Dig Diary – Thursday, July 19, 2018

Day Fourteen

The mysteries of micromorphology revealed in Trench T.
The mysteries of micromorphology revealed in Trench T.

Welcome news…

We have news about the whalebone, mentioned yesterday as being found in Trench Y amidst the hunt for the putative west wall.

As it is in an extremely fragile state it was hustled away for safety, carefully boxed and kept damp while its fate was decided.

The whalebone recovered from Trench Y yesterday.
The whalebone recovered from Trench Y yesterday.

Today, we had a most welcome email from Historic Environment Scotland, who have offered to conserve it through the good offices of AOC archaeology, the archaeological consultants based in Edinburgh.

This is wonderful news as conservation is an expensive and difficult business and one for which we just do not have facilities, or finance.

So many thanks to HES and AOC for their kind offer.

The whalebone will be taken down to Edinburgh by Hugo, formerly of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute (and the Ness), and now working in Edinburgh for the National Museum.

It will be several months before the conservation is complete and we can’t say anything concrete about this exciting find, but we will post information on our regular newsletters, which appear throughout the year.

ORCA teaching project officer Rick with students in Trench T today.
ORCA teaching project officer Rick with students in Trench T today.

Over in Structure One, there has been a development in the work to finally remove the remainder of the curving internal wall which is clearly part of Phase Two of the building.

The removal of more of the clay which underlay the wall has uncovered a series of small, stone-box settings which are clearly designed to hold something, perhaps wooden posts.

Site director Nick believes they were part of a partition of some sort, present in Phase One and made more permanent in the later phase by the construction of the stone wall.

Trench T from the top, showing the Iron Age modifications.
Trench T from the top, showing the Iron Age modifications.

In Trench T, our new supervisor Cristina, is doing a superb job in holding together and motivating a large team of, largely, students from various quarters including our own UHI students and the contingent from Willamette University in Oregon.

She is ably assisted in this by our own Rick Barton, the ORCA Teaching Project Officer, and together they are making huge progress in this very large trench.

Neolithic pottery recovered from Trench T. But covered with fragments of burnt, and sparkling, camptonite.
Neolithic pottery recovered from Trench T, covered with fragments of burnt, and sparkling, camptonite.

The Neolithic pits, the bane of everyone’s lives, are coming to an end and new sections are being taken quickly through the Iron Age ditch at the top of the trench.

There are few finds from these contexts, confirming the view that whatever Iron Age people were doing there it is unlikely to have had a domestic function.

By the beginning of next week the teams should be able to start work on removing some of the midden which is obscuring details of the enigmatic Structure Twenty-Seven, which nestles at the bottom of the trench.

Rob and Ali clearing rubble from the bottom of Trench J this afternoon.
Rob and Ali clearing rubble from the bottom of Trench J this afternoon.

This may lead to clarification of the destruction layers and to the appearance, hopefully of more of these huge recumbent orthostats.

Every incoming email is now being scanned anxiously, as the arrival of a number of new radiocarbon dates for Trench T is imminent.

A few are from Iron Age levels but the bulk of them are from the Neolithic midden sequence.

These will provide vital dating evidence for the formation of the midden and will thereby shed light (hopefully) on what happened to Structure Twenty-Seven, and may even give us a clue as to what the building may have been.

We know it is huge, we suspect that it is very early, but we are desperate for a better understanding of its life and function.

All will come in time, but for now we are heading home.

We, and you, will be back tomorrow.