Archaeology Cake- or Arch-cake-ology (if you will) #DigItBuildIt

2015 has been a brilliant year for Scottish Archaeology as we have witnessed, enjoyed and participated in a year long celebration of archaeology thanks to Dig It! 2015. Co-ordinated by the Society of Antiquaries for Scotland and Archaeology Scotland, it has painted Scotland beautiful bright pink with its programme of events, information and resources for getting involved in archaeology- whether you are an absolute beginner or professional, young or old.

As a keen ‘Tweeter’ and ‘Instagrammer’ (is that even a term?) I was incredibly excited when Dig It! 2015 announced a series of mini social media based competitions. I am not the most creative of people, therefore when the overarching Dig Art! Competition was announced, I knew I would have little to offer in the way of creativity in photographs or art. However, the latest mini-competition ‘#DigItBuildIt’ featured two crucial words to the core of my existence words which really drew my attention: cake and Lego. This past year, I have not been baking cakes nearly as much as I used to, and this offered me a chance to really get stuck into it again- and the idea of possibly winning a personalised Lego figure made me very, very excited.

I started with some plans. I looked at previous archaeology themed cakes, and I liked the idea of an excavation, but including some of my favourite aspects of Scottish Archaeology.

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The cake itself began as two (dairy free) chocolate sponges. I used a basic chocolate sponge recipe, but substituted the butter for Pure Sunflower Spread, and used Bournville cocoa powder.

Whilst waiting for this to cool, I began making my ‘artefacts’ out of basic fondant icing. These were coloured with Lakeland’s Brown and Black food colouring. Lakeland’s food colouring is natural, doesn’t leave that awful chemically taste and is much thicker- which is also good for painting and decorating

I chose to make the following artefacts:

  • Pictish Carved Slab: There were many choices for designs to base this on, but I chose to base it on the Knocknagael Boar Stone on show in the entrance of the Highland Council Offices in Inverness- where I live.
  • Westray Wife or the ‘Orkney Venus’: I think this was one of the most amazing Scottish archaeological finds, and possibly one of my favourites. It was found on Orkney at the Links of Noltland, and is hailed as the earliest representation of the human form in Scotland- and the only Neolithic representation to be found in Scotland. I have made it to the measurements of the original artefact. I am a little annoyed that my work around the mouth wasn’t more delicate, but I have none of my cake making tools in Inverness and toothpicks are a little cumbersome!
  • Beaker Pot: Although not restricted to Scotland, I think these pots are so enigmatic and have something really special about them. When living in Drumnadrochit, earlier this year, they found a Bronze Age Burial when building the new medical centre, which was very exciting. It also reminds me of the time last year when three schoolboys found a Bronze Age burial as part of an excavation in Kirkhaugh, Northumberland– showing that archaeology can involve everyone and there is always the potential to find something as exciting as what was dubbed ‘The Amesbury Archer of the North’! Northumberland may not be in Scotland, however they would have not drawn this distinction in prehistory- we may have been best friends with those who just lived ‘up the road’.
  • So cute and tiny.
    So cute and tiny.
    Quern Stone: For those who don’t know, quern stones were used to grind cereals into grain to produce flour. This was heavy work, with quern stones beginning as saddle querns which involved pushing a stone back and forth over a larger concave stone to grind grain. This was replaced in the Iron Age with a new form of technology- a rotary quern- which was made up of two quern stones rotated over one another via a wooden axle (the top stone mobile whilst the bottom stationary). This is based on a 2014 find at the Cromarty Medieval Burgh Project. I have just started volunteering on site, and this will hopefully continue to be a great way back into archaeology, digging and getting my confidence up. I get to watch school children, students, professionals, amateur enthusiasts (who often know just as much as the professionals!) and members of the local community all work together and find out more about Medieval Cromarty.

After the cake had cooled it was then sandwiched together with chocolate ‘buttercream’- made using icing sugar, Pure Sunflower Spread, Bournville chocolate and Bournville cocoa powder. I then cut out a rectangle at the front of the cake for my ‘trench’ and kept the inside for the fill and spoil heap.

Once the trench was emptied (delicate work and not a context sheet in sight!), I began making my ‘grass’. I made buttercream as before, but without the chocolate and included Lakeland’s Moss Green food colouring. The spoil heap was then added- which was a mixture of chocolate crumbs and chocolate buttercream, and Lakeland’s Brown food colouring was used to make ‘wheelbarrow tracks’ to the spoil heap.(null)_2

I placed my Beaker pot, pottery sherds and area of paving slabs into the trench before backfilling (sacrilege) to partially cover them up. I cordoned off the area for safety (in case the Borrowers wanted a go at excavating unsupervised) and placed a small edible trowel by the trench, and a bucket of spoil by the spoil heap. I made a typical archaeologist’s blue tarpaulin for the quern stone to sit on, as well as a small scale. And then I added my final touches- my Westray Wife, Pictish Stone and Dig It! 2015 Flag.

The final product.
The final product.
For my first attempt at a decent cake this year, it’s alright! Next step: Neolithic carved ball cake (!!).

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Dig It! 2015 has the most wonderful website and I encourage you all to have a look- whether a professional, amateur or innocent but interested bystander! http://digit2015.com/

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