Dig Diary – Thursday, August 13, 2015

Day Twenty-Nine

A sad farewell this week to the great team of Willamettes, who did such amazing work in mainly Trench T.

A sad farewell this week to the great team of Willamettes, who did such amazing work in mainly Trench T.

Hot finds on a hot day

Apologies for the delay in today’s blog but Thursday night was the annual “Dig-Do” at director Nick’s house – a great night had by all, but some sad farewells too.

There will also be no dig diary for Friday, as the day was cancelled due to the horrendous forecast (which in the end hasn’t happened!).

Watch this space, though, for an important announcement next week!

Today’s weather has been hot, as have the discoveries.

Anne reveals the fabled south recess in Structure Eight.

Anne reveals the fabled south recess in Structure Eight.

We have puzzled for a long time over the fate of the south end of Structure Eight. It, and its eastern wall, were severely knocked about by the construction of Structure Ten, whose rear end barged straight into Structure Eight.

But did Structure Eight have an entrance at the south end and, if it did, where is it?

Owain and Andy, and their team, have worked hard, and successfully, in that area, gradually prising out the midden and rubble that obscures so much of the evidence.

Then, this afternoon, site director Nick announced a resolution.

Structure Eight does not have a south entrance.

Instead, it has a very nice deep and rectangular recess. Much of it has been robbed out, but it seems likely that several courses of walling still survive.

What is even more interesting is that there are clearly some very juicy occupation layers within — which should yield lots of information. Unfortunately, it is most unlikely that these will be reached this year.

Remember, we excavate stratigraphically, which means that diving down deep is strictly forbidden. If we were on a poor site, miserly with its information, this might be a source of much frustration.

Luckily, at the Ness there are plenty of other problems and solutions with which to grapple. Kaitlin, one of our American diggers, and a former Willamette, uncovered one of them yesterday afternoon.

Digging in the midden area to the south of Structure Ten she unearthed a most curious sherd of pottery.

It is fairly coarse and undecorated, but its exterior wall is quite sharply angled, while the interior is more rounded. At first glance we wondered if it was one of those fabled “square” pots, claimed at some sites. The angle of the walls is, however, greater than 90 degrees and more like 120 degrees.

Kaitlin shows off her rare square pot.

Kaitlin shows off her rare square pot.

Looking closer, we think that it was possibly not very large as the bottom of the sherd is broken at an angle which suggests the (missing) base.

In fact it may have been only around 55mm tall — which makes us thing it may be a sort of elongated thumb pot with exterior angles. All very strange and, as far as any of us can remember, not seen before on site.

We will just have to wait for Kaitlin to turn up some more.

Structure Twelve was oddly quiet today as the survey team is conducting laser planning of its interior and exterior.

Mark set up his whirring laser equipment (it makes a change from beeping) and hoped to have it done by the end of the day.

The images — in three dimensions and very sharp — will be an absolute joy to behold and we await them with anticipation.

We were delighted to see Caroline Wickham-Jones today, the distinguished Mesolithic specialist, who visited with co-project leaders from the Rising Tide Project, including Richard Bates.

Richard has been conducting an underwater survey of the Harray loch, next to the Ness, and has discovered angular features just offshore from the present loch edge. He thinks these could be possible quarries.

If so, could these be the quarries used for the stone at the Ness? It is a fascinating thought and deserves a good deal more investigation.

Meanwhile, serious planning is taking place at the north end of Structure One.

In weather terms, planning on site is usually a sign of the onset of autumn or, in other words, the end of the excavation season.

We still have two weeks to go but, as Lorraine mentions below, the weather forecast for tomorrow is so abominable that Nick has opted to suspend digging and tours for the day, giving supervisors a chance to catch up with their paperwork.

Weekend tours will be as normal and we will all be back on Monday to mop out.

Until then . . .

From the Trenches

Planning a go go in the north end of Structure One.

Planning a go go in the north end of Structure One.

Nick just asked if I had agreed to do a blog. I can’t remember saying I wouldn’t, so here I am, sitting in the office.

My name is Lorraine Clay.

I emailed Nick 15 months ago, after visiting Orkney for my 50th treat and finding out that you didn’t have to have an archaeology degree to dig on the Ness.

I never dreamed I’d be here now, shoulder to shoulder with names and faces familiar from the blog.

When I was told I could come I was insufferable for a week. Then, when I received my brochure in the post, I thought the photos had been enhanced — can Orkney lochs and skies really be this blue? Yes, they can!

I’ve been at the Ness since Monday and it has been lovely. On saying that, I was digging in nine degrees, in a gale, this time last week, 400 metres up in the North Pennines with Altogether Archaeology, so I’m a hardy Northumbrian.

After a couple of fearful days thinking “we are not worthy” I’m more relaxed today.

The laser scanner whirls away in Structure Twelve.

The laser scanner whirls away in Structure Twelve.

Nick seems to be endlessly circling doing tours and, stretched at their limit this week, a helpful supervisor is still never far away.

Claire and Owain kept my confidence up near Structure Ten and in the Central Midden Area, and, after a day of cleaning yesterday, Dan has let me and trenchmate, Phoebe, take up 5,000 year old paving slabs today.

I examined every inch but not a Neolithic scratch anywhere!

I was going to say there’s always tomorrow but I’m informed we’re having a rain day tomorrow, so no digging and no tours.

As a potter, I’d really love to find a nice Unstan bowl and confuse everyone. Failing that, after years of looking at Northumberland Rock art, it would be lovely to find some cups and rings — cos it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that ring — at the Ness.

Now I must head off to tidy the crumbs off my context before tea-break, and in case Phoebe beats me to a pot-sherd.

Tours recommence on Saturday, weather permitting, at 11am and 3pm.

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