In search of Deeside’s earliest settlers

The new investigation at Crathes has uncovered potentially exciting finds
The new investigation at Crathes has uncovered potentially exciting finds

Archaeologists have been excavating a site in Deeside to find surviving traces of the earliest settlers.

Members of Mesolithic Deeside and students from Aberdeen University recently examined a field at Nethermills Farm, Crathes - which is regarded as one of Scotland’s biggest and most significant hunter-gatherer sites.

More than 100 test pits were investigated

More than 100 test pits were investigated

It was investigated in the late 1970s, when stone tools, together with the remains of pits and post-holes indicative of activity by groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers around 7000 years ago, were uncovered.

The site was also visited by early farming communities and some finds dated the area to around 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age.

New techniques in archaeology make it possible to investigate discoveries in even more detail today.

The project team dug a series of exploratory test pits across the field.

Among these taking part were local archaeologist Ali Cameron, from Cameron Archaeology, Gordon Noble, from Aberdeen University, stone tool specialist Ann Clarke, and Mesolithic specialist Caroline Wickham-Jones.

Aberdeen University archaeology students and volunteers from the Mesolithic Deeside group were also involved in excavating more than 100 test pits.

The work is funded by Historic Environment Scotland, Aberdeen University, and Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service.

The dig uncovered a treasure trove of Mesolithic flints and also burnt out wood and bark.

Archaeologists believe the entire field could contain more than 500,000 of the stone tools.

The material has to be dated before the significance of the find can be established.

Caroline Wickham-Jones said: “I thought it was a really positive exercise where we actually achieved our aims of sorting out the current state of the site.

“Although it looks as if the surviving archaeology is confined to the ploughsoil, it remains one of the biggest and most significant hunter-gatherer sites in Scotland.”

Soil scientists from the Universities of St Andrews and Stirling also attended to look at the underlying sands and gravels with a view to mapping the evolution of the Dee and determining the most likely locations for habitation in the earliest periods of the site’s history.

The fieldwalking project will continue every weekend into April.