Dig Diary – Thursday, August 14, 2014

Day Twenty-Four

The Structure Fourteen team compare notes as the site moves into final recording mode.

The Structure Fourteen team compare notes as the site moves into final recording mode.

Farewell Willamettes

Sadly, today is the last day for the Willamettes, that intrepid bunch of students from deepest darkest Oregon, led by their Professor, Scott Pike. They have been tremendous company and have worked so very hard – putting up with blazing sunshine, driving rain and just about everything else, with the possible exception of a plague of locusts.

Actually, Scott says that the Oregon weather is not that much different from Orkney . . . but we think he is just being nice.

He will be back next year with a new bunch of students and some of this year’s intake may also make a return visit. We hope so and we wish them a safe journey home.

Normal archaeological duties continued in all trenches, though at a quieter pace than is normal.

A bovine discovery

One of the most notable events today was the final rehabilitation of Trench T.

An aurochs or just a very large cow? Lauren carefully reveals the large horn core at the top of Trench T.

An aurochs or just a very large cow? Lauren carefully reveals the large horn core at the top of Trench T.

It has, as we have mentioned in earlier diaries, gone through something of a rollercoaster this season, starting off with handsome Neolithic pottery, tumbling down to the depths of the Iron Age with some human remains, and then clambering up again to the bright sunlit plateau of the Neolithic.

It is not without its problems, however.

We mentioned, yesterday, the possible standing stone at the bottom of the trench but, most improbably, this seems to have been joined by another one, half way up the mound.

In the mini-sondage started by Ben, at the very top, Lauren has been deployed throughout the day.

As the afternoon wore on, it became clear that she is excavating a very large bone deposit from a very large cow.  Actually, it looks more like a buffalo.

Owain's reconstruction of the central standing stone. Slight artistic licence perhaps?

Owain’s reconstruction of the central standing stone. Slight artistic licence perhaps?

She is carefully trowelling around the core of a huge horn. Moreover, it seems to be connected to parts of the skull and other large bones are scattered about, many of them with the consistency of porridge.

To complicate matters, the skull is very close to the clay horizon, making interpretation of how is comes to be there somewhat problematic.

Is this an aurochs? That enormous primitive breed of cattle? At the moment we cannot be sure, but it will take an animal bone specialist to give us a definitive answer.

One last problem cast up by Trench T is the realisation that the midden at the bottom of the trench is very different from that at the top.  It will certainly be next year before we can say what is happening in this most enigmatic of trenches.

In the main trench, the task of detailed recording before the closing down events of next week has started.

Around the standing stone

The pace of excavation has, however, continued unabated in the area of the central midden around the standing stone.

There, Owain and his team are uncovering a large area of paving and various small walls, all of which, taken together, could suggest a detailed organisation of the space in this part of the site, focusing again on the importance of adjacent Structure One.

The central nature of the standing stone is also propelling it backwards in time, perhaps to coincide with the primary structure of use of Structure One.

The suggestion that it may, therefore, be an integral part of the way this crucial primary space was organised and developed, indeed that it may be central to the understanding of the whole site, has been brought to the fore once more. Again, next year will shed more light on this.

Julie reveals more paving and wall lines around the standing stone south of Structure One.

Julie reveals more paving and wall lines around the standing stone south of Structure One.

Honeycombed with drains

Structure Ten is nothing if not greedy.

Erica's pseudo stone ball from the pit in Structure One.

Erica’s pseudo stone ball from the pit in Structure One.

In addition to being the biggest, widest, youngest, most handsome and blessed of structures –  and the location of our best carved stone ball – it now seems to be laying claim to be drain central. Yes, it is honeycombed with drains.

While recording the remnants of the robber cut at the east end of the structure, Mark, Claire and Jan have discovered yet another drain, which runs parallel to, and under, the front east wall of the building.

This can be added to the one in the annex, those under the pavement in the passageway and yet another one heading out of the west wall. Whatever else you say about Structure Ten, it is very well drained.

Meanwhile, in the floor of Structure One, Erica has revealed a large pit.

Its size and shape originally drew speculation that it could a crouched burial –  not unknown under Neolithic houses – but, alas, no.

However, it did produce a rather beautiful, rounded stone with opposed flat worn areas – not quite a carved stone ball, but still a very nice find.

We have a day off on Friday because it is the site open day on Sunday. We will be here from 11am to 4pm and offering multiple and continuous tours (if our voices hold out).

Please come along, and be ready for any kind of weather. We look forward to seeing you then.

From the Trenches

My name is Andy Thomas and I’ve escaped, for a week, from my day job as a planning archaeologist with Cambridgeshire County Council to come to the Ness of Brodgar and get my hands dirty.

I have spent the past few days trying to untangle the complex sequence of deposits in Structure Twenty-One.  Although there are clearly layers of midden, rubble and occupation, the sequence has been complicated by a robber trench cutting through the structure and obscuring the relationships.

However, after much scratching of heads and staring at it from different angles, we think we have the stratigraphic sequence pinned down.  This will undoubtedly change next year if and when more of the structure is visible!

Today is unfortunately my last day on site, so it has been spent getting the plans, sections and context sheets up to date, in an attempt not to leave too many loose ends to be tidied up.

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