Dig Diary — Friday, August 2, 2013

Day Fifteen

Mike continues his explorations under the corner buttress in Structure Ten.

Mike continues his explorations under the corner buttress in Structure Ten.

A plan for Trench T

Just in case the good folk of Trench T feel a little neglected, while the world’s media and, more importantly this blog, concentrates on the wonders of incised stone in Trench P, we will start this morning with T.

Through the early morning mists, the T-diggers could be seen filtering away from Nick’s informative staff site tour and preparing themselves for digging. There is good news, and yet better news, from T.

To begin; their status as fully-fledged Neolithics is now con firmed through the finding of a polished stone axe by Willamette digger, Emily Arnold.

Even better, Nick decided this morning to start a new strategy for Trench T.

The spread of rubble already uncovered, together with the rather flimsy revetment wall at the bottom, could represent the sealing deposits on top of a chambered tomb.

We could beaver away on top of the rubble, but time is disappearing fast. The alternative strategy, and one which should bring quicker results, is to excavate a more limited area of the trench, in essence a sondage (a deep, exploratory trench), along the length of the existing trench.

Owain and Nela remove more middens around the standing stone just outside the entrance to Structure One.

Owain and Nela remove more middens around the standing stone just outside the entrance to Structure One.

Nick will commit more resources to this effort, which should start at the beginning of next week, and has assured the team that magnificent casement walls will be revealed!!

Watch this space . . .

The pot and the stone

Back in Structure Ten, Mike is recovering from his propulsion to national stardom as the finder of the magnificent incised stone.

He spent today investigating the position in which the stone was found and, as a good pottery man (PhD in progress on Western Isles Neolithic pot), he is just as interested in the handsome decorated pot which was found immediately beside the stone.

Large sections of the pot were recovered yesterday and Mike has more today.

It is heavily sooted on the exterior and there is evidence of burnt bone in association with it. However, there is no sign of burning on the adjacent stone. It seems inconceivable that this distinctive pot was not deliberately placed beside the stone, and the two artefacts should probably not be seen in isolation from each other.

Taken together with Roy and Owain, there are now three “pot persons” working on site – quite enough to constitute a revolutionary pottery cell, dedicated to combating the current orgy of stone worship. (Don’t tell anyone, though).

Inside and outside Structure One

Another fascinating development came from the midden outside Structure One, where Owain and Nela are digging around the stump of the potential standing stone.

Three nice beads were found in one of their samples, although we have to concede reluctantly that they may well be made of stone.

In Structure One itself, Dan and his team are dealing with the deposits associated with the second main phase of use of the building.

Antonia's eternal quest for more decorated stone.

Antonia’s eternal quest for more decorated stone.

Not far away, Antonia was spotted prowling the site in search of (yes) more incised stone. She has an eagle eye and has noted several examples.

We are delighted to note that she will very soon bring us right up to date with her research on decorated stone on site, and expand on the 60-70 new examples this year in a blog.

The lucky professors

Our visitors today included Professor Colin Richards, the luckiest excavator in the world.

You may remember we mentioned that if he tripped over a stone it would turn out to be a polished axe. Well, he didn’t trip today and he didn’t uncover any new finds but he did share his ideas on the site and its development and use.

The world’s second luckiest excavator, Professor Mark Edmonds, was working in Structure Ten, but didn’t find anything of note.  It’s entirely possible that if both men eschewed stone and developed a new passion for pottery their luck would return. We will keep you informed of developments.

From the Trenches

The team in Structure One explore and sample the later floor deposits.

The team in Structure One explore and sample the later floor deposits.

My name is Jo Bourne. I’m from Kent and this is my first season at the Ness of Brodgar.

I have a Masters degree from Birkbeck, University of London, and have excavated on several Neolithic sites in Britain and Europe. This, as seen in the news today, is without doubt the most thrilling of those sites.

On day eight, I was removing a series of stones, used to block the entrance to the annexe of Structure Twelve, when I found the incised stone featured earlier on the blog. It lay face up, beneath another stone, two of its markings partially visible through a fine layer of midden.

There’s a momentary feeling of woozy dislocation when you make such a find – like sliding underwater in a swimming pool.

The third luckiest digger Anne reveals another spread of large decorated Grooved Ware.

The third luckiest digger Anne reveals another spread of large decorated Grooved Ware.

I was probably the first person to see that stone for around 50 centuries and feel hugely privileged.

I’ve been “seeing” butterfly motifs everywhere since then: on Kirkwall street paving; supermarket packaging and even in boot prints on around the trenches.

Experts such as Antonia here will be endeavouring to make sense of it. I’m contemplating a small tattoo.

One of my main areas of interest is how prehistoric people are portrayed in popular culture.

I normally work in London as a writer and editor, and, as a commissioner of children’s books, I’ve always insisted on showing prehistoric people dressed according to the evidence, where it exists.

The off-the-shoulder deerskins of traditional illustrations are a visual shorthand for “primitive and unsophisticated”. The Neolithic certainly wasn’t that.

No evidence exists so far at the Ness to show what the people here might have worn as organic materials don’t survive, but I’m hoping we find something to indicate how they were dressed – bone pin fastenings; skin processing tools or even, possibly, textile impressions on pottery. I’m sure their dress was as sophisticated as their buildings.

Meantime, I’m continuing to trowel the central midden area, outside Structure Twelve, down to a hard clay surface. It seems I’ve traded the long hot summer of the south for the cooler, wetter, windier (and muddier) climate of Stenness. It has been worth every minute.

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