Dig Diary — Thursday, August 8, 2013

Day Nineteen

Today has been a good deal quieter than yesterday, which is just as well because extreme excitement (carved stone ball), extreme heat (all day) and extreme exertion (normal digging) are not good for the human frame when taken all together.

There is, though, more news of interesting stone.

Digging on the slumped floor outside Structure Twelve, Mark found a large pot spread beside a cup-marked  stone. Under that, he uncovered a large quartz stone with a flat, but slightly dished upper surface. Cleaning this morning in the finds hut revealed a beautiful smooth stone, possibly used for polishing.

Despite this week being dominated by remarkable stone finds, there has, however, been the odd frisson of excitement in the course of today over other artefacts.

The pot from Structure Ten,  discovered next to the decorated stone.

The pot from Structure Ten, discovered next to the decorated stone.

The incised Grooved Ware pot, found by Mike in association with the large incised stone in Structure Ten, has now given up some more of its secrets.

One of the advantages of studying significant quantities of pottery is that you develop a sort of alarm bell for the unusual.

The exterior surface of the pot is coated in places with soot. While working on the vessel, Roy decided to investigate further some enigmatic little marks just visible through the soot.

Careful removal, with specialist tools, uncovered a remarkable line of vertical decoration running from the upper area of the pot right down to the base, and the pattern is repeated further round the body of the pot.

It is quite unlike anything seen thus far and, as a bonus, five large pot sherds can be fitted together.

It is clearly a significant vessel because of its position beside the incised stone.

Better yet, areas of carbonised material adhering to the interior surface  have been isolated and, as we have already mentioned, these may be capable of providing a radiocarbon date for the pot and for the association with the stone.

Mike has more of the pot still in the ground, so even more surprises may yet be forthcoming.

The pottery he is dealing with now in the area of the corner buttress of Structure Ten may be slightly out of phase, but Mike is also working on some crucial relationships in the area so he will continue, if carefully, for the moment.

Elsewhere in Structure Ten Claire, Jan, Christine and Jessica have been working through rubble associated with the robber cut in pursuit of a sequence for this area of the building.

They have now confirmed that the robber cut in the inner east wall area is exactly the same feature as seen elsewhere in the structure. There must have been a good deal of stone robbing taking place there.

It's a head scratching business recording the cental midden deposits.

It’s a head scratching business recording the cental midden deposits.

Meanwhile, in Structure Twelve, some of the late, ephemeral walls have been removed and Lisa is preparing the baulk through the centre of the building for micromorphological analysis before it, too, is removed.

Mark is planning in the area of the annexe ready to take out the collapsed material there and Jo and Dave are performing an ultra-fine cleaning of the midden deposit adjacent.

There has been a good deal of head-scratching over the relationship between Structures Twelve and Eight.

At the beginning of today, Dave, Nick and Jim were facing what appeared to be evidence that Twelve was later than Eight. By the end of the day, further work had restored the idea that they are probably contemporary, which was what they had thought originally was the sequence. Relief all around.

Working on the passageway between Structure One and Structure Nineteen, Lesley has now dismantled the small section of culvert drain there and shown that Nineteen is, almost definitely, later than One.

This confirms Nick’s thinking that Structure One is vital to the subsequent development of the site and that it acted almost like a magnet for the construction nearby of other structures.

This appears somewhat similar to the function of Structure Two at the nearby Barnhouse Settlement, with its remarkable longevity.

However, Structure One represents a significant and continuing archaeological challenge, with at least 14 layers of floor deposits yet to be worked through.

From the Trenches

Lesley investigates the drain between Structures One and Nineteen (with modern water pipe above!).

Lesley investigates the drain between Structures One and Nineteen (with modern water pipe above!).

“Bring eight buckets with lids, some labels, string and masking tape.”

This is the high-tech equipment involved in archaeological sampling. Ten-litre tubs of soil may not seem exciting to some people, but for an environmental scientist adrift in a world of archaeologists, it’s comforting stuff.

You may remember me from last week — Elsa Panciroli from UHI.

After a fantastic first week on site, I was delighted to start week two with something familiar.

“And see if you can get another marker pen . . .” my supervisor, Ben, added optimistically. Here at the Ness those things seem to have legs and invariably go walkabout. The finds hut workers guard them zealously.

Sampling is a common technique in the sciences, whatever the material.

On a dig, samples can be taken in just one sensitive area, or a bulk sample taken from larger strata.

‘Monoliths’ and ‘cores’ straddle several layers and are useful in establishing chronology and seeing clearly how each layer relates to the other and what it contains. ‘Kubiena’ tins allow detailed analysis of micromorphology – the composition of very thin layers of deposit, such as those in the hearths and midden areas in Trench P (see Dig Diary – Monday August 5th).

In our case, we were bulk sampling from a relatively deep and widespread layer in Trench T.

At the finds hut, I retrieved everything I needed then asked if possibly there was a chance, maybe, perhaps, of having another pen. Scott apologised that there weren’t any more. He had a secretive twinkle in his eye. If they were hiding any pens in there, I wasn’t getting one.

Mark plans the annex to Structure Twelve.

Mark plans the annex to Structure Twelve.

Meanwhile, my teammate, Maddy, discovered a lovely chunk of pottery in Trench T.

It was about the size of a dinner plate, but curved with raised decoration on the blackened outer surface. Roy, Anne, Scott and Kier were soon to be found huddled around it with their bums in the air, discussing methods for safe removal.

Of course, Molly’s carved stone ball from Trench P had everyone excited this week. It looks like a big bucky ball to me, though I’m not sure they knew about buckminsterfullerene in the Neolithic…

What’s more exciting than that? Soil samples, that’s what.

The thought of what might come out of my samples has been on my mind for the last few days. They’ll go through flotation, a kind of washing and rinsing process.

Light materials such as shells, seeds and burnt pieces of Neolithic dinner (I list these with optimism!) float to the top and are removed and carefully dried. The heavy stuff is cleaned off and also dried. Everything is then graded by size and sifted through for goodies.

Jennifer and I got to try our hands at flotation back at Orkney College with Cecily. Unfortunately, I’ll be gone before the samples I took this week have been processed, but we managed to find two mouse jaws and some flint in samples from Trench P.

My wonderful fortnight on the Ness of Brodgar is drawing to a close.

I’ve learned so much and had such a great time.

It is great being part of something unique, and now I know there’s elbow room in the trenches for a science nerd like me.

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