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Kintore: A Sumamry of Archaeological Work

View the Background, Recent Work, Summary of Finds, Discussion, Acknowledgements

Background

The area to the west of Kintore up to and including the A96 Bypass is rich in recorded archaeological remains. Prior to 1996 it was known that the major archaeological feature within this area comprised of a temporary Roman marching camp at Deer's Den. This Severan camp (193-235AD) is part of a two-phase invasion of the NE of Scotland on a line from Stonehaven to the Moray Firth coast. The camp itself covers an area of approximately 120 acres and survives visibly as cropmarks.

The three other important sites within the vicinity are Rollo Mire, an area of bog containing potential palaeo-environmental information, a series of semi-circular cropmarks across the area that are prehistoric in origin, and finally the site of the Lands of the Holy Cross. This is known traditionally as once being the property of a monastery in the south of Scotland dating to the medieval period.

The most recent excavation before 1996 occurred further to the north at Tavelty (Shepherd, I. 1986) where a beaker cist burial with a rich assemblage of grave goods was uncovered. While the excavation, when combined with the evidence of the known sites, demonstrated that the area had concentrated remains dating from at least the Neolithic Period onwards the cropmarks clearly showed that 19th and 20th century agricultural practices had reduced the majority of features to negative ones below the plough soil.

Recent Archaeological Work

Since 1996 there have been five major excavations in Kintore. These can be summarised as:

  1. March-April 1996. A96 Kintore Bypass evaluations by CFA. A full watching brief along the length of the works including a detailed excavation where the works crossed the Roman camp at Deer's Den.
  2. May 2000. Proposed Housing Development evaluations by AOC. An evaluation over 35 hectares comprising of 16200m² machine dug trenches and 50 0.5m² hand-dug test-pits. This covered 4.6% of the development area.
  3. May-December 2000. Forest Road Excavations by AOC. A full excavation totalling 8.75 hectares. (Carried out as a result of the previous May 2000 evaluation).
  4. May-July 2002. Henderson Drive Excavations by AOC. An evaluation in March 2002 across 1 hectare of the development comprised of 15 trenches representing 25% of the total area. This was followed by full excavations of 15 areas, a total of 2300m². (Carried out as a result of the previous May 2000 evaluation).
  5. July 2002. Kintore Primary School, Kintore Greenfield Site & School Yards Evaluations by AOC. 10% of the 3.1 hectares was excavated – 1760m² at Greenfield, 40m² in the School Yards and 1340m² in the Pleasure Park.

Summary of Finds

The collective results of the above excavations are summarised below according to period. Only the most significant finds/features have been included. The results of the initial housing development evaluation in 2000 by AOC has been merged with the later results of Forest Road and Henderson Drive as these were continuations of the same project.

Mesolithic

Forest Road Excavation – Small selection of worked flint.

Neolithic

  • A96 Bypass Evaluations – Series of pits of indeterminate use, half of a plain pottery bowl.
  • Forest Road Excavation - Possible barrow defined by a rectilinear segmented ditch, various lithic scatters of worked flint and quartz, pits of an indeterminate nature, two scoops, and a possible cup-marked stone.
  • Henderson Drive Excavation – 6 pits with pottery and flint.
  • Kintore Primary School Excavations – pits of an indeterminate nature.

Bronze Age

  • A96 Bypass Evaluations – Lithic scatter, pits of an indeterminate use.
  • Forest Road Excavation - Lithic scatter of worked flint, pits including some used for cremation burials, remains of a possible cist with inhumation, a beaker vessel, various saddle querns and a ring-groove structure probably domestic in nature.
  • Henderson Drive Excavation – Post-ring roundhouse.

Iron Age

  • A96 Bypass Evaluations – Possible four-poster structure, again of indeterminate use though it has been suggested as a granary, four circular structures represented by post-holes, these are probably roundhouses.
  • Forest Road Excavation - 27 Roundhouses including 13 ring-ditch houses, 26 four-poster structures of indeterminate use, 1 six-post structure, 1 three-post structure, 1 post-hole structure, again all of which are indeterminate in use.
  • Henderson Drive Excavation – 5 roundhouses, 1 square 4-poster structure and another possible one, 1 rectilinear 4-poster structure.
  • Kintore Primary School Excavations – Ditches and postholes belonging to possible roundhouses.

Roman

  • A96 Bypass Evaluations - Titulus entranceway in western side of camp excavated, two possible ovens, various indeterminate pits, and parts of the camp ditch were sectioned.
  • Forest Road Excavation - 24 sections were excavated across the Roman marching camp ditch, 120 bipartite pits or 'bread-ovens' within the camp, 12 latrine pits though some of these may have been rubbish pits.
  • Henderson Drive Excavation – 8 field ovens.
  • Kintore Primary School Excavations – 1 section across the camp ditch, 12 ovens.

Medieval

  • Forest Road Excavation - Rectilinear structure dated from a single piece of pottery, gully feature of indeterminate use.

Post Medieval

  • Forest Road Excavation - 19th century quarry.

Discussion

A96 Bypass Evaluations

The spread of pits containing Neolithic artefacts at Deer's Den has enhanced our knowledge of this period in Aberdeenshire that until now has been dominated by the timber hall at Balbridie (Ralston 1982). The pottery from the four structures suggests they are of later prehistoric date though the absence of souterrain-like ditches from the excavation makes this a more unusual settlement. The trenches that examined the Roman camp confirmed the alignment and size of the titulus entrance seen on aerial photographs but unfortunately no artefacts were uncovered from the lower levels that would either refute or confirm the interpretation that the camps of this type are associated with the campaigns of Agricola.

Forest Road Excavation

With the exception of the medieval and post-medieval phase, which is restricted to the northern end of the northern field, it appears that the vast majority of the excavation area was utilised throughout the proceeding periods. However the absence of prehistoric material as far south as the southernmost Roman material appears to suggest that the extreme southern edge of the southern field was probably damp for most of the year, prior to modern drainage. Given the close proximity of Rollo Mire this comes as no surprise. The apparent absence of Late Iron Age and Early Historic period material suggest that activity on the site moved to the area around Kintore Parish Church where the Pictish symbol stones were discovered. As for the overall prehistoric material from this site, the majority seems to reflect a mixture of ritual and burial activity with limited domestic features. One possibility is that there were more structures but they were so slight in nature that they have simply not survived. A hint of Mesolithic activity adjacent to Rollo Mire suggests that further finds may be made here should the bog ever be developed.

Henderson Drive Excavation

The features uncovered by this excavation broadly resemble those of the Forest Road site and the A96 work. Whilst the remains on this site have suffered from greater plough damage than those at Forest Road some interesting questions have been raised. All the roundhouses vary in form, some having more postholes than others, some have a continuous ditch, others sectioned etc. It is not clear if these variations reflect functional or chronological differences. There were also two linear features tentatively described as working hollows or industrial features given the presence of burnt material and slag. However no firm date could be assigned to either feature. It would seem that the concentration of prehistoric activity is centred on the SW corner of the camp. As for the Roman period, the discovery of a rotary quern fragment made of red sandstone suggests that the army carried with them the tools for milling etc during their march. This provides another valuable insight into the life of the temporary camp.

Kintore Primary School Excavations

In the Greenfields section of the excavations the alignment of the Roman ditch appears to alter between trenches, as it does not continue in the same linear manner. One possible explanation for this is that where the ditch steps out is actually part of another Titulus protecting an entranceway. The ditch section revealed a typical V-profile with an ankle-breaker at the base. The dense prehistoric activity noted from the other excavations is not repeated here and may be explained by the fact that this site is on lower ground away from the gentle ridgeline.

Acknowledgements

The above summary has been taken from the original reports on the excavations and evaluations, which had been paid for by the developers. The following organizations and businesses should be thanked for their contribution: National Roads Directorate of the Scottish Office Development Dept, Malcolm Allan Housebuilders Ltd., Bett Homes, Stewart Milne Homes, Aberdeenshire Council, AOC and CFA.