Providing archaeological advice to reserve staff is founded on knowing what's where and how it fits into landscape and habitats. A visit last week to Wood of Cree certainly reinforced this.

John Martin, an archaeology volunteer based in Edinburgh, has been reviewing what is already recorded at Wood of Cree. He's been looking at aerial photos and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to map unknown prehistoric and historic sites across part of the nature reserve. And he's come up with some fantastic results. But they do need to be 'ground-truthed' so we combined a visit to check out proposals for habitat improvement works with looking for John's features.     

 A three-metre high burial cairn is standing on a grassy field.

An obvious site on the reserve the Bronze Age burial cairn is over 3m high even though it's been robbed of stone over the centuries. It's around 3,500-4,000 years old

Ancient sites are not common across Scotland. Most have been almost completely destroyed over the last 2,000 years of human habitation and land-use changes. So, probably the most important of John's diiscoveries is finding a 2,500-3,000 year-old house site (dating to the later Bronze Age or Iron Age) on land that has already had an archaeological field-walking survey. It's really exciting. Even if today it is difficult to spot.

 Two volunteers are standing apart, marking what would have been the length of a roundhouse.

John and Gavin are standing on each side of the round house

The round house pops out of the LiDAR but is far harder to find on the ground. Today its circular area is defined by a very low bank of earth and stone, some 12m in diameter, with a break towards the south where the doorway was. You have to imagine the house having a conical roof of straw or bracken thatch, supported on a ring of timbers within the building. That roof would have overhung the original 1m-wide and high stone and turf wall, which is now just that low grass-covered bank. The overhang meant that the rain and snow would run off, away from the house. Any bad weather wouldn't get in via other openings – there weren't any windows, or a chimney, just the door.  

 A drawing of a reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse, showing the family and their possessions inside.

A round house reconstruction drawn for Loch Gruinart nature reserve

However, our tree-planting around a decade ago hasn't done this ancient site any favours. To make sure that the tree roots don't destroy the surviving floor layers there are 4 trees that'll be removed. But there are plenty of others to maintain the deciduous woodland across this part of the reserve, which is so significant for biodiversity.

We'll keep this ancient house site free of trees and scrub because it's really significant evidence for farming across the landscape. The area is one where we can imagine small fields and grazing cows and sheep all around, and other family homes scattered about, which haven't been found yet.

 A circle cut into heather shows where a roundhouse would once have stood. There is conifer woodland and more heather behind.

The circle cut into the heather marks one of the round houses at Corrimony

The house diameter is almost 80sqm internal floor area. That's the same as a two-bedroomed home today. So size-wise, it certainly can't be described as a hut, although the Ordnance Survey call other such sites 'hut circles'. You'll find them marked on maps in areas of today's rough grazing and moorland and can also see them outside breeding bird months at our Forsinard Flows and Broubster Leans nature reserves.

For more information on Wood of Cree, visit our website.

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