15,000-year-old artefacts discovered on sites along Aberdeen bypass

The excavation of neolithic pot at Blackdog

Artefacts dug up during excavations on the Aberdeen bypass have revealed glimpses into the last 15,000 years in the North-east – and raised questions over the area’s past.

A number of “fascinating discoveries” have been uncovered during archaeological works carried out during the construction of the project.

These have included Roman bread ovens, prehistoric roundhouses and a cremation complex.

Bruce Mann, archaeologist for Aberdeenshire Council, said: “There has been a range of fascinating discoveries from the archaeological works carried out on site.

“Some raise more questions than they answer about what we thought we knew about the North-east.

“For instance, a very unexpected discovery was the presence of Roman activity at Milltimber, likely dating from around 83/84 AD.

“Ninety bread ovens were uncovered, which were probably constructed by the Roman army at a time of invasion led by the Roman General Agricola.

“However, no evidence of an associated camp was found, which is unusual for these types of features.

“We can only speculate as to why the ovens were at this specific location, and what it says about what was happening in the area at the time.”

Julie Lochrie and Keith Brown with some of the items found

Since the archaeological excavations were completed, specialists have been analysing the artefacts and samples recovered from the various sites.

They will be detailing the results in a new limited edition book due to be published later this year.

There was also “a near unprecedented body of evidence” of stone tool production dating between about 13,000BC and 10,000BC at Milltimber which pushes back the region’s understanding of human activity in the North-east of Scotland by several hundred years.

The same site also revealed spreads of flints along with large pits dating between 10,000BC to 4,100BC that could have been used by hunter-gatherers to trap deer, elks or aurochs – an ancestor of bisons.

A structure dating between 7,000BC to 6,700BC was also found at standing stones, in the hills to the west of Dyce.

This tent-like shelter was likely only used for a few nights by a small group of people while they collected nuts, berries and tubers or hunted animals in the immediate area.

A beaker from the Chalcolithic period; a fluted carinated bowl from early Neolithic times; impressed ware from the middle Neolithic

Bruce added: “Bronze Age activity was identified from Nether Beanshill in the form of a roundhouse and contemporary cremation complex dating from around 1,600 to 1,250BC.

“The burial comprised of an urn in which the cremated remains of an individual in their 20s had been placed. This urn was placed in a pit which was then marked by a horseshoe-shaped arrangement of timber posts.

“Two other similar burials were covered by miniature mounds and surrounded by small ditches.”

Although artefacts of a wide range of dates, materials and types were discovered across the scheme, a particularly well-preserved Beaker period pot found in a post-hole at Milltimber was a highlight of the excavation.

The pot was completely intact when it was found and dates to between 2,400BC to around 2,200/2,000BC.

Bruce said: “These finds provide real insight into the history and culture of the North-east.

“They are impressive both in time depth and range of activities represented.

“They push back known human activity in the region by at least 2,000 years, add new detail to how our ancestors lived and died, and reveal a new dimension to Rome’s invasions of Scotland.”

Other excavations include a small hub of Iron Age activity at Goval dating from around the first and second centuries AD where a roundhouse of around 10m in diameter was found which would have provided space to live comfortably.

The roundhouse was built of vertical wooden posts supporting a large conical thatched roof.

Hammerstone and cores from digs at Wester Hatton.

Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work said: “When complete, the AWPR will help to reduce congestion, cut journey times, improve safety and lower pollution in Aberdeen City Centre, as well as enable local authorities to develop public transport solutions.

“However, the archaeology has also proven to be yet another huge benefit coming from this project, helping to shine a light on Scotland’s ancient past. The discoveries along the AWPR route, which would have remained undiscovered had the new bypass not been built, are truly remarkable and underline the importance of the value we place on meeting our environmental obligations as we plan and construct this new infrastructure.”

Aberdeen City Council transport and regeneration spokesman Councillor Ross Grant said: “The archaeology finds are fascinating and highlight just how rich the entire area is in history.

“It is interesting to find out how our forebears lived and the Roman bread ovens found at Milltimber paint a picture of everyday life of the incoming army while they were invading.

“While modern-day residents are looking forward to the completion of the AWPR and the benefits it will bring to Aberdeen and the surrounding area, I’m sure they will find these discoveries interesting.”