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Archaeolo~icalinvestieationof a crowmark at East Bonhard

West Lothian


1. Summary

2. Lntroduction

3. Method

4. Results

5. Conclusions

6. Figures
6.1 Aerial Photograph RCAHMSAP C74 750 29.7.1996.
6.2 Transcribed Aerial Photograph
6.3 Grid (20 X 20m.) Plot of field
6.4 Magnetic Plot October 2000
6 . 5 Magnetic Plot ~ o v e m b e 200
r 1
6.6 Ground Resistance Linear Array Plot
6.7 Drawing Trenches 1 and 2

7. Appendix

8. References

9. ~ c k n o w l e d ~ e m k

Archaeological invesfiPation of a croe-mark a t East Bonhard

West Lothian
1. Summary

The Society were contacted in July 1999 by R.C.A.H.M.S. with a request to examine, using geophysical
equipment, a field to the west of East Bonhard, West Lothian whch had shown, in a 1996 aerial photograph,
a crop-mark whlch suggested that a souterrain with one or more round houses might be present.
Area resistivity, magnetometry and linear array resistivity measurements were conducted with the
cooperation of the Centre for Field Archaeology (at that time still part of The University of Edinburgh) and
the Geology and Geophysics Department of the University. In addition to the geophysical measurements part
of the area was field-walked.
No clear indications were found of a souterrain and although the magnetometry printouts show some
round shapes these did not interpret as round-houses. Excavation at two points at whch coincident resistive
and magnetic 'highs' were indicated on the respective printouts showed a very shallow topsoil with avariable
subsoil and glacial erratic sedimentary and igneous stones.
The crop-mark that was at the west end of the first trench could have been due to a well draining sandy-
gravel abutting onto a water retaining clay subsoil however the shape of the high resistance area &d not
match the crop-mark well. The indications of magnetic anomalies, in the two trenches excavated, can only be
ascribed to igneous glacial erratics.

2. Introduction.

The main crop-mark at East Bonhard lies on the south side of a slight ridge at N.G.R.NT 0180 7936 in a field
that slopes gently to the east with a reasonable all round view; a plausible position for an Iron Age round-
house. The field is farmed by Mr John Graham of Walton as East Bonhard is now only aresidence. The field
has been regularly planted with barley allowing access for a number of months through autumn into the early
months of the following year.
Geologically the field lies in the Carboniferous ~MdlstoneGrit Series in the Limestone Coal Group of
sandstones, siltstones, mudstones, coals, ironstones and seatclays. A minor fault runs east-west through Bonhard
Mill and along the northern side of the field.'The strata is inclined resulting in two coal and one ironstone
seam being shown as surfacing in the field in the B.G.S. solid geology map (Ref.1). Due to many coal and
ironstone seams surfacing in the locality glacial action has spread a mixture of these over the landscape;
small unrecorded workings of these seams occurred in antiquity. At the commencement of the survey the
depth of the topsoil was unknown.
The field is bounded on the west side by a minor road that runs into Linlithgow; this road and the other
field boundaries, with one possible exception, do not appear to have changed since at least the O.S. map of
1855. The eastern border could have changed minimally probably at the time that a garden and paddock were
created at East Bonhard. A number of aerial photographs have been taken in flights over East Bonhard but it
was only in the 1996 flight that the crop-mark was evident (Fig.6.1).

3. Method

The oblique crop-mark photograph was transcribed and supplied by R.C.A.H.iM.S.(Fig 6.2) so that the posi-
tion of the main and some subsidiary crop-marks could be transferred to a field map dwided into a 20 by 20
metre square grid (Fig.6.3) The base line for the grid was taken as an electric pylon line that crosses the field
thus allowing the grid to be re-established rapidly after a crop had been harvested.
The first attempt at area ground resistance measurement was made on 12 February 2000 with C.F.A.
using the Geoscan Research RM 15 equipment with a PA5 four-probe array. Readings were taken, at metre
intervals, over the squares F and G3 and 4. The survey was abandoned after a snowstorm gave a 5cm coating
which melted rapidly and water-logged the field. It was deemed not worth taking further readings in the
spring due to the high water retention of the ground.
A field-walking survey was conducted on 5 March 2000 with twelve persons w h g in a 20metre line
across squares D,E and F3,4,5 and 6 in the morning and C,D,E and F 1 and 2 in the afternoon. The part square
C4 was included with C3. The h d s are tabulated in Appendix 1. An area ground resistance survey was
made on 1 October 2000, under dner ground conditions, covering squares G and H2,3 and 4: 52 and 3 and
K2. At the same time a magnetometry (gradiometer) survey was made covering the same set of squares. T h ~ s
again was done in cooperation with C.F.A.
In October and November 2001 a magnetic resurvey was made over the area F,G and H2,3 and 4 and
a series of resistive linear array measurements in squares G and H3 and 4. All of the October and November
readings were taken by members of Edinburgh University Department of Geology and Geophysics and were
reported in December 200 1.(Ref. 2)
Tius report indicated two areas where hgh ground resistance coincided with a magnetic anomaly, the
more interesting of the two was adjacent to the main crop-mark whle the other was in an area showing no
crop-mark. Two trenches were dug over the weekend 22-23 June 2002 at these coincident points.

4. Results

The magnetometry readings taken on 1 October 2000 are shown in Fig. 6.4.They indicate a magnetic 'low'
at about the posihon of the main crop-mark but the lack of clarity in any of the nearby, approximately round,
marks did not indicate associated round houses. The printout of the resistance survey on t h ~ date
s showed no
features at these points.
The magnetic plot of November 200 1 covers three 20 by 20 metre squares that are to the west of those
surveyed in October 2000 but excludes three that are to the east; the overlap squares are G and HZ. 3 and 4.
Both magnetic plots show a large rectangular (25 by 30 metre) area of low magnetic readings m a d y withm
square G3 with the crop-mark 'low' in the S.E. comer.
The magnetic plot of November 200 1 is shown in Fig. 6.5. The ground resistance survey of November
2001, due to the computer processing of ten linear array measurements to give 'depth slice' mformation,
omits a two metre wide strip on the western edge of G3 and 4 but included a two metre strip along the north
edge of G2 and H 2; the plot is shown in Fig. 6.6.
A high resistance appears on the northern edge of HZ coincident with a magnetic hgh and about 4
metres to the east of the main crop-mark; the northern arm of the crop-mark inexplicably appears coincident
with a small low resistance area.
The information supplied with the transcribed aerial photograph stated that the accuracy of the trans-
position 'seems good' but that the depiction of archaeological information should be seen as an interim
statement. If a four-metre error had occurred in the transcription the southern end of the crop-mark would
coincide with the high resistance and the whole crop-mark would lie within the magnetic anomaly regon.
In light of the lack of clear features in the geophysical readings and their doubtful association w t h the crop-
marks in the aerial photograph the decision was taken to dig trial trenches over two points where magnetic
and resistive h g h readings coincided .
Trench 1 was 8 metres long E-W, fiom coordinate 38 to 46 and one metre wide N-S coordinate 19 to
20 (see Figs 6.5 and 6.6 for coordinate positions). T h ~ layout
s was chosen to include the centre section of the
main crop-mark at the western end of the trench and extend eastwards to cover the northern section of the H
2 h g h resistance and part of the large area of h g h magnetic readings.
Excavation indicated that the topsoil averaged 0.3m deep; at this depth ploughed-in stubble and midden
spread material ceased. At the western end of the trench the subsoil was a hard packed sandy gravel of red-
brown colour. Immediately to the east of t h ~ sthe subsoil changed sharply to grey clays interspersed with
patches of reddish clay.
The sandy gravel extended 2.70m east along the trench and included no stones larger than 3cm diam-
eter and no other inclusions. The clay fiom the 2.70m point to about 3.3m had few inclusions but from that
point to the east end there were an increasing number of rounded stones and many small flecks of coal. The
size of the stones increased towards the eastern end and they became more angular. At the extreme eastern
end the grey clay contained many embedded angular sandstone fragments and one rounded glacial erratic
boulder about 0.4m across.
A sonde 0.8 by 0.5m was cut to a depth of 0.3m into the clay subsoil; this indicated no change in
occurrence of embedded stones. Fig. 6.7 shows Trench 1 and the position of the sonde.
Trench 2 was 3.0 m. long E-W and 2.0 m. wide. (Coords. 45 to 48 and 43 to 45 respectively). Its
positioning where no crop-mark appeared was to explore what might cause the resistive and magnetic 'highs'
to coincide.
The topsoil was again found to be 0.3m deep this time overlying a yellow sandy clay. There were some small
stones in the western end of the trench but significantly more in the east. Fig. 6.7 includes the drawing of
Trench 2 and shows the position in the trench of a large shattered sandstone slab and an igneous boulder
approximately 0.5 by 0.5m together with a mass of smaller stones in the S.E. comer. A slightly darker section
of soil measuring 0.2m E-W and 1.0 m. N-S, also had a small sonde cut into it measuring 0.2m E-W and 0.3m
N-S, its position is shown in Fig 6.7. There was no change in colour or content withm the sonde which was cut
to a depth of 0.2 metres.
The programme of measurements was protracted partly due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease
but also due to the high water retention of the shallow topsoil during the winter months. The frequent wet
weather bstween barley harvest and resowing limited the period in which useful measurements could be

5. Conclusions

The inclusion in the topsoil of midden-spread material indicates the agricultural use of the field over at least
the past 200 years. The lack of any earlier pottery or similar material suggests that there was no habitation in
the area prior to that period andlor that the field was uncultivated.
The absence of clear features in the resistivity and magnetometry surveys indicated that the original
tentative identification of a souterrain and possible round houses was almost certainly incorrect but gave no
clue as to the origin of the cropmarks. The excavation of the two trenches showed firstly how shallow the
agriculturally disturbed topsoil was and secondly the variability of the subsoil. Area ground resistance meas-
uring equipment is typically capable of indicating soil resistance to a depth of 0.5 to 0.75 metres, thus the
readings taken represent measurement at a depth of 0.2 to 0.45 metres into thls variable subsoil. It should be
noted however that Fig.6.6 represents the measurements taken in Survey 2 at Level 2 in Ref. 2 and thus
indicates soil resistance to a depth of 1.5 metres i.e, over lm into the subsoil where the size and shape of the
sandy-gravel area could have been very different fiom that at 0.3m.
The erratic boulders and coal particles within the subsoil, which consisted mainly of grey clays. were
undoubtedly glaciated and mixed within a matrix that is probably glacial till material dating from the Quater-
nary-Late Pleistocene and typical of the Forth Estuary.
The main curving parch-mark, that it was thought might be a souterrain and be caused by the drylng
out of topsoil over a slabbed roof, appears to have been due to the better draining sandy-gravel subsoil
affecting the shallow topsoil in the same way. The considerable variations in the magnetic readings can only
be attributed to the random distribution of glaciated igneous rocks.
Without conducting a much wider ranging excavation, firmer conclusions than these cannot be reached.