Dig Diary – Thursday, August 7, 2014

Structure Eight (middle) and Structure Ten (top) from above.

Structure Eight (middle) and Structure Ten (top) from above.

Day Nineteen

The view from above . . .

We have a real treat for you today. With a wonderful, steady breeze, and with the sun streaming down, Hugo launched the “Flying Mattress” into the air once more.

Suspended beneath this multi-coloured kite was his highly-specialised camera and the result is a truly stunning series of photographs of the Ness and the individual structures it contains.

The site looks magnificent with all the black plastic removed and as a result of the energetic cleaning exercise conducted by the team. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Trench P overview.

Trench P overview.

We have, however, a few loose ends to clear up.

The bone pot

In Structure Eight, Ray continued to excavate his intriguing deposit in the rubble. We mentioned it yesterday –  it consists of two pot lids that covered, and protected, a deposit of pottery, some of it with curious striations on the exterior surface.

We couldn’t make sense of this immediately as the sherds were wet and smeared, but, today, with a modicum of drying, we can see that the striations are actually the result of wiping, or smoothing, the pot surface during construction.

Intriguingly, the pot appears to have contained animal bone – there is an astragalus and two smaller bones. This is instantly reminiscent of the pot found two years ago in a corner buttress of Structure Ten.

This pot, still being assessed, may be a skeuomorph (a vessel in one medium, imitating a vessel in a different medium) of a leather vessel. It, too, contained a bone, only, in this case, it was a neonatal calf bone.

Ray has only one day of excavation left to resolve this deposit before he goes home to Northern Ireland. Wish him luck.

Structure One (bottom left), Structure 12 (right) and Structure Eight (top left) with Structures Nine, Eleven and Twenty-Five nestled in between.

Structure One (bottom left), Structure Twelve (right) and Structure Eight (top left) with Structures Nineteen, Eleven and Twenty-Five nestled in between.

Distinguished visitors

Our distinguished visitors today were Steve Dockrill and Julie Bond of Bradford University.

Steve and Julie have extensive experience of excavating in Orkney and Shetland and are favourites of everyone on site. They have just finished a season of excavation at Swandro, in Rousay, and it was a delight to see them once more.

We were also visited by David Connolly and Maggie Struckmeier of British Archaeological Job Resources (BAJR), who is also the new editor of Archaeoastronomy, and Dougie Scott.

They are taking careful measurements of the way structures and entrances align with known astronomical features. We look forward to the results of their work, in conjunction with research being undertaken by Dr Euan MacKie.

Structure Ten.

Structure Ten.

Donations always welcome

We have noticed, with great pleasure, that there have been thousands of ‘hits’ on the Orkneyjar website and on our daily diary over the past few weeks. This is very gratifying and we are glad that you enjoy hearing the news from the Ness. We would be even gladder if you felt able to help us financially through the donation button on the website.

This need not be much money, but archaeological sites are horrendously expensive to run and anything you can spare would be of tremendous help to the ongoing work of excavation at this extraordinary site. Thank you.

For those in Orkney, or those arriving soon, please not that our Open Day will be on Sunday August 17. There will be continuous tours of the site from 11am to 4pm. Please come and join us, and keep your fingers crossed for good weather.

That’s all until tomorrow.

From the Trenches

One of Antonia's stunning photos of a finely decorated red standstone slab.

One of Antonia’s stunning photos of a finely decorated red standstone slab.

My name’s Antonia Thomas and I am in the final year of my AHRC-funded PhD at the Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands.

My research is exploring the relationship between art and architecture in Neolithic Orkney.

Although I have also being undertaking surveys at Maeshowe and Skara Brae (and have recorded several previously-unknown examples there), not surprisingly, the 600+ assemblage of decorated stones from the Ness of Brodgar forms the main focus of my thesis!

This is my ninth year working on the site and it is incredible how much has changed in that time. Most extraordinary of all has been seeing how the walls, often metre or more in height, have been revealed as the excavations progress – and how many of these walls are decorated.

Throughout the site we are finding in situ stonework that is decorated and marked with a range of motifs, from simple scratched lines to elaborate cup-marked designs. The designs on the stones are often similar to the patterns seen on Grooved Ware pottery from the site, and comparing styles in the two different media could prove an interesting future research angle.

What is incredible about the assemblage from the Ness is that we are recording it under modern, scientific conditions.

This allows us to record, in three dimensions, exactly where an artefact or architectural element is found, and how it came to be there. This detailed contextual information is crucial to understanding the significance of why people felt compelled to carve stones 5,000 years ago.

The working and decorating of stone certainly appears to have been linked to significant acts in the construction and decommissioning of buildings: we have found carved stones placed as foundation deposits (for example in Structure Nineteen), and as acts of closure at the end of a building’s life (for example in Structure Twelve).

However, it is notable that the greatest concentration of markings is found in Structure One, which also appears to have been the longest-used structure on the site.

People were clearly marking stones again and again throughout the use of the buildings, and it seems that the decorating of stone was an integral part of their day-to-day life in Neolithic.

My work has involved detailed photographic and drawn records, in addition to written descriptions of the decorated stones.

My database is linked to the co-ordinates of each stone which has been found, allowing an interrogation of different aspects of the material using GIS. This is often painstaking, but essential to get to grips with a collection as diverse as this. In addition to the main body of the thesis, I am also creating an illustrated catalogue of the decorated stones from the site which can form a foundation for future research on the site. With only a few more months to go, I still have a lot of work to do!

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