Aberdeenshire HER - NO08NW0042 - CHEST OF DEE

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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNO08NW0042
NRHE Card No.NO08NW31
NRHE Numlink 267763
Site Form Artefact
Site Condition Incomplete
Details Mesolithic, Neolithic and later prehistoric lithics and occupation recorded between 2003 and 2016, the site extending from near White Bridge to the Chest of Dee waterfalls. The site lies at the southern end of a key route of passage through the Cairngorm massif which connects Deeside with Speyside, and provided the first material evidence for Mesolithic activity in the heart of the Cairngorms. In October 2003 a scatter of worked lithic material was revealed by footpath maintenance works along the north bank of the River Dee, and eroding out of the river bank itself. The lithics were in river silts immediately below the peat. Collection over a number of visits amassed an assemblage of 184 artefacts, mainly narrow blade technology indicating a Mesolithic date, but with a smaller assemblage of possible Neolithic-Bronze Age material. Fragments of charcoal were also noted eroding out of the silt. The assemblage included cores, narrow flakes and blades, and debitage flakes, chips and chunks. Further investigation was carried out in 2013. Fieldwalking by University College Dublin in June along the path from White Bridge to the waterfalls recovered 152 artefacts, the lithics including many pieces of Later Mesolithic type narrow blade technology. Subsequently a series of test pits were excavated by University of Aberdeen in October aimed at establishing the location of the lithics in relation to the peat deposits. The test pitting confirmed that the lithics came from in-situ deposits, stratified within pre-peat alluvial silt deposits that comprised the river terrace and that there were stratified features, in some cases associated with artefacts. Further work was carried out 2014-2016, the site being divided into a number of evaluation areas, the work revealing a site of considerable complexity. Some evaluation areas were relatively devoid of features or other evidence of human activity (Areas B, C). Area M yielded slightly higher densities of lithics. Area J produced no lithics but pre-peat charcoal lenses and shallow pits were recorded in four test pits, one of the charcoal lenses giving a radiocarbon date of 7040-6870 BC. Within Area D (towards the eastern end of the site on the north side of the river) the test pits recorded concentrations of features and finds including charcoal lenses within the pre-pear silts. Artefact numbers increased in the test pits towards the western end of Area D, and further excavation (TP3000) recorded an assemblage of 72 lithics including two flints, one a broad triangular microlith, within a charcoal rich layer in a pit, radiocarbon dated to 3960-3780 BC (the Mesolithic- Neolithic transition). The densest concentrations of lithics and features was in Area F, immediately east of the waterfalls. Initial survey in 2013 had identified some 50 artefacts including blade cores, flakes and blades with possible occupation horizons. Nine test-pits and four larger trenches were excavated. The lithic artefacts occurred in the pre-peat deposits within layers sealed by alluvial sediment. A total of 663 lithics were recorded from the two largest trenches in Area F, this including a high number of blade cores. A number of charcoal lenses within the alluvial silts are believed to represent a series of in situ occupation events in the late 6th millennium BC. Lower charcoal spreads produced significant lithic assemblages including working debris from in situ blade production using rhyolite and some flint. These contexts gave radiocarbon dates ranging from the end of the 8th to the first half of the 7th millennium BC. In Area G, overlooking the waterfalls, a large recut pit with charcoal rich fill was evident in an eroding section of sloping ground. The lower fill was dated to 2880-2630 BC and the upper to 1660-1510 BC demonstrating activity in the area into later prehistory. On the south side of the river, artefacts and other evidence of human activity were scarce, found only in two of the four test pits in Area L. A total of 1405 flaked lithics were recovered from the investigations, the raw materials including flint (57 percent) and rhyolite (14 percent) with small amounts of other materials including quartz and quartzite. This is the first recognition of rhyolite in Mesolithic assemblages in Scotland, and was probably sourced locally. The flint was derived from pebbles, although the source has not yet been investigated. The presence of cores, trimming flakes and debitage of rhyolite and flint indicate that both materials were knapped on site. The majority of cores were blade cores. Blades vary in width from 3mm tp 26mm, the broader blades tending to be of rhyolite. A small number (42) of retouched pieces were identified mainly no flint blanks. The most common tools were microliths of various form, scrapers, awls and knives, with some notched, serrated and edge retouched pieces also present. The largest number of lithics came from TP200 in Area F, the nature of the pieces attesting to knapping of rhyolite here. In TP3000 (Area D) flakes dominated over blades, with only two retouched pieces. Of particular interest was the broad triangular microlith contained within a later pit. Radiocarbon dating shows the earliest dated feature to be the occupation surface associated with the lithics in TP 300 (Area F), 8290-7990 BC. South of the river, TP5250 (Area L) gave a date of 7590-7250 for activity. The floruit of activity in the Chest of Dee area came in the first half of the 7th millennium as indicated by TP200 (Area F), the radiocarbon dates indicating activity starting around 7115-6810 BC and ending circa 6630-6525 BC. Later, early 4th millennium activity is represented by TP3000 (Area D), with later prehistoric activity (3rd and 2nd millennium AD) focusing on the waterfalls. The archaeological finds suggest repeated visits to the area for over five millennia, starting in the late 9th millennium BC, the activity focused on a river terrace. Walkover survey carried out by Cameron Archaeology in June/July 2015 to assess damage on the Mar Lodge estate resulting from flooding in the wake of storm Bertha found eight flints above White Bridge on the footpath to Chest of Dee.
Last Update30/11/2020
Updated Bycpalmer
Date of Compilation 

Easting: 301697.509220102, Northing: 788542.875183364

Google Map for NO08NW0042

National Grid Reference: NO 0169 8854

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
2013 Fieldwalking
2013 Excavation
2014 Excavation
2003 Field Observation
2015 Excavation
2015 Research Project
2015 Field Survey camerona1-231770
2016 Evaluation

Excavations and Surveys

Date MDate YTypeDurationDirector / OrganisationAuspicesFundExtent
102013 Excavation  UOANTSNTS 
 2014 Excavation  UOANTS  
102016 Excavation  UOANTS  

Artefact and Ecofact

Date MDate YArtefact TypeFinderRecovery MethodConditionStorage LocationAccess No.
102013 MICROLITHS UOA Excavation  
102103 MICROBLADE CORES UOA Excavation  
102013 FLINT FLAKES UOA Excavation  
102003 LITHICS SMF Stray Find  


Samples Charcoal samples taken in 2013 excavation for radiocarbon dating.
Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

Monument Type 1Monument Type 2Monument Type 3OrderProbability
PITS  E100