Structure Twenty-Seven

Structure Twenty-Seven. The orange lines represent the outer wall face; red the inner wall face; green the vertical orthostats forming the inner wall face cladding; yellow represents large prone orthostats and black vertical orthostat divisions. The blue line is a drain.
Structure Twenty-Seven. The yellow lines represent the outer wall face; red shows the vertical orthostats forming the inner wall face cladding; light blue represents large prone orthostats and the darker blue shows vertical orthostat divisions.

The discovery of a standing stone stump in the midden mound to the south east of the main trench, in 2014, was followed by sections of walling and orthostats – all of which pre-dated the creation of the midden.

The southern wall line of Structure Twenty-Seven - showing the massive four-metre-long orthostats flanked by stones.
The southern wall line of Structure Twenty-Seven in 2018 – showing the massive four-metre-long orthostats flanked by stones.

In 2016, work in Trench T brought more masonry to light – massive stone slabs representing the remains of a particularly puzzling structure that had been robbed of most of its stone and partially dismantled in the late Neolithic.

Dubbed Structure Twenty-Seven, elements of this early building were reminiscent of Bookan Chambered Tomb, which lies to the northwest the Ness, and it was an imposing, if enigmatic, sight.

Structure Twenty-Seven is huge, over 12m wide by at least 17m long. The scale of its slabs suggests that they could have been repurposed standing stones, like some of the monoliths in Maeshowe. The prone, massive stones, up to 4m in length, had been very carefully laid out with their levels only differing by a couple of centimetres.

They were used to support orthostats that clad the structure’s internal wall faces, perhaps replicating plank construction seen elsewhere.

Structure Twenty-Seven – schematic of construction.

Structure Twenty-Seven’s beautifully executed external wall face was further enhanced in places by pick dressing and, like the later Structure Ten, was surrounded by paving with drains underneath.

Given the building’s position in the stratigraphy of the mound, and as it seems to stand on the natural land surface, it is likely to pre-date most of the other structures on site.

What it was is still open to interpretation, but its scale, refinement of build, and the lack of midden used in its construction suggest a non-domestic function.

Despite utilising several tomb-like features in its architecture (e.g. the use of large orthostats), though, it appears to have been roofed with stone slates – a feature in common with the other structures at the Ness, but unlike any known Orkney tombs.

Whatever its purpose – something we plan to investigate further – Structure Twenty-Seven was a house of the living, not the dead.