Dig Diary – Thursday, July 21, 2016

Day Fourteen

The Structure Twelve team hard at work, sampling the deeply stratified floor deposits.

The Structure Twelve team hard at work, sampling the deeply stratified floor deposits.

More bone and a second notched stone

Miracle of miracles! A very nice lady visited the Ness today, seized the diary by the arm and insisted that there must be more, much more, reporting of the weather. She is right, of course, so here we go. In the morning we were paddling in the cold puddles, left by yesterday’s rain.

In the afternoon, we were discarding clothing (in a decorous way, of course) as the sun beat down and the temperature rose.

And now for the archaeology.

The team gather around Trench T for an early morning update from Ben.

The team gather around Trench T for an early morning update from Ben.

Site director Nick assembled the team and took them on a tour of the site, familiarising new and old diggers with the latest thinking on what is, by any estimation, a huge and very complex site.

The surprise was to see everyone gathered together and to realise how many of us there are.

When you are dispersed around different trenches and concentrating on your own small patch it is sometimes difficult to realise what is happening a few metres away, far less on the other side of the site.

There are 75-80 people working on the Ness at the moment. We’re not quite sure of the exact numbers, as some people shift around more quickly than others.

It is undoubtedly a sizeable group to manage, but the different structure supervisors keep a close eye on everything that does move and, this being archaeology, the many things that don’t –  at least not for the past few thousand years.

An overview of Trench T from Scott's drone. Spot the potential chambered tomb?

An overview of Trench T, from Scott’s drone. Spot the potential chambered tomb?

Moving rather sedately was Professor Scott Pike’s drone, which is part of a Willamette University research project and which is taking the most amazing images of the site and surrounding area.

Scott and his assistant, Laura, are well aware of the new safety restrictions applicable to drones and are careful not to fly it anywhere near people, over roads or other sensitive locations. Luckily, this is not a problem at the Ness and the new images add a huge amount to appreciation of the site.

Claire reveals yet more bone under the buttress in Structure Ten.

Claire reveals yet more bone under the buttress in Structure Ten.

Much attention today was focused, of course, on Structure Ten and the surprising finds there of recent days.

We have already told you of the Phase Two foundation deposit consisting of articulated cattle bone and, surprisingly, an adult human humerus, or arm bone.

This morning, Claire and Alison continued with the delicate task of cleaning the area and uncovering more of the deposit.

They are doing it brilliantly, for it is, if you like, the brain surgery of archaeology, requiring intense concentration and the lightest of touches.

They have been rewarded by, yes, more bone. A good deal of it is cattle tibia –  leg bones – but some of it is suspected to be human.

Some of the bones are badly crushed by the roof slabs which covered them but others, especially those preserved in a sort of pocket by the stones over them, are in passable condition. We must wait until a visit by our bone specialists before final identification can be made.

The extent of the bone foundation deposit grows ever larger. Is there a whole cow buried here?

The extent of the bone foundation deposit grows ever larger. Is there a whole cow buried here?

There is also a sizeable quantity of pottery associated with the bones. Again, much of it is in poor condition, but decoration can be seen on some sherds and there is a large base sherd which appears intact.

This is particularly interesting as, a couple of years ago, Mike recovered a fascinating pot with very unusual decoration.

It contained a neonatal calf bone and, as it was in close association with one of our most magnificent decorated stones, was identified as part of a foundation deposit.

Now, we appear to have found the rest of the deposit, plus the human bone.

Will this new base sherd fit with the existing, incomplete, vessel? We have it here, on site, and should, with any luck, be able to tell you in the next few days.

Even more intriguingly, some of the bone is sitting on top of a large stone slab which has notches cut into it along one side.

The large, notched slab revealed in association with the bone deposit in Structure Ten.

The large, notched slab revealed in association with the bone deposit in Structure Ten.

This is instantly reminiscent of the large stone recovered in the vicinity of Structure One, which led to the discovery of the site in 2003. At that time it was interpreted as the side slab of a Bronze Age burial cist. Now we are not so sure.

This new, and very similar slab, is clearly deep in the Neolithic and has nothing to do with the Bronze Age.

Nick is familiar with traditional, stone-built Orkney farmhouses and says it suggests strongly traditional wall plates which are inserted on the top of the walls of stone-built houses where the rafters are inserted into the notches.

As we have already demonstrated that relatively modern building techniques, such as stone roof slabs, are present in the Neolithic, there is no reason why this new find may not be something very similar.

We should warn all readers that news of our human bone discovery has been picked up by the general media and that some of the reports verge on the fanciful.

For the latest and most accurate information, we suggest you rely entirely on your favourite daily diary, which will return tomorrow.

Until then . . .

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