Dig Diary – Thursday, July 7, 2016

Day Four

Mike briefs his team on the infamous robbing cut of Structure Ten, as they prepare to reveal more of the original build.

Mike briefs his team on the infamous robbing cut of Structure Ten, as they prepare to reveal more of the original build.

Ladies and gentlemen, may we present . . . Trench X

Jo McKenzie, our micro morphologist, discusses sampling, next to one of the Structure Twelve hearths, with Ray and Chris.

Jo McKenzie, our micromorphologist, discusses sampling with Ray and Chris, next to one of the Structure Twelve hearths.

Today, the serious archaeology continued with geoarchaeologist Jo McKenzie’s sampling of the floors in Structure Twelve.

But while Jo was happy with progress, and with her samples, site director Nick and structure supervisor Jim looked more and more worried.

It is easy enough to discern the main yellow floor and the cut for the hearth, but the sampling process revealed an exceedingly complex sequence of patching of the floor.

This is probably in common with many of the structure floors at the Ness, but it presents huge problems in untangling the details of floor formation.

Anne, out finds supermom prepares to be interrogated on film by Aaron and Evan, our photojournalists from Missouri, USA.

Anne, our finds supremo prepares to be interrogated on film by Aaron and Evan, our photojournalists from Missouri, USA.

As Jim explained, the floor will have to be gridded off and many samples taken, from quite small areas, to build up a true picture of what took place there thousands of years ago.

Elsewhere on site, we are happy to announce that the new slot trench – which runs towards the Loch of Stenness from the west end of Structure Twelve – now has a name.

No longer the nameless one, it is now called Trench X.

Several diggers have been flung at it by trench supervisor Anne today and some intriguing results have appeared.

At the bottom of the trench, nearest the loch, where the archaeological deposits fall off markedly, some plough-damaged stones have been discovered at least half-a-metre down.

This is unusual as much of the archaeology, and certainly damage by past ploughing, is commonly seen much closer to the surface. Nick has consulted maps from 1850 and thinks that this anomalous effect may have been created by the moving of field boundaries in the recent past.

Elsewhere in the trench, Dave, while cleaning back the trench edge, discovered a large, and very handsome, flint scraper.

Is it a wall? Time will tell whether these slabs in Trench X are part of a structure.

Is it a wall? Time will tell whether these slabs in Trench X are part of a structure.

The orthostat-edged box-like structure further down the trench, which we mentioned yesterday, is interpreted, cautiously, as perhaps forming some of the internal furniture of a structure whose other elements are still to be uncovered.

It is very early to say anything about this with confidence, but time, and further excavation, will tell.

Over in Trench T, there has been more cleaning and tidying – and also half-sectioning of some of the large quarry pits.

Regular readers may remember these from last year.

There are over 20 of them and they seem to be large pits dug into the midden material and then backfilled with, you’ve guessed it, midden material.

Woody models the fine flint scraper discovered by Dave in Trench X.

Woody models the fine flint scraper discovered by Dave in Trench X today.

Frankly, they make no sense at all – other than as an eccentric Neolithic job-creation scheme. The very mention of extending this trench further, and discovering more of these pits, makes trench supervisor Ben blanch.

Nick, however, confidently says that the plan of the much more interesting robbed-out structure at the bottom of the trench will be revealed by the end of the excavation season. We shall see.

This next diary task is exceedingly tiresome.

For the umpteenth time we have to report that more of the infill of the robber cut in Structure Ten is being removed.

We have lost count of the number of times we have written that sentence and Claire and Mike deserve several medals for their perseverance.

The real bonus, this time, is that more of the beautifully peck-decorated sandstone blocks, which formed the inner walls of Phase One of Structure Ten, are now revealed for all to enjoy.

But it is now raining and a cold wind is blowing. For that reason, if for no other, we will stop now.

Until tomorrow . . .

From the Trenches

My name is Simon Gray and I’m back at the Ness this year for my sixth season. To the horror of some – though hopefully not all –  this time I will not be returning south after the dig.  I will be starting the Masters course, at Orkney College, in September.

This year, I will be spending the first four weeks of the dig as part of the finds team and the second four getting down and dirty, once more, with this phenomenal site, that I have come to adore so much over the last six years.

This morning, I was helping finish up a section drawing of the trench edge by Structure Ten before heading up to Lochview to speak to our geologist, Martha Johnson, for a brief talk regarding the wealth of “foreign stone” on site. This included a rundown of how to clean, record and ultimately interpret the so-called “stones that don’t belong”, thus helping us understand their purposes and uses by the site’s inhabitants.

This was a fascinating introduction and I feel that understanding the geological record of these islands can also be used as a gateway in to the thought processes and decisions made by the Ness of Brodgar’s ancient population!

I have always been very interested in, although have never studied at length, the geological record of the Brodgar peninsula (and indeed of Orkney as a whole), so it was fantastic to get an insight into the sources and variety of rocks that appear in the archaeological record here at the Ness!

This afternoon, Anne Mitchell has been “breaking me in” to the dark arts of finds processing, which I have wanted to be involved with since my first season on site. This was predominantly an explanation of how to record, safely clean and, finally, store all the brilliant finds that come in every day.

Now the excavation is fully under way, and coming back to life, I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to see, handle and help interpret some of the wonderful treasures we are fortunate to unearth in abundance each year!

Finally, I’m sure all the site team would like to congratulate seasoned-veteran Seb Swenson and his wife, Jenna, who got married yesterday. We wish you both all the very best and look forward to seeing you on site for your imminent visit!

It’s going to be another amazing season. Though I would expect nothing less!

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