Annual Report  1999 - 2000

Lecture programme

As usual our programme has attempted to cater for all interests. Topics have ranged very widely in time and place, from hot stones in Tweeddale to the hot sands of the Jordanian desert!

Our session opened with a really excellent talk by Chris Tabraham of Historic Scotland, who spoke about 'Excavating Castles'. (Chris was in fact responsible for the investigation of Peebles Castle, now the site of the Parish Church's MacFarlane Hall!).The main thrust of Chris's talk was that preconceptions about castles can be changed radically by excavation, and he gave several examples of this. For instance, several Scottish mottes (castles built of earth and timber) previously considered Norman in age, were found on excavation to date mostly from the period of the War of Independence - the much later time of Bruce.

In October, Bill Finlayson gave a talk entitled 'The first farmers: settling down in southern Jordan'. Bill, who was then just about to leave to take up a new post in Jordan, drew on his fieldwork experience there to give a fascinating insight into the joys and drawbacks of archaeology in sunnier climes. Bill's talk mainly centred on the nature of the changes in lifestyle involved in the transition from mobile Mesolithic hunting-gathering to settled Neolithic farming - and how it was probably this change in way of life that gave rise to the concept of `home'. 

In November, Laura Sinfield gave an interesting, entertaining and sometimes humorous talk entitled 'Human remains'. Laura started by introducing her 'assistant', a skeleton by the name of Gertrude. She then went on to describe, by means of slides and with occasional help from Gertrude, the immense amount of information that can be gleaned from skeletal remains. Laura also gave us insights into some of her most recent work as a forensic archaeologist in Kosovo with the UN, where she was involved in investigating scenes of war crimes. The prime objective was the reconstruction of events, and here she found the early discipline of archaeological training of paramount importance.

The Society's first lecture of the New Year, and the new Millennium, proved to be one of the most enjoyable to date. Speaker for the evening was Peter Dreghorn, who talked on 'Reivers and Bastles: the lawless days of the Borders'.In the 1980s, Peter was introduced to archaeology by members of Biggar Museum Trust, who were excavating the Glenochar bastle and fermtoun just over the hill from his home at Elvanfoot. That was the beginning of an involvement that was to last over the next eight years of the excavation!

The evening ended on a high note when Peter, accompanying himself on guitar, serenaded a captivated audience with The Ballad of Glenochar, a song he had written to commemorate the completion of the project!

Owing to an untimely car breakdown en route to Peebles, our February speaker, Graeme Warren was unfortunately unable to make it to to the meeting. While we waited to see if the breakdown was serious or not, the irrepressible Tam Ward stepped into the breach, and with only the aid of an old flip-chart and a felt pen, described some of the results of current fieldwork in upper Tweeddale. In view of the large turnout, many members and visitors had clearly been looking forward to hearing Graeme's talk on the 'Mesolithic in eastern Scotland', and we have booked him in for next year's lecture programme (see page 4 for dates)

In March, Dave Cowley of the RCAHMS, gave a fascinating talk entitled 'Hot stones in Peeblesshire and beyond'. Dave's subject for the evening was burnt mounds, those enigmatic field monuments which show up as piled of heat shattered stones in charcoal rich soil, the debris left when stones are heated in a fire and then used to heat water. Over the years the known distribution of these sites in Scotland has greatly increased due to the amount of active fieldwork being carried out, and in this respect Dave praised the work of the Biggar Museum Trust and the Peeblesshire Archaeological Society.

Burnt mounds have been known in the UK since last century, when they were interpreted as cooking places. Their function has always been difficult to determine due to the lack of artifacts recovered, and Dave concluded that they could have had many uses, e.g. for cooking, as sweat lodges, as ritual places, a combination of all three ...or uses still to be discovered!

However, while our ancestors were congratulating themselves on getting some water boiled in readiness for making their dinner or trying steam remedies for their colds and chills, the inhabitants of Ancient Egypt had other things on their minds! To close our current lecture programme, following the April AGM, we look forward to hearing from Dr Katherine Eremin of the National Museums of Scotland on the ever-fascinating subject of `Mummies'.

Next session's programme is already fixed up and details will be found on the final page of this newsletter. Suggestions for topics and/or speakers are always welcome.This is also the place to remind you that a brief report on every lecture is submitted to the Peeblesshire News following each meeting. Our thanks go to Bob Knox for this very useful service which will provide a fantastic historical record of the activities of the Society for the future.

Field trips

It would be an understatement to say that neither of the society's `summer' outings last year was exactly blessed with good weather! On our trip to Clydesdale in June, the weather started out as bad and ended as atrocious! However, a small but select band of enthusiasts firstly visited Glenochar bastle house and fermtoun, ably and kindly guided by Peter Dreghorn, who had been heavily involved in the excavation of the site (see reports on Lecture programme). Glenochar provides a unique insight into rural settlement in 17th century Lanarkshire. After a picnic lunch within the shelter of Peter and Brenda Dreghorn's house, Brenda led the group to Wildshaw Burn Stone Circle, near Crawfordjohn, where on a rain lashed, windswept moor they had a quick look at a prehistoric monument, now thought to have a lunar connection.

In October, Strat Halliday kindly led ten hardy soles on a field trip to Romanno Bridge to examine Whiteside hillfort and other recently discovered sites nearby. While the weather turned from reasonable to dreadful, the group managed to look at a palisaded settlement, some sheep houses, and the hill-fort itself, with a far-off view of a burial cairn that Strat had found that morning! With Strat's expert commentary being lost in the wind and the rain, the programme had to be curtailed. Unfortunately, worse was to come, when Renoff Wiggins slipped on the wet grass, and broke her ankle. Strat returned for his Land Rover and took Renoff off the hill, where she was met by a waiting ambulance and whisked off to to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Outreach actvities

Last May, the pupils of Eddleston Primary School were treated to a display of ancient technology by nationally-known flint knapper John Lord, his wife Val, and fire-making specialist Patrick Cave-Browne, in an experimental day partly sponsored by the society. In early September, the Society hosted an Archaeological Activity Day for children (and adults!) at the Glack in Manor. The previous week, PAS members helped Biggar Museum Trust to man the `Touch Table', a handling collection of artefacts of all periods,as part of the programme of activities associated with the Peebles Arts Festival. Both events formed part of Scottish Archaeology Month.

Manor Valley Exhibition and Booklet

From 6th January to 12th February, in a collaborative venture with Tweeddale Museum, we held an exhibition devoted to the archaeology of the Manor Valley. The exhibition drew on the results of the Society's fieldwork in the valley between 1994 and 1999, and a variety of earlier finds from the area, to explore the story of settlement in the valley.

On Friday 4 February, the exhibition provided the venue for the launch of our booklet `A winsome grace peculiarly its own...': an introduction to the archaeology of the Manor Valley. Thanks go to all involved in the original survey and the subsequent research. Publication of the booklet was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, through its Awards for All Programme, and The Russell Trust. In addition, the quality of the publication is very largely thanks to the artistic and design skills of Willy Kerr, who undertook this work at only a fraction of his usual professional rates. The proceeds will be ploughed back into future PAS field and publication projects - so anything you as members can do to promote sales will help!


In addition to the lecture programme and field trips, there have been opportunities for members to get involved in active fieldwork, particularly in the survey work that has been proceeding in Upper Tweeddale, led by Tam Ward, and in a new project in Eddleston where fieldwalking has begun under the guidance of Bob Knox.

Planning matters

Thanks to the vigilance of Bob Knox, the Society has commented on planning proposals relating to several sites of known or potential archaeological interest ranging from Kirklands in Innerleithen to the `Donkey field' site in Peebles.


Finally the chairman's thanks go to all the members of the Committee for all their efforts during the year, particularly the office bearers, Bob Knox (Secretary), Peter Barclay (Treasurer) and Ian Brown (Vice Chairman),while as noted above, Peggie Ferguson has kindly taken on responsibility for sales of the Manor booklet.

T Cowie





24 Feb, 2013

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