Midden pits . . . in the midden
We’ll concentrate today on Trench T — that long excavation on the far side of the house, Lochview, which heads from the top of the mound downslope towards the Stenness loch.
It was expanded at the beginning of this excavation season and, at first sight, presented wide open plains of brown midden with (sorry, Ben) not the most interesting of prospects.
How things change.
A large area — some 8.5 by ten metres — is now the subject of much attention. Careful excavation has revealed 20 pits, some of them large, dug into the deep deposits of midden.
Pits are a feature on many Neolithic sites, often containing deposits of pottery or stone artefacts, and perhaps commemorating an event such as the closing down of a structure.
Three of the Trench T pits have been excavated thus far and they contain . . . midden.
Although puzzling, this is not a disappointment. One of them had quantities of stone-working debris, in the form of flaked stone, probably just representing a part of whatever process was taking place.
The sequence of events seems to have been that the pits were dug and then were backfilled with midden before becoming covered by other material. What this represents is anyone’s guess. They were not left open for very long, but why dig out midden and then fill the resulting hole with midden?
Dave, who is working with Ben and the Willamettes in the trench, suggests that they may have dug the pits specifically to search for whatever type or quality of midden lies deeper down in the deposits.
Having dug out the deeper midden, they then backfilled with the material from higher up. Was the deeper midden somehow more important, perhaps more fertile or maybe even a more interesting, richer colour than that nearer the surface?
Whatever the reasons for this process, and they may well emerge with further excavation, it is clear that the Ness people in the Neolithic were very interested in their midden.
It was not just agricultural soil, or even just very fertile agricultural soil, but represented and indicated the wealth and success of those who owned and curated it. It was a source of pride and a visible reminder of how significant was this site. More on this as the excavation proceeds.
Elsewhere, Tom has been planning (drawing) his excavation of what is now accepted as the east entrance to Structure Twelve.
Digging it has been a difficult and intricate task. Planning it was always likely to be a nightmare.
Tom’s solution is both clever and successful.
In order to cope with the complex excavation, which has various different levels contained within its boundaries, he has somehow managed to set up four planning frames, one above the other and offset so that they cover the totality of the area.
There are people who love planning and there are those who detest it as an invention of the Devil, but, whatever camp they are in, they will have to acknowledge this as one of the most unusual and ingenious episodes of planning ever attempted at the Ness.
At the south end of Structure Twelve we found a new digger this afternoon.
Professor Mark Edmonds is having a few days off but he has imported his father, Ken, who is visiting from his home in France, to help out.
As an ex-military man, Ken clearly has an eye for a trench, but nobody expected him to find pottery within five minutes. He is welcome back any time.
Further successes came yesterday in the Central Midden Area, adjacent to Structure Eight.
We now have a second entrance to the structure, situated in the remnants of the South end wall. This may even be the main entrance as it faces the area of complicated walling and paving associated with what may be the very centre of the site.
New wall lines have also emerged, perhaps relating to enigmatic Structure Twenty-Three, or perhaps to an even older structure. We will return to this later.
And in the new, blocked entrance Catriona’s team have found a deposit of very large cattle teeth. What can they mean?
From the Trenches
My name is Aidanne MacDonald-Milewski.
This spring, I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison where I studied genetics and archaeology and, come fall, I will be a medical student pursuing my dream of becoming a primary care physician.
This summer, I am excavating at the Ness through the field school program offered by Willamette University.
The Ness of Brodgar is the site of my first excavation experience and I couldn’t have picked a more perfect place to carry out my study and indulge my interest in Scottish prehistory.
I have spent the last two weeks excavating and carrying out pre-excavation planning in Trench T.
It’s an amazing and surreal feeling to find and hold a piece of pottery or flint that was produced multiple thousands of years ago.
Last Friday, I found a piece of flint as well as a round, worked stone pot lid and couldn’t help but think “this is amazing! I’m holding history”.
Most people never get an experience like this, so again, I’m incredibly grateful to be part of the excavation team and the progress at the Ness.
Orkney has such a rich and interesting history.
I’ve been very fortunate to visit many of Orkney’s Neolithic, Iron Age and Viking Age sites, both while traveling with my family and while on field trips with Willamette students.
Understanding the similarities and differences between sites of the same and differing time periods is of great interest to me. Therefore, whenever I visit a new site, I try to compare it to other sites I’ve experienced in order to better understand what activities might have been carried out at each site, why such activities were performed, and how the structures and artefacts that have been unearthed would have supported such activity.
I hope to learn more about Trench P for that reason, particularly each structure’s role in the Neolithic society.
One of the many things I really admire about the Ness of Brodgar is that the director and crew work to make the Ness’s findings as readily available to the public as possible.
Tour busses are constantly driving up to the Ness and tours are frequently being given around Trench P.
Additionally, last Sunday was “open day” at the Ness, which aimed to give local people the opportunity to visit the site and learn about its newest findings. I greatly enjoyed the day!
One of the highlights for me was being taught the techniques that Neolithic people would have likely employed to carve symbols into stones, and learning how certain volcanic rocks and other resources (such as bone and charcoal) were used to make pigments for painting.
I applaud the team at the Ness of Brodgar for being as open and inviting with their research as possible and thank them for making my experience at the Ness an enjoyable one!