Dig Diary – Thursday, July 26, 2018

Day Nineteen

Antonia photographs the new incised stone from Structure Five.
Antonia photographs the new pecked decorated stone from Structure Five.

STOP PRESS – Decorated stone in Structure Five

A close-up of the Structure Five decorated stone.
A close-up of the Structure Five decorated stone.

In the last hour of today, a new decorated stone was discovered in Structure Five, in Trench J, by our own art specialist Dr Antonia Thomas. 

Not one of the lightly incised designs we are used to but a very rare example of a curvilinear design, a “horned spiral”, one of only a handful from the site.

Although not exactly well executed, this pecked design is only paralleled at the Ness by one from Structure Twelve, and a few others from Orkney including the early Neolithic settlement at Smerquoy and the chambered tomb of Pierowall Quarry on Westray.

An exciting discovery that has now been removed after careful recording to a place of high security!

A tale of two halves…

Emanuelle, Marcus and Mike deep in thought at the foot of Trench Y this afternoon.
Emanuelle, Marcus and Mike deep in thought at the foot of Trench Y this afternoon.

We’ll start again today with Trench Y, where the question, wall or no wall, continues to torture everyone.

Mike and his team are in excellent spirits, although goodness know how.

They have uncomplainingly moved masses of material and have been on an emotional rollercoaster over the results.

One minute the shillety stone, often associated with robbed out walls, raises hopes of imminent success; next minute it morphs into something quite different.

Today they have been removing separate piles of quite large rubble at the bottom of the trench.

However, another layer of flattish stones has now appeared. This trench is turning into a tale of two halves, with ephemeral traces of what might be earlier Neolithic structures at the top and remnants of what could be the result of stone robbing at the bottom.

To complicate matters, if the heavy rain forecast for the next couple of days arrives, they may well find themselves occupying a brand new paddling pool.

Architectural mystery

Marc and Andy unpicking the story of the Structure One hearth.
Marc and Andy unpicking the story of the Structure One hearth.

In Structure One, Marc is now at the bottom of the Phase Two hearth and will move on to planning and photographs.

We should soon know whether this hearth is the original hearth from Phase One  re-used, or whether new cuts will appear indicating the position of an original hearth from Phase One.

The southern entrance to Structure One is living up to its reputation for puzzling complexity.

The layer of secondary paving has been removed, revealing another nice paved entrance area.

A gravelly layer has also appeared at both sides of the entrance and the team have also spotted breaks in the wall, also at each side of the entrance.

The southern entrance to Structure One.
The southern entrance of Structure One.

This appears to indicate the presence of a drain, but not one running out of the building. This drain appears to run happily along under the wall.

Much the same thing is found at the entrance to Structure Ten, under the front wall, although exactly why this architectural feature is present in both cases is something of a mystery.

Farewell old friend…

Alice and Andy remove the orthostat from Structure Eight.
Alice and Andy remove the orthostat from Structure Eight.

In Structure Eight, we have become accustomed over the years to an old friend. This is an orthostat or pillar collapsed against a wall in a western recess.

This has been planned and photographed repeatedly down through the years of excavation, but today the Structure Eight team have reached its base.

It is now virtually free and can be moved.

Site director Nick has high hopes that its hidden edge will be covered in rock art motifs. We’ll tell you as soon as it is taken out.

Yet more excitement in Trench J

Site director Nick examines the decorated stone after its careful removal from Structure Five this afternoon.
Site director Nick examines the decorated stone after its careful removal from Structure Five this afternoon.

In Trench J, the team were calming down after the excitement of yesterday, when a beautiful pitchstone blade was uncovered (see yesterday’s pictures).

Pitchstone only comes from the island of Arran, some 300 kilometres away off the west coast of Scotland. This is yet more evidence (although none is needed) for long distance travel and trade in the Neolithic.

Then the excitement returned with the discovery of the Structure Five decorated stone (see above).

We have to admit that we teased you a little yesterday by hinting at something special in Trench T. Well, it’s still there and we may be able to say more tomorrow, although it may yet turn out to be a disappointment

We continued to be visited by eminent and interesting people yesterday.

Dr Lisa Brown from Historic Environment Scotland enjoyed her first visit for a few years and Nick greeted an old university colleague, Vicki Pirie, who now runs a heritage company Pomegranate. She was accompanied by Professor Andrew Fitzpatrick, who is a former head of Wessex Archaeology and a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Leicester.

Although mainly an Iron Age expert, Professor Fitzpatrick enjoyed his Neolithic day, as will all of you who visit us on site tomorrow.

See you then.