Dig Diary – Thursday, August 2, 2018

Day Twenty-Four

Structure Eight bling, site finds and a cry for help…

Andy watches on as Emma excavates the site's largest pitchstone blade to date.
Andy watches on as Emma excavates the site’s largest pitchstone blade to date.

One of the abiding difficulties of writing diaries day after day is to seize the attention of you, dear readers, at the very beginning and retain it to the end.

So, here is a teaser for later in the diary…you will not be disappointed.

It concerns Andy from Structure Eight, an angry trout and a sort of Dervish dance, witnessed by astonished Orcadians, on the shores of the Harray Loch last night.

However, first of all…

A delighted Emma with her pitchstone blade.
A delighted Emma with her pitchstone blade.

Structure Eight did, indeed, feature strongly in yesterday’s archaeology.

The building has always had a reputation for producing Neolithic bling in recent years.

In a fairly short space of time it has revealed a remarkable, and very rare, whalebone macehead, several spatula stone tools, flint blades and a peculiar setting of a whale’s tooth surrounded by unusual stones, including a massive quartz pebble.

In recent years it has been rather quiet, but not yesterday.

John, from the Isle of Man, who has visited the site on a regular basis over a number of years, was presented with a copy of Ness of Brodgar: Open to the Public by Nick today.
John, from the Isle of Man, who has visited the site on a regular basis over a number of years, was presented with a copy of Ness of Brodgar: Open to the Public by Nick today.

Work has intensified in the recesses and it has produced some lovely flint tools, flint debitage (manufacturing waste), more spatulas and quite the largest pitchstone blade we have seen – possibly the largest ever found in Orkney.

The presence of pitchstone underlines once more the long-distance travel which undoubtedly took place in the Neolithic, for pitchstone is only found on the island of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland.

Not to be outdone, Trench J has responded with another piece of Neolithic art, this time a stone with a lightly incised, almost checkerboard pattern.

The bottom of Trench Y, looking out across the Stenness Loch towards Hoy.
The bottom of Trench Y, looking out across the Stenness Loch towards Hoy.

And in Trench Y, Emanuel pulled off a real feat of close observation by spotting a small clay ball nestling in amongst the shillety stone in the trench. We now have several of these, currently being studied by David and Helen Smith, but Emanuel’s eyes are clearly of the sharpest.

Mike continued his very successful pot days today, with demonstrations in the morning and slightly more complicated ones for a group in the afternoon.

These have been popular and well-attended and, with Mike’s infectious enthusiasm, are sure to interest many more people in archaeological ceramics.

Trench T from above this afternoon. The outline of the enigmatic Structure Twenty-Seven is clearly visible in the left of the picture (the bottom of the trench).
Trench T from above this afternoon. The outline of the enigmatic Structure Twenty-Seven is clearly visible in the left of the picture (the bottom of the trench).

The removal of the midden continues in Trench T and, in a new development, the covers were taken off the central area where site director Nick believes there are some patches of the original floors of Structure Twenty-Seven.

These have been carefully cleaned and Scott is now taking his highly detailed photographs from a drone.

The wall section and rubble spread in the extension to Trench J this afternoon.
The wall section and rubble spread in the extension to Trench J this afternoon.

In Structure Ten, the work of disentangling the highly complex series of floors, together with episodes of floor levelling and associated features continues.

Linda has done remarkable work in making sense of her unusual pit feature which contains what was once a stone box with slumping sides.

At the west end of the structure, Therese is also shedding light on a series of low orthostats, which may turn out to be cists of, at the moment, unknown size. Could they contain something interesting?

One of our visitors today was Rick Steves, who presents travel programmes on America’s Public Broadcasting Service. He and his camera crew visited briefly for a programme on the wider aspects of Orkney.

A fishy tale…

Rob, Ray and Kaehlin at work outside Structure Five.

And now, and thank you for your patience, we come to Andy and the trout…

Last night Andy went fishing in the Loch of Harray with Dave, a long-time supervisor at the Ness.

No doubt to his astonishment Andy caught a trout. After despatching it to meet its trouty ancestors, he stuffed it down the front of his waders and continued fishing peacefully.

The trout had other ideas. Refusing to give up the ghost it started to squirm and wriggle and quickly slid down to a part of Andy’s anatomy where no trout had any right to be.

Andy’s subsequent motions have been described by onlookers as a cross between terminal convulsions and breakdancing.

We have to point out here that the trout-fishing fraternity in Orkney are highly conservative, abhor trolling from a boat and other dreadful foreign manifestations and will have no truck with such behaviour in their loch.

There may be an investigation. As President Trump says, we’ll have to wait and see.

An appeal for help

Madi is assisting Professor Scott Pike with his XRF analyses.
Madi is assisting Professor Scott Pike with his XRF analyses.

Unfortunately, we have to tell you about a problem.

Put simply, the funding of our excavation at the Ness is becoming difficult to sustain.

It costs us £200,000 for just two months of excavation and any money we have must also stretch to cover the following ten months when we work hard in Kirkwall on all of the artefacts, data and samples gathered in the two month excavation season.

Make no mistake, the Ness is a site of prime international importance, but we rely almost completely on our friends and supporters around the world to keep us going.

And so we must appeal to you all again. Any financial support you can give us is welcome, perhaps through our crowdfunding appeal, through the purchase of our latest book, or even through straightforward donations.

We would be most grateful, and we have a feeling that the Neolithic folk of the Ness, who must have been so proud of their achievements here, would also approve.

Thank you.