‘It is hard to overstate the importance of this . . .’
There are days which just potter along, in a contented archaeological sort of way. And then there are days which fairly effervesce with excitement. Today was definitely the latter.
It started quietly enough — although with loads of visitors on tours and three special tours arranged for members of the Council for British Archaeology.
They were led by Orkney Archaeological Tours and included Dr Mike Hayworth, last seen by site director, Nick, when they were both at the Pool excavation, in Sanday, more years ago than both wish to remember.
We were also joined on site by Ann Clark, the distinguished stone tools expert. Ann will be here for a couple of weeks and she will disapprove of being called distinguished. Never mind, we think she is.
As often happens when an expert in a particular form of artefact visits, we promptly turn up exciting examples for them.
In the space of an hour, two fascinating stone tools emerged.
Billy, working in the robber cut in the south-west corner of Structure Ten, found a very fine example of a ground stone knife.
Soon afterwards, Chris, in the paved passageway to the west of Structure Ten, unearthed a lovely stone disc, with a beautifully bevelled edge.
As if that was not enough, Chris’s tool turned out to have finely incised decoration — an exceedingly rare example of a decorated stone tool.
Ann suggests that these finds illustrate the individuality of objects at the Ness.
Then, just about everything went ballistic in Trench T.
We have already told you about the broken orthostat and the stone wall at the bottom of the trench.
This afternoon, Tori, working in one of the pits adjacent to the wall, discovered a beautifully built, stone drain running parallel to the wall.
It appears to run for some distance under the midden and away from the trench.
Drains of this sort are usually outside a building, or they may be in the entrance to the building.
Either way, it is a momentous find, raising intriguing possibilities of a large, finely built structure at the bottom of the trench.
But, more was to come.
Thirty minutes later, trench supervisor Ben revealed that a very large orthostat had emerged, together with what may be the very badly robbed remains of another wall.
How these elements fit together with the other structural features is yet to be proven. Although the wall lines and drain appear to be parallel and the orthostats perpendicular to the wall lines, they do not easily fit together in one comprehensible form!
It is hard to overstate the importance of this.
We may have another substantial building, but one which has been sealed under huge quantities of midden, which, remember, was a precious commodity to the people of the Neolithic.
Will it prove to be an early Neolithic structure that forms a primary focus for the Ness and the start of all that it became! Watch this space . . .
We can hardly wait for tomorrow, although tomorrow evening will bring another treat in the form of a lecture by Professor Richard Bradley — The Use and Reuse of Stone Circles: recent fieldwork on the Scottish Mainland, at 8pm, in the St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall.
No doubt about it, we are a thoroughly spoiled bunch of archaeologists.
See you tomorrow.
From the Trenches
It is day number two in the trenches for this soon-to-be second year undergraduate and there has been a wealth of information to attempt to retain, and process, for all us UHI students taking part in field school.
It would be fair to say that I was fairly daunted at the prospect of coming to the Ness (especially as it is my first experience of a dig), but from the moment I stepped on to site, the support and direction from staff and volunteers has been outstanding.
From our orientation to the site, to the patience and assistance of those around us in the trenches, encouraging us all the way and answering the never ending questions.
So far we have removed bone, pottery and foreign stone, started to get to grips with recording finds, sampling and identifying different contexts and photographing context areas.
The remaining time at the Ness is bound to fly by as we look forward to spending time in different structures, tutorials from our on-site supervisors and, of course, the thing that we are all looking forward to — our half-day with Ann in the Finds Hut!