Dig Diary – Monday, July 23, 2018

Day Sixteen

Recovering Structure One at the end of today's work.
Re-covering Structure One at the end of today’s work.

What? No walls?

Guess who's back? Back again? Ness stalwart Andy is back in Structure Eight.
Guess who’s back? Back again? Ness stalwart Andy is back in Structure Eight.

Another week is starting at the Ness with the return of several old faces and the arrival of new ones.

There is a distinctly international flavour at the moment, with two new Italian students who are doing post-graduate degrees at the University of the Highlands and Islands and another volunteer from Leiden, the excellent Dutch university, which has already provided us with first-class young archaeologists.

Other foreign visitors included a party of Norwegians led by Ragi Ljosland, a local historian and archaeologist, and, on a separate tour, numerous members of the Clan Gunn from around the world.

Site director Nick also turned a pleasing shade of yellow.

Supervisor Paul, Arran and Rob in Trench J this afternoon, with the remains of the the 'Great Wall' in the foreground.
Supervisor Paul, Arran and Rob in Trench J this afternoon, with the remains of the the ‘Great Wall’ in the foreground.

This requires some explanation but our departing Brazilian student, Gabriel, presented him with a Brazilian national football shirt.

On the back was the number ten, which as every football fan knows is the number of all the best Brazilian players including Pele. The actual name on the shirt was, of course, Nick Card.

To be honest, we’ve never seen Nick kick a football or speak Portuguese. When he’s annoyed he does sometimes kick a stone and, of course, what he says on such occasions may be Portuguese, although we couldn’t swear to it.

Trench J has turned up the dinkiest little thumb pot.

It may be more accurately described as a finger pot for most thumbs would be too big to form it.

A new idea suggests that such tiny pots may have something to do with the small clay balls which have been excavated on site, several of which would fit nicely into one of these pots.

We will bring this to the attention of David and Helen Smith, long-time friends of the Ness, from Washington, who are currently studying our clay balls, cataloguing them and comparing them with similar objects from other Orcadian sites and also from around the world.

Travis – Pottery magnet extraordinaire

Travis, our youngest digger, makes his way to the finds hut with another tray of pottery.
Travis, our youngest digger, makes his way to the finds hut with another tray of pottery sherds.

Travis has been at it again.

We have already introduced our youngest digger to you as a veritable truffle-hound when it comes to finding Grooved Ware pottery.

His newest discovery, from just outside Structure Twenty-Six, is really special.

It seems to have been a richly decorated pot which has been deposited (possibly) whole in the area he is digging. 

The clue for this is that Travis has turned in four trays of sherds from the pot, giving us a good idea of how much is present and, hopefully, what it looked like if we can work out how it goes together.

Structure in Trench Y?

Marcus in Trench Y, with what looks suspiciously like a hearth.
Marcus in Trench Y, with what looks suspiciously like a hearth.

Meanwhile, in Trench Y the team have just discovered elements of curved walling and several circular features, which could be post holes.

Could this be another structure?

However, the real mystery of this most frustrating of trenches continues. The quest for the western wall there is no nearer resolution, although Nick now doubts that it is there at all!

Tellingly, the area where the wall (if there is one) should be on the north-eastern side is looking equally disappointing.

The northern wall is visible in Trench J and even makes a turn around the side of the structure in the trench.

Thereafter it disappears.

Stone imprints

Removing one of the stones forming the 'Great Wall' leaves a distinct impression in the natural.
Removing one of the stones forming the ‘Great Wall’ leaves a distinct impression in the natural.

We know that the weight of the adjoining section of wall on the north side has caused it to actually sink into the boulder clay leaving distinctive marks, but there are no such marks on the north-eastern side, implying that it never existed there, to be robbed out as previously suspecpted.

It now seems possible that the idea that the site was totally enclosed by walls may be wrong!

It may be that there were only walls to the north-west of the site and the south-east side and that the two sides parallel to the lochs were open, with the water providing a naturally defined boundary to the site.

These monumental walls would have still created an amazing impression on those approaching the site by land, from either the Stenness or Brodgar, sides of the site, emphasising the importance of the Ness.

Alternatively, Nick suspects that a number of areas at the Ness may have had grand building plans which were never finished.

The walls may be an illustration of such Neolithic dithering, or changes in overall plan reflecting the changing dynamics of Neolithic society.

Whatever, we may discover more tomorrow. We usually do.

See you then.