Tag Archives: archaeology


This morning I was up Drumcarrow Craig. There are great views of the whole of East Fife and beyond. I looked for the prehistoric hut circles marked on the OS map but I didn’t find them. However the ruins of the broch next to the trig point are very clear to see – must have been an impressive tower standing right on the highest point.

7 string lyre bridge

My previous reconstructions of the Iron age lyre bridge discovered by archaeologists at Uamh an Ard Achaidh (Skye Pasture Cave) on the Isle of Skye, have interpreted the broken fragment as having only 3 string positions, framed by 4 pyramids along the top of the lyre.

However, it is possible that the flat shoulder on the surviving half of the bridge represents the broken off base of two more pyramids. If this were repeated on the missing other half, that would give a total of eight pyramids with seven string positions.

This week I made a bridge following this plan. I used a piece of yew wood from near St Andrews.

I’ll have both interpretations of  the Skye lyre bridge as well as complete student lyres on my Emporium stand at the Edinburgh Harp Festival next week.

Lyre bridge from Uamh an Ard Achaidh

AOC Archaeology have released a laser scan rendering of the lyre bridge from Uamh an Ard Achadh (High Pasture Cave) on Skye. I had already been very interested in this fragment of a musical instrument from the iron age (the original interim report suggests a date of 450 to 550 BC).

Using the rendering, and scaling from the photo in the interim report, I have made a copy or reconstruction of the bridge. As you can see from the photos, the excavated bridge is burnt and broken, with perhaps 1/4 missing from one end. It seems clear to me that the four triangular spikes along the top edge are complete – the gap between the second and third is centered over the carved arch on the underside of the bridge. I confirmed this by cutting out profile views and trying different alignments. This suggests to me that the bridge was for an instrument with three or five strings.

For my bridge I used a piece of sycamore or maple which I had to hand. I made it entirely with hand tools (knives), and finished it by scraping and then sealed the surface with beeswax. Because it is hand carved from a slightly curious piece of wood with some tight flame in the grain, and also because I was only working from the laser scan screenshots not from proper dimensioned plans, it is not an exact replica, but I tried to get it fairly close.

As you can see it works just perfectly. The lyre has six strings, so I just ran the last two together and this does not seem to be a problem. The strings are further apart at the bridge than on other lyres I have seen. The backwards slant of the bridge is curious – unless I am misunderstanding the laser scan, I wonder if it is designed for a much sharper break angle than I am using?

I’ll be playing this lyre at my cathedral concert in the ruins of St Andrews cathedral on Tuesday 5th June at 12.45pm. The music will however be medieval, not iron age!

Wooden Road

Further to my previous post on the wooden road in Dundee, I was walking along the other half of Whitehall Place or Whitehall Crescent, Dundee, DD1 4AY, (the Western section between Union Street and Whitehall Street) on Saturday. I looked behind me into the sun, and I saw that the surface of the tarmac clearly showed the outlines of the blocks underneath. The North-Eastern section I photographed before has been completely relaid with the wood blocks removed and replaced with new tarmac.

Edit 26 Feb 2012: Yesterday I had a closer look and the blocks on this Western section are visible through gaps in the tarmac; they are stone setts, apparently some kind of granite, not wood as I had originally guessed.

Edit 26 March 2012: The stone setts are now gone and the Western section has also been completely re-laid with new tarmac.

Wooden road

Last Saturday I was walking along Whitehall Crescent, Dundee, and I noticed that the street was completely coned and barricaded off, except for the pavements. The tarmac was up, and the entire street under the tarmac was made of wooden blocks stood on end, like parquet flooring. There was a flat concrete base layer, then a later of wooden blocks perhaps 8 inches tall, and perhaps 8 by 5, arranged brick-fashion. Some were looking a bit fibrous and rotten, some were looking rock-solid. Some had been dug out and left in a big pile. Where the tarmac layer was still on it was only about one inch thick, laid directly on top of the wood.

Unfortuntely I didn’t have my camera to record this scene. Yesterday, I took my camera in. Unfortunately all of the wood blocks had been removed, and half of the road was already tarmacked over on top of the concrete base layer. But I was able to photograph one lone block, and an area of blocks which survived in a corner, buried under rubble. Also the general view shows the impression of the wooden blocks on the concrete.

Karen Loomis sent me the following links which give a history of wood-block road making. I was amazed to find one surviving in the centre of Dundee, still in use though hidden. I thought it was a shame that it is no more, that it has been taken up.

Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society

Sydney Streets

Classic Cars Forum