Aberdeen bypass reveals 15,000 year-old archaeological secrets

An array of ancient artefacts and archaeological evidence of life in north east Scotland dating back at least 150 centuries have been documented in a new book.

‘Highway Through History’ provides a summary of the items and structures found during archaeological excavations on the new Aberdeen bypass.

It reveals previously unknown information on land use and settlement in the north east over the past 15,000 years, including Roman bread ovens, prehistoric roundhouses and a cremation complex.

More on this story in Scotland Correspondent magazine

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

Bruce Mann, Archaeologist for Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council said the book provides details on a variety of fascinating discoveries from the archaeological works carried out while the bypass was under construction.

“A very unexpected discovery was the presence of Roman activity at Milltimber, likely dating from around 83/84 AD,” he said.

“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 in this location.

“Going back to the very earliest finds, there was also evidence of stone tool production dating between about 13,000 and 10,000 BC at Milltimber, a near unprecedented body of evidence which pushes back our understanding of human activity in north east Scotland by several thousand years.”

Artist impression of furnace at Goval

The discoveries made during the works were not confined to the environs of the River Dee. A structure dating between 7,000 BC to 6,700 BC was also found at Standingstones, 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.

“Bronze Age activity was identified from Nether Beanshill in the form of a roundhouse and contemporary cremation complex dating from around 1,600 to 1,250 BC. The burial comprised of an urn in which the cremated remains of an individual in their 20s had been placed,” said Mr Mann.

“This urn was placed in a pit which was then marked by a horseshoe-shaped arrangement of timber posts. Two other similar burials were also uncovered.”

Experts claim the discoveries provide valuable information about the local inhabitants’ relationship with the environment and a new insight into the history of the north east of Scotland.

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

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

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

A furnace found nearby showed evidence of iron smelting, the process of extracting iron from ore. The ore which was most likely extracted from nearby peat bogs, would have been heated in the furnace causing the iron to separate and pool in the bottom of the furnace.

“The sites identified along the route are truly remarkable but would have remained undiscovered had the new bypass not been built,” said Michael Matheson, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity.

“This new book, which provides valuable details on the archaeological finds, will be essential reading for everyone who has an interest in the North-East’s history.”

Copies of the book can be read on line for free on Aberdeen Council’s website