VERMILLION, S.D. – Tony Krus, Ph.D., an assistant professor of anthropology at USD, worked for more than four years as part of a team of archaeologists studying a 2,500-year-old hillfort in the Scottish Highlands. His contribution is included in a chapter of a book named one of the three best archaeology books of 2018 by the British Archaeology Awards.
“The Archaeology of Dun Deardail,” published by Forestry Commission Scotland, presents a colorful and accessible description of not only the excavation and examination of the Dun Deardail fort, but it also details the site’s history, Celtic religion and mythology related to the fort, and it includes learning resources for classroom study.
Krus contributed to the project while working as a researcher in the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory at the University of Glasgow, which is about a three-hour drive from the site.
“I visited the site each summer and advised them on what they should target for radiocarbon dating,” Krus said. “What will make the best samples for securely answering the questions, ‘When was the fort built?’ What was it used for?’”
Like many ancient forts in Scotland, the stone walls at Dun Deardail are vitrified, Krus said, or fused together as a result of exposure to extremely high heat. Radiocarbon dating, which dates a specimen using knowledge of the decay rate of a radioactive carbon isotope, requires samples that have once been alive. Krus and his colleagues tested samples of wood, charcoal and cereal grain found at the site. The researchers looked to his test results to determine when the fort was built, occupied and burned.
Radiocarbon dating of ash from wood fires showed that four different burning events, ranging from 500 B.C., when archaeologists believe the scrub was burned to clear the area for the fort’s construction, to 310 B.C., thought to be the date of the fort’s final burning. The purpose of this fire is unknown.
Krus, who joined the USD faculty in fall 2018, teaches classes in archaeology and anthropology and plans to offer a field school in the near future for students interested in participating in excavation projects near Vermillion.
The book is available online.