Dig Diary – Thursday, July 14, 2016

Day Nine

Foundation deposit beneath Structure Ten?

Alice, Jo and Ray prepare their section for drawing.

Alice, Jo and Ray prepare their section for drawing.

Today started tranquilly enough in Trench X as UHI and Willamette students were taught the rudiments of planning.

Many experienced diggers enjoy planning. Others, and especially those with bad backs, find it something of a trial as they have to lean over planning areas at uncomfortable angles.

For students, the whole thing is just downright alarming, but it is great to see the way they take to it in just a few hours.

Furrowed brows clear, pencils move over the tracing material with assurance and erasers are used less and less.

Planning was absent from Structure Fourteen, however, where Hugo has been involved in some very serious archaeology indeed.

A couple of years ago, a sondage was dug under the robbed-out western wall of the structure.

Under the earlier structure which lies beneath Structure Fourteen, Hugo discovered several sherds of a distinctive and very old ceramic vessel.

Hugo extends the sondage under the robbed-out wall of Structure Fourteen.

Hugo extends the sondage under the robbed-out wall of Structure Fourteen.

It was identified as a modified carinated bowl –  a rather coarse version of a finer and more familiar carinated type, which has not yet been found in Orkney.

The word “carinated” describes a vessel where the angle of the vessel wall changes. Where the change is located is described as “the carination”.

Our round-based bowl is dated to around 3600BC- 3300BC and, as the interior of the largest sherd has carbonised material adhering, it was hoped that a radiocarbon date for the vessel could be obtained. 

Unfortunately, the dating process failed, for reasons which still baffle us.

As the excavation of Structure Fourteen is nearing completion, Nick and Hugo decided to have another attempt. The sondage has been increased in size and this afternoon Hugo began the excavation.

It is very early in the process but already there have been interesting results. An unusual, but rather small, pottery sherd has emerged, which may, or may not, be older than the ubiquitous Grooved Ware.

Some of Mike's bone deposit under the buttress of Structure Ten.

Some of Mike’s bone deposit under the buttress of Structure Ten.

Hugo has also uncovered a number of large pieces of burnt flint, although it is unclear where they might fit into the story.

Work will continue tomorrow and we will tell you what happens.

In Structure Ten, Mike has been very carefully revealing the flagstones under the corner buttress (relating to its secondary remodelling), although studiously avoiding the underlying floor levels that no doubt relate to its primary use.

He has uncovered a large amount of what appears to be shattered pottery under collapsed stones with, not far away, a deposit of very large animal bones, which are undoubtedly articulated (joined). These look very like a foundation deposit.

Articulated animal bone is perfect for dating because, as it remains joined, it must be in its original place of deposition. If it had been moved from other areas and other contexts it would certainly have been disarticulated and would have provided quite a different date.

Our animal bone expert will have a close look at the bones, although Nick is sure that the animal of origin must have been big indeed.

In the central midden area, Alice and Jo are working on the extremely complicated relationship between the midden deposits there and Structures Ten and Twelve.

But the real excitement of the day came close to the end of the afternoon when Lucy, while working on the newly cleaned face of the possible extra entrance to Structure Ten’s encircling passageway, discovered a lovely flint arrowhead.

Lucy with her chisel-head arrowhead.

Lucy with her chisel arrowhead.

According to Hugo, who is an expert on such artefacts, it may be distinctively Orcadian as it is fashioned somewhat at an angle.

In fact, it is a chisel arrowhead, so defined because the business end of the arrow is shaped like a broad chisel rather than a point.

This makes it particularly deadly as the broad chisel will cause significant bleeding in its target (animal or human) and bring down the prey quickly.

Our geoarchaeologist Jo McKenzie has been buzzing around the site taking her tiny samples from floors in many of the structures.

As a treat for the near future, Jo will write for the diary, explain her procedures and show some of the amazing photographs of floor sections.

We’ll look forward to that, and close for the night.

Until tomorrow . . .

Planning gets under way in Trench X.

Planning gets under way in Trench X.

From the Trenches

Hi, my name is Naomi

Micromorphologist Jo burrows into the floors of Structure Eight to retrieve samples.

Micromorphologist Jo burrows into the floors of Structure Eight to retrieve samples.

I am currently finishing my first year of studying archaeology at Orkney College UHI. I moved to Kirkwall from Edinburgh to pursue a degree in archaeology as it has been a lifelong ambition of mine. So far, I have had a pleasant experience living and studying in Orkney and look forward to the next three years with the UHI.

Orkney is a great place to study archaeology as there are plenty of archaeological sites to visit and it offers a range of scenery.

I have chosen to do my first ever excavation at the Ness of Brodgar, as it is in the heart of Neolithic Orkney, a period which I find very fascinating. Although this is only my fourth day on the site, I have been privileged to be part of a great team of people and have witnessed many different and interesting discoveries.

The team is very hard-working and supervisors are helpful and their experience helps give my confidence to apply these valuable skills on site.

I have already gained so many skills in this short time and look forward to learning new ones along the way.

Fragment of a miniature pot from Trench X.

Fragment of a miniature pot from Trench X.

I am working on Trench X which is a new trench on the site. One of the new skills I have learnt is trowelling, which can be a lot of work, especially on the clay soil level, which we have worked on for the last few days now.

Today, we were planning out and sketching the trench and although it has been rather cold I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Overall, I am excited to be part of such a great excavation and team and look forward to being at the Ness of Brodgar again next year.

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