Reservoirs 2021 – exceptionally low water levels

Low water levels at Daer reservoir
Low water levels at Daer reservoir

Revisiting some of our past excavations sites recently found the reservoirs are particularly low this year.

Some background information

The four reservoirs are Talla, Fruid and Megget, all in Borders Region and Daer in South Lanarkshire. Various campaigns of work have extended over decades when the opportunities presented themselves due to water levels being reduced due to dry weather conditions.

The areas concerned are along the northern boundary of The Southern Uplands of Scotland where a phenomenal record of discovery and excavation.The date range of sites spans from circa 10,000 years ago and embraces the Mesolithic, Early and Late Neolithic and Bronze Ages, also in Daer Post Medieval and early modern sites. 

The finds from these programmes of work are held at Biggar Museum and while fieldwork in the reservoirs is much scaled down, research will continue indefinitely on the findings, the significance of which have local, regional and indeed national importance. 

These reservoirs supply water to Edinburgh and the central belt of Scotland principally North and South Lanarkshire. The northern Southern Uplands are perfectly placed to form catchment locations in the glacially formed valleys where outlet rivers run north before turning east or west in the Midland Valley. The principal outlets are the River Clyde flowing west to Glasgow and the River Tweed flowing east to Berwick, both making their directional turns near the Biggar gap.

Much of the work by BAG is in interim form or in prep, but considerable professional input has been received. Nevertheless the principal findings are given in the various reports for each reservoir and can be found in our reports section of through the links above.    

One of the objectives of the reservoir work was to assess the extent and nature of erosion taking place and also the extent of surviving archaeological sites and finds. The writer now believes after numerous visits to each location that this can now be determined to a great extent. The areas which were originally quarried during construction and those which escaped but are now being washed out, and the areas where any archaeological sites and finds may still exist but are covered in deep deposits of in situ peat or redeposited silt have now been assessed. 

Over the years, sites and occasional finds have been recorded and investigated and in each reservoir these appear to have now ‘dried up’, suggesting very little new erosion has taken place, of course that can alter with a single storm event when the water is at a particular level. For the most part the findings have been the product of initial erosion after construction of the dams and during subsequent years of water level variations. 

While we will monitor the reservoirs during lower than normal water levels, it is now believed that the situation has stabilised for the foreseeable future. Interim reports on this subject can be found in the reports section – The erosion of archaeology within reservoirs, ploughed fields, forestry… and more detailed papers will be produced on the subject. 

Talla Reservoir

Talla reservoir 2021
Talla reservoir 2021

A vast Bronze Age ritual landscape lies half submerged during normal water levels. Some sites below the water in this pic remain to be recorded.

Bronze Age bowl shaped burial cairn in Talla reservoir found in 2013's low water levels
Bronze Age bowl shaped burial cairn in Talla reservoir found in 2013’s low water levels

This definite Bronze Age bowl shaped burial cairn is still only recorded by this photograph. The water levels to this date have not yet reduced enough for its full description and exact location to be determined.

Dear Reservoir

At Daer reservoir the 16th Century Kirkhope Tower was exposed due to the extremely low water levels after the summer drought.  The Tower should be under 4 metres of water.

Kirkhope and the associated farmstead were excavated in 2005 and 2103 respectively and can be read about on the Daer Reservoir pages and in the respective reports.

In the image below you can see Daer reservoir where probably the full extent of surviving peat and silt deposits within the catchment area have now been determined, allowing for a better appreciation where undiscovered archaeological sites and finds may survive.

Daer reservoir 2021
Daer reservoir 2021

Fruid reservoir

Bronze Age pot sherds
Bronze Age pot sherds

Fruid Reservoir was also much diminished in water level in 2021, however, it has been seen at a lower limit before, see Tweed Survey Report 2004. Nevertheless a few Bronze Age sherds were picked up below the excavated Unenclosed Platform Settlements, see Fruid Reservoir – unenclosed platform settlement 2013.

One sherd is from a smaller and finer pot than is usually found at such sites where large ‘bucket’ urns are the norm. The sherd has come from a bowl with a rim diameter of circa 120 – 160mm.