Dig Diary – Monday, August 13, 2018

Day Thirty-One

Surprise start to penultimate week

The Trench T team this afternoon.
The Trench T team this afternoon.

We are now in our penultimate week of excavation at the Ness and, as is usual so close to the end of the dig, there were few expectations of anything special happening.

That feeling was heightened today by the necessity of transferring diggers from other trenches and structures into Structure Eight to prepare for a photoshoot with Scott’s drone, together with Jim’s photogrammetry.

How wrong we were.

Nick carefully washing the macehead fragment from the outside of Structure Twenty-Seven.
Nick carefully washing the rhodochrosite macehead fragment from the outside of Structure Twenty-Seven.

In Trench T, Fiona was removing midden from outside the south wall of Structure Twenty-Seven when she came across a stunning cushion macehead.

It is a rich, dark red colour and is broken across the perforation.

When she looked at it closely it was evident that there was some degradation, which is unusual in the body of a stone implement.

It was the striking colour of the macehead which solved the problem, for it is identical to the two pillow stones, which were recovered from Structure Eight.

They are all fashioned from the same rock, which is rhodochrosite, probably from the Island of Hoy.

Fiona with the macehead after its successful excavation.
Fiona with the macehead after its successful excavation.

A non-crystalline rock, it is susceptible to degrading in the acid soil conditions which pertain at the Ness.

They are all notably handsome and remind us (not that it is needed) that maceheads are usually made from specially selected stone and were probably precious objects of great significance to their owners.

Further surprises came from the continuing work nearby at the south end of Structure Twenty-Seven.

More of the wall facing on that side of the building appeared and it is simply beautiful. The courses of stone are closely set, peck-dressed in some areas and with the distinct possibility that one of them may have been decorated.

Kathy and Jonathan sampling the Trench J hearth this morning.
Kathy and Jonathan sampling the Trench J hearth this morning.

Taken together with the already exposed sections of wall facing, this underlines the fact that Structure Twenty-Seven, whatever its function, was a beautifully constructed building.

One further surprise was yet to come.

Excavation in the same area shows that the builders of Structure Twenty-Seven had carefully built up the foundations at the south end by inserting layers of rough stone.

The camptonite axe found in the Trench J extension hearth in situ.
The camptonite axe found in the Trench J extension hearth in situ.

This was probably to elevate the south end as the bedrock seems to rise upwards towards the other end of the structure.

Magnificent looking buildings with dodgy foundations characterise the probably later structures in Trench P,  but in Structure Twenty-Seven we have solid foundations for a dazzling building of monumental proportions.

Trench J's latest axe after a careful wash this afternoon.
Trench J’s latest axe after a careful wash this afternoon.

Over in Trench J, work has continued on the late hearth revealed last week, which doubled in size when further excavation took place on Friday.

Dr Cathy Batt took samples from the hearth today for her archaeomagnetic analysis, although the task was complicated by the subsidence which had happened at one end of the hearth.

Kaehlin and Ray at work in Structure Five.
Kaehlin and Ray at work in Structure Five.

She handed over to assistant supervisor Colin, who continued the excavation and uncovered an exquisite camptonite axe, beautifully made and with only a little edge damage.

The removing of the sandbags and protective material from Structure Eight for the photoshoot also made much clearer the plan of Structures Seventeen and Eighteen, which lie under the later building.

As work progresses on Structure Eight, the outlines of the buildings underneath should become even more evident.

Heads down in Structure Eight for a pre-photoshoot cleaning session.
Heads down in Structure Eight for a pre-photoshoot cleaning session.

The last, and very surprising, find of the day came as Alice and Hannah cleared debris from the central midden area, which lies just outside the south wall of Structure Eight.

It seems they have discovered a flagged entrance, which probably led into Structure Seventeen.

This was probably blocked up and built over when the end wall of Structure Eight was constructed.

All-in-all it has been a fascinating day with surprises popping up all over the site.

We will never again moan that we’re nearly at the end and nothing much will happen now.

Indeed, we have high hopes for tomorrow.

See you then…