investigation also highlighted the need for a detailed archaeological excavation of the area prior to the drainage works which are required before the re-roofed and re-lined house can be fully used.


Photograph: NTS

v) Damp problems have been regularly reported over the last few years along the base of the north wall of the church. The opportunity was taken this year to investigate them. As part of the investigation a small exploratory trench was dug under archaeological supervision along the north wall. This revealed that there is no drain along the north side gable of the church. Appropriate drainage works may be required for this building too.

vi) Drainage around the Factor's House was also investigated, this revealed a corroding and leaking pipe, broken joints and lack of drainage along one side. The joints were resealed and a soak-away put in along the south side of the house, the silted up drainage channels above the Factors House were also cleared. No archaeological features were noted although a number of 19th/20th century artefacts were noted.
A fuller report on the drains around the houses will be produced.

3.8 Other Works

Watching Brief - Mullach Sgar
The anchoring guy ropes on the radar tracking mast on Mullach Sgar were replaced this summer. This involved the re-locating of the concrete plinths to which the guys are attached. RJ McLeod Contractors Ltd were contracted to carry out the works in May-June. Access to the site was agreed on-site between RJ McLeod site manager (Donnie Campbell) and NTS St Kilda Archaeologist (Susan Bain). Three holes were excavated by JCB; all were approximately 1.2 square metres in plan and varied in depth from 0.8m to 2.2m. No evidence of structures or artefacts were noted. The use of a JCB and power barrows in wet conditions caused some damage to the vegetation and upper soil layer. However no archaeological features were noted.

St Kilda Soay Sheep Project
Throughout the summer members of the St Kilda Soay Sheep Project were on Hirta as usual. During the annual catch it was particularly important that there was liaison between the Archaeologist and project members. An introduction to the village area and an explanation of its archaeological importance was given to all project members. The project leaders ensured that all their staff were aware of the issues and conditions of the Scheduled Monument Consent and ensured the catch was carried out with all due care and attention, not only to the sheep, but to the upstanding monuments as well. The Soay sheep catch went successfully with no damage of note to any of the monuments (or sheep).

Soil Sampling - University of Aberdeen
As part of a Leverhulme programme of research into pollution on remote Scottish Islands a research assistant, Claire Deacon, from the University of Aberdeen spent 10 days on Hirta taking a series of soil samples from cultivated areas. As all of the sample pits lay within scheduled ancient monument areas the St Kilda Archaeologist was present throughout the sampling programme. All the pits excavated revealed homogenous cultivated soil varying in depth from 0.3m to almost 1m. A number of artefacts were recovered from the sample pits; these included a few sherds of 19th- 20th century ceramics, fragments of leather, later 20th century iron fragments and a few sherds of hand-made pottery which may be prehistoric.

Coastal Defence
The cliff face immediately in front of the Store had suffered extensive erosion over the winter months. In order to minimise the effects of potential future storms, and as a temporary measure until a full assessment of coastal defences can be prepared, three gabion baskets were placed immediately in front of the Store.
These baskets were placed on the stone foreshore and filled with loose stones and boulders recovered from the slipway area. The area behind them was filled with loose stones in order to avoid scouring. This work was carried out by the St Kilda Archaeologist and Warden and is intended merely to absorb some of the impact of winter storms this year. It was not intended, nor should be viewed, as anything other than a temporary measure. It was assumed that this action would at best reduce any erosion and at worst have no effect whatsoever.
A team of erosion specialists visited St Kilda in late September 2002 and will produce a report and recommendations for future action.


Photograph: Jill Harden

Conservation
Rain and frost has also caused damage to the concrete base for one of the stays of the 1913 radio mast, located in front of the Factor's House. The conservation department of the National Museums of Scotland were contacted for advice as to the possibilities of repair and the way in which such bases might be conserved for the future. It was recommended that the Historic Scotland stone conservation workshops should be contacted and this is now being progressed.


3.9 Island Relations

This summer was a time of change for base staff, as the running of the base transferred from Serco to QinetiQ. While there were some changes in job descriptions the personnel remained the same, although this was of course a time of uncertainty. However the base continued to provide essential support to the St Kilda Archaeologist, not only supplying accommodation and food but also the occasional lift to the top of the hill and trip in the boat; they provided storage for various boxes and materials and also the essential safety back up for lone working.
QinetiQ staff ensured that the St Kilda Archaeologist was consulted over issues which may be of concern, including the emplacing of a new crash barrier on Mullach Sgar; the construction of a concrete plinth at the POL ramp and the repainting of the zebra crossing.
The St Kilda Archaeologist liaised closely with the Warden over issues of concern to both, including: coastal erosion, guided walks, work party schedules, wall repairs and drain clearance. The Archaeologist and Warden on occasion teamed up to work in areas that were particularly remote or with difficult access eg monitoring cleits on Mullach Bi.


3.11 Education
Correspondence between the archaeologist and Yeland School, Lancashire was carried out as part of a school project on St Kilda. Guided walks were offered to cruise ships, all work party members, researchers and staff..

4.0 2003 Season

4.1 Cleit Preservation Programme
A photographic record will be taken of the few remaining cleits in the Cleit Preservation Programme which so far are inadequately photographed. A work plan will be drawn up for the regular monitoring of the cleits that are to be actively maintained. The plan will then be progressed by the St Kilda Archaeologist and work party members every year.

4.2 Work Parties
The St Kilda Archaeologist will provide advice and guidance to the work party leaders as required. The Archaeologist will also provide advice and support to the professional staff that organise the archaeology work parties for the NTS. There will also be an increase in the secondment of work party members to work with the St Kilda Archaeologist this year, as necessary and appropriate.

4.3 Cliff Erosion
A walkover survey of the coastline in Village Bay will be undertaken in order to assess any erosion and its impact on archaeological deposits and structures.

4.4 House Drains
The drains around Houses 2 and 5 will be investigated and cleaned out as necessary. Following the investigation of the drains around the other roofed buildings during the 2002 season, the forthcoming report is bound to identify additional, necessary drainage works. If agreed with Historic Scotland, these will be started. In particular, the initial assessment of the drainage problem around House 6 revealed archaeological deposits containing material from the occupation of the house in what may be an undisturbed context. The drainage problem must be dealt with, so it will be necessary to undertake a full archaeological investigation of the area around House 6 before insertion of appropriate land drains.

4.5 Assessment of Builders' Rubble
Where appropriate the rubble will be removed from the houses identified in the Management Plan. A report on the significance of the rubble will be produced before the 2003 season.

4.6 Bracken Control Assessment
Desk-based research, as well as field survey of the spread of bracken in the Village Bay area will be undertaken. Proposals for any appropriate action will be outlined in a report produced before 2004.

5.0 Acknowledgements

In this my first year I should like to give thanks to everyone who generously offered advice and support: Andy Robinson, St Kilda Warden; Jill Harden, NTS Highlands and Islands Regional Archaeologist; Dave Clarke and Tony Horne, Island supervisors and all the staff of QinetiQ , Eurest and Movecon; all the work party leaders, cook and members of the 2002 season; Anne May, Alasdair Oatts and Donald MacAskill, NTS Oban office; Sally Foster, Historic Scotland; Lorna Johnstone, GUARD (former St Kilda Archaeologist); Robin Turner, NTS Senior Archaeologist and GUARD.


 

 

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