Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Day Twelve

The incised stone from the exterior of Structure Twenty-Six today.
The incised stone from the exterior of Structure Twenty-Six today.

Discoveries and revelations…

STOP PRESS – Just when we thought that all hope of finding any in-situ remains of the long lost wall in Trench Y, apart from robbing debris, was rapidly diminishing, some horizontally laid masonry was revealed in the dying seconds of today – is this the wall? Tomorrow all will (perhaps) be revealed!

Archaeology at the Ness is at full tilt today, indeed going into overdrive with discoveries and revelations tumbling over each other for attention.

Contemplation and consideration over Structure Five.
Contemplation and consideration over Structure Five.

In Trench J, Paul and Hugo have been reconsidering Structure Five, which is considered to be one of the earliest Neolithic buildings on site, similar in style to the Knap of Howar, in Papa Westray (though bigger).

They believe they have identified two phases of building, with the walls of the Phase One building levelled and the Phase Two structure placed on top.

Looking towards Structure Five from the bottom of Trench J.
Looking towards Structure Five from the bottom of Trench J.

As has happened with a number of buildings at the Ness, the whole rebuild project appears to have been handed over to apprentices because the Phase Two structure is of very dubious quality indeed.

Fortunately, the earlier phase appears to have been well sealed, so clear differentiations will be made between the two phases.

This also helps makes sense of the different types of pottery which have turned up in Trench J, with shell-tempered ceramics probably being followed by Grooved Ware pottery.

Summing up, it seems very likely that the team will be able to reach the primary deposits and identify the early building, while also shedding light on the tricky question of when the enclosing wall was built and levelled.

If that was not enough for one day, further interesting finds have emerged from Trench J, including some nice pot and another polished stone axe.

Trench T, looking towards the Stenness Loch.
Trench T, looking towards the Stenness Loch.

Everyone approaches Trench T with caution because it is so packed full of potential it might explode at any minute, volcano-like, with all sorts of archaeological wonders.

There was a significant eruption today when Mandy uncovered some very strange looking pottery at the top of the trench and at the interface between Iron Age and Neolithic deposits.

She was excavating a pit, perhaps more accurately a shallow scoop, and came across pottery sherds in a line, but glittering brightly from large pieces of unidentifiable burnt stone which appeared to have been incorporated into the pot walls.

Marcus working hard in Trench Y.
Marcus working hard in Trench Y.

Closer inspection suggests that there is another explanation.

It is possible that the pot was thrown into the scoop, hence its linear form, with bright glittering pieces of stone scattered on and around it. We say “around” because one large sherd in the middle is devoid of the glittery stone, suggesting a circular scattering.

This is very much a tentative explanation for a most unusual find. 

Structure One paperwork session.
Structure One paperwork session.

Mandy will finish removing the pot, which is almost certainly Neolithic, and then we will be able to see if the sparkling stone is part of the vessel or has simply been pressed into several sherds by the weight of soil which was deposited or accumulated above. We will also be able to identify the stone by showing it to Martha, our on-site geologist.

All very strange, and quite unlike anything we have seen before. We will let you know what happens.

Some of the Structure Twenty-Six team this afternoon.
Some of the Structure Twenty-Six team this afternoon.

More revelations came from Structure One, where site director Nick and supervisor Andy have been discussing some puzzling internal features of the building.

Put simply, they don’t align properly with any of the previously phased features, suggesting strongly that they actually belong to an earlier structure beneath Structure One.

This was always thought to be a possibility, but to find evidence is hugely important.

Meanwhile, Structure Twenty-Six becomes weirder by the minute. It is complex and puzzling, but Nick and supervisor Claire now think it may be several different structures which have been cobbled together, sometimes in a rather haphazard way.

However, it continues to produce wonderful finds, including an incised decorated stone with carefully finished and polished edges. A lovely find!

This has been a classic “Nessian” day, with finds, questions and problems galore.

We hope for more of the same tomorrow.

See you then.