Excavation

The excavation was carried out by Mr Robert Gourlay (Highland Regional Council) and two assistant archaeologists: Gemma Corcoran and Sarah Hargreaves*. The excavation was carried out on the 19th of February 1987, dated by the photographic record. When the cist was accidentally opened the contents were no longer protected meaning that the excavation had to be carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible to protect the contents from deterioration and maximise preservation.

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Skull shown in-situ prior to excavation (image copyright Highland Council Historic Environment Team)

Prior to the archaeological excavation the beaker was taken to Thurso Police Station by the officers who were the first on the scene, with the intention to preserve the beaker by prevent it from drying out. This decision may be the reason the beaker is in such good condition to this day. Unfortunately, it has meant that there is no photographic record of the original location of the beaker within the burial and sadly no written record has been recovered detailing the beakers position.

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The Cap Stone (image copyright Highland Council Historic Environment Team)

 

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Cist prior to the removal of the Cap Stone (image copyright Highland Council Historic Environment Team)

Any notes or information regarding the manner of excavation has either been lost over time or was never created but, fortunately, the excavation was subject to an extensive photographic survey. The first photographs of the site show the skull in situ and appear to have been taken before any archaeological excavation work was undertaken. The first stage of excavation was to remove loose stone and earth from around the cist area to clear away the debris. The site was then photographed from multiple angles showing the cap stone in situ.

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Cist after the removal of the Cap Stone (image copyright The Highland Council Historic Environment Team)
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Tiny thumbnail scraper made from flint (now lost) (image copyright The Highland Council Historic Environment Team)

After these external photographs were taken, the ox scapula was extracted, followed by the removal of the cap stone. Photographs from the interior show the pieces of flint found at the base of the north-west end of the cist. One of the internal stones which may have originally been a part of the south-eastern end of the cist had collapsed inwards onto the skeletal remains. This collapsed stone was removed next, along with the front stone. This was again followed by a thorough photographic survey including a top down shot showing the location of the skeletal remains.

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The Human Remains (from above) (image copyright The Highland Council Historic Environment Team)
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Cist after the removal of the front stone and collapsed stone at base end (image copyright The Highland Council Historic Environment Team)

The next stage of excavation was the removal of the bones. This appears to have been followed by the excavation of the base of the cist to ground level where the same type of material that surrounded the cist was uncovered. Lastly, the slabs that had created the structure were removed and the hole that had been originally dug into the solid rock was revealed.

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Post-excavation shot showing the rock-cut pit created for the cist (image copyright The Highland Council Historic Environment Team)

* If anyone knows Sarah or Gemma, or anyone else involved in the excavation who may remember more about it, please get in touch.

All photographs are copyright © Highland Council (nee Highland Regional Council). For access to the full photographic archive please visit the Highland Historic Environment Record (HER) for this site (updated December 2015) at: highland.gov.uk/singleResult.aspx?uid=MHG13613

 

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