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12 Nov 2018

Revealing archaeology

Written by Eleanor James
Child’s plate with a moral which says: ‘Poor Richard’s way to wealth’ and ‘For Age and want save while you may, no morning sun lasts a whole day’
The artefacts and images I catalogued will be included in the collections database currently being compiled by the Project Reveal teams and Dr Natasha Ferguson, Lead Inventory Officer, Archaeology, who guided me along the process.

My time working with the Trust supported my study for an MLitt in Material Culture and Artefact Studies at the University of Glasgow, while providing me with invaluable vocational experience. I also developed a keen interest in Scottish pottery! Over the course of three months, I studied, catalogued and photographed a large assemblage of archaeological artefacts, the majority of which were post-medieval pottery from excavations at Weaver’s Cottage in Kilbarchan.

Weaver’s Cottage is a charming, architecturally important building, constructed in 1723. It informs us of the domestic industries in Scotland before the industrial revolution and of living conditions during the 18th century. We also get an insight into the range of pottery designs found in 18th-century homes. However, they weren’t the only finds from the site. A variety of glass and metal artefacts were also found, including fragments of two pairs of reading glasses, a prehistoric hand axe and a human skull.

Fragments of reading glasses found at Weaver’s Cottage
Fragments of reading glasses found at Weaver’s Cottage

The pottery includes practical domestic pieces such as slipware bowls and stoneware jugs, elaborate transfer-printed earthenware and even an educational piece: a child’s plate with a moral quote.

Some of the archaeological finds I studied, catalogued and photographed for Project Reveal, Archaeology
Some of the archaeological finds I studied, catalogued and photographed for Project Reveal, Archaeology

I identified three different pieces of pottery decorated with images of the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London. Much of the pottery was produced in Scotland, with visible stamps from Bell’s Pottery, Cochran Pottery and Victoria Pottery, all of whom were based in Glasgow.

Blue and white transfer-decorated plate, ‘Hawking’ by Bell’s Pottery, Glasgow
Blue and white transfer-decorated plate, ‘Hawking’ by Bell’s Pottery, Glasgow

The assemblage contained a large amount of pottery known as spongeware, and although this wasn’t solely made in Scotland, it‘s regarded as a Scottish invention.

Spongeware with thistles design
Spongeware with thistles design

I also had the opportunity to get involved in some of the archaeological excavations that the Trust runs. These include excavations open to public participation, such as community digs and Thistle Camps, as well as more research-based excavations that only involve archaeologists. This year has been very fruitful, with the identification of Bronze Age pottery on Staffa and the discovery of a medieval doorway in the caves underneath Culzean Castle.

The two-day community dig at Crathes Castle was packed with members of the public, who all thoroughly enjoyed getting involved. Archaeological Thistle Camps provide a longer experience of excavating, and the volunteers at the Culzean Caves camp had the opportunity to learn the skills and techniques fundamental to archaeology, while getting very muddy in the process!

Project Reveal is a Trust-wide collections digitisation project. It will result in an updated database with high-quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the National Trust for Scotland’s material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 24 months from July 2017 until July 2019.

Project Reveal

Find out more about this Trust-wide collections digitisation project.

Project Reveal >