An example of the Beechwood smelting slag AOC Archaeology Group
Archaeological excavations by AOC Archaeology Group at Beechwood, Inverness, have uncovered new evidence of Iron Age metalworking which is allowing experts to re-evaluate the importance of iron and ironworking in prehistoric Scotland.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is currently investing up to £25m in the 215-acre former Beechwood Farm site to create Inverness Campus as a high quality location for business, research, learning and leisure in the Highland capital. Edinburgh-based AOC Archaeology Group was commissioned to help HIE evaluate and record by excavation any buried archaeological sites occupying the development area prior to the start of construction works.
The 2011 dig revealed several timber roundhouses of possible Iron Age date (around 700 BC to AD 400) as well as evidence of earlier activity in the area stretching back thousands of years into the Neolithic period (3500 BC).
Work on the artefacts, which include Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery fragments, quernstones for grinding grain and significant quantities of iron slag, is in its early stages but is already providing tantalising hints of Beechwood’s important past.
The metalworking evidence from Beechwood is providing clues that there were two ironworking areas on site: one, a possible clay-lined ironworking hearth or furnace and a dump of waste material, and the other, a spread of debris from smelting and blacksmithing which appears to come from an area now lost to modern urban expansion.
Iron slag, the waste material left behind after smelting and blacksmithing, is not an uncommon find on archaeological sites but the survival of metalworking hearths or furnaces is much rarer.
Radiocarbon dates from charcoal found in pits and postholes associated with the iron slag suggest that this activity took place between 400 and 100 BC, making it Iron Age in date. This suggests that the metalworking at Beechwood may have been taking place at the same time as that at nearby Culduthel where a complex of well-preserved Iron Age furnaces and roundhouses was discovered in 2005.
This new discovery is just one of an increasing number of ironworking sites in the area found over the last fifteen years which is leading experts to speculate that north-east Scotland may have been an important focal area for iron production in later prehistory.
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