Dig Diary – Friday, August 1, 2014

Professor Mark Edmonds clears away the last vestiges of entrance infill to reveal the spectacular paving slab in Structure Ten.

Professor Mark Edmonds clears away the last vestiges of entrance infill to reveal the spectacular paving slab in Structure Ten.

Day Fifteen

Natasha with her beautiful "Shetland knife".

Natasha with her beautiful “Shetland knife”.

Shetland connections

You may have heard of Skaill knives – those flakes of beach cobble used as throwaway blades and relatively common in Orkney, but not thus far at the Ness.

But have you heard of Shetland knives?

Not many of us have, but we know all about them now. Natasha found one today at the south-east corner of Structure Twelve.

It is a magnificent looking affair, described by Professor Mark  Edmonds, our expert on stone tools and much else, as the best find from the site. He is, of course, hopelessly biased.

The many pictures taken show its rectangular shape, with one long edge thickened and rounded and the opposing long edge thinned and ground to a blade. It fits, like almost all Neolithic tools, perfectly into the hand.

When wet, it is possible to see the facets running along the blade edge on both sides where it has been ground and sharpened.

Intriguingly, just before close of play, Natasha discovered an unusual and boldly grooved and impressed sherd of pottery alongside the findspot of the Shetland knife.

The knives are, as the name implies, products of Neolithic Shetland, but Mark says that this one is likely to be local.

What it shows is more important even than trading over a distance.  It seems to be an excellent example of knowledge transfer, the passing on of ideas over sometimes surprisingly large distances.

The diggers’ favourite

Structure Twelve is the favourite building of many of us on site – not because it is beautiful (although much of its stone is very beautiful indeed) – but because it pours out, not just artefacts, but knowledge and fresh understandings of the Neolithic in this place.

Structure Twelve - the "phoenix building".

Structure Twelve – the “phoenix building”.

Indeed, much of the rest of today’s diary is specifically concerned with Structure Twelve.

We told you, yesterday, of the discovery, by Seb, of several beach cobbles at the north-east corner.

Numbers of them were clearly being worked but, as Seb continued to excavate today he found a remarkable cube of rock with carefully polished surfaces and a top surface full of percussion marks.

It is, almost certainly an anvil used for working and shaping rock. There is always something particularly satisfying about finding artefacts which are not just attractive but which tell us about the technological expertise of the Neolithic.

In the midden surrounding Structure Twelve, Laura, a pot-magnet if ever there was one, has been finding handsome Grooved Ware pottery.

Seb seems quite happy with his anvil stone in Structure Twelve's "cobblestone corner".

Seb seems quite happy with his anvil stone in Structure Twelve’s “cobblestone corner”.

Her most impressive sherds today have applied cordons decorated with impressions and, lower down on the pot body, what appears to be curved impressions in a rough circle. The impressions do not appear to have been made by fingernail but a more detailed analysis will have to wait until the sherds are lifted from the ground.

The story of Structure Twelve

To continue with Structure Twelve, Jim, the trench supervisor, has constructed a very compelling explanation of the building’s life story.

It has clearly been altered and Jim believes this is because it became clear that parts of it, particularly the south end, were in danger of collapsing. The roof was taken off, he suggests, and this allowed extensive re-modelling, including the rebuilding of some of the piers, the closing of the south entrance and the opening out of the north wall together with the construction of the porch or extension which held so much Grooved Ware pottery.

It is clear, however, that the rebuilding was not done to the same high standard as the original construction.

The piers which were rebuilt are at slightly the wrong angle, as shown by the base stones which protrude to the side. The interior surface of much of the west main wall has a large number of small, rather insignificant stones but, to be fair to the original, the unstable nature of the structure is due to the presence of two certain, and possibly three, structures underneath.

We can’t finish without mention of Structure Ten’s magnificent entrance with a huge base slab some 1.8 metres long, almost a metre wide and at least ten centimetres thick.  There are also clear indications of a paved area to the exterior and a drain which runs out of the structure’s interior. Altogether a truly monumental entrance.

Thankfully, for all those who are a little weary, the weekend awaits. See you on Monday.

From the Trenches

My name is Mary and I an archaeology student from, Willamette University in Oregon excavating at the Ness.

It’s Willamette like dammit not Will-am-ette for those wondering how to say it.

I’ve never dug at a Neolithic site before and am so very very lucky my first time is at a site as rich as the Ness of Brodgar. Under close supervision in the trenches I am slowly learning to tell an important rock from a boring rock and hopefully less cool things will end up in the spoil heap because of me.

Today, I have been moved from Ben’s lovely Trench T to Jim’s delightful Structure Twelve. The dirt is so soft and nice in the midden I’m digging it’s great.

A few feet from me, Scott removed the beautiful piece of pottery Laura uncovered today with his very technical tools including a fish scraper. Laura then moved all of two feet and found another amazing piece of pottery sticking out of the trench wall. If only we could all be so lucky with small finds.

In short, at the Ness we dig in the dirt like very scientific and precise children in the best sandbox ever invented.

We trowel, and mattock, and shovel, and plan to learn about life from long ago and it’s really really fun too.

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