Dig Diary – Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Day Twenty-Three

The hearth in Trench Y, with the animal bone to the left side.
The hearth in Trench Y, with the animal bone to the left side.

The trials and tribulations of Trench Y

There can be no doubt that Trench Y has been something of a trial.

The search for the enclosing wall on the North West side, if it should exist, has been long and hard and we are full of admiration for the commitment and determination of Mike and his team.

The wall may still be there at the bottom of the trench, but it’s not yet possible to be definite.

Every bit as interesting, though, is the hearth which has been exposed in the trench.

It is a classic Neolithic hearth, with one part of its stone structure missing, and a large cattle bone and a bone point lying close. The hearth also holds out the very real possibility of securing archaeomagnetic samples.

Archaeomagnetic dating is a relatively new branch of scientific archaeology which uses known alterations in the earth’s magnetic field over time, when compared with the fixed orientation in burnt samples, to estimate dates.

Taking these samples is no easy matter.

Projects of this sort have already been undertaken at the Ness, principally by Sam Harris, from the University of Bradford, but Sam is busy writing up his doctoral thesis.

An alternative is his supervisor, Dr Cathy Batt, also from Bradford, who might be able to give us detailed instructions or, preferably, fly up herself.

We would love to see Cathy, who is an old friend of the Ness, once more. We also baulk at the prospect of taking these complicated samples ourselves.

Come home, Cathy.

Big beasts

Anna with one of Dr Ingrid Mainland's sample skulls.
Anna with one of Dr Ingrid Mainland’s sample skulls.

Now we have news of big beasties at the Ness.

Our animal bone expert, Dr Ingrid Mainland, visited site yesterday to conduct a demonstration of animal bone for the young excavators who come here regularly.

As usual, Ingrid brought examples of modern animal bones as illustration, but Anna, who is a student from Leiden University, preparing a thesis on a subject similar to our Smart Fauna programme, passed by.

Working in the small, remaining part of the massive deposition of bone around Structure Ten, Anna had retrieved a very large cattle bone and brought it for Ingrid to assess.

When the large bone was compared with modern cattle bones it was instantly spotted as being absolutely huge.

Moreover, Ingrid could see that its owner, when alive, had not even been fully grown and was probably less than three years old at death.

Now, it is not safe to mention aurochs, those enormous and extinct cattle of the Neolithic, in Ingrid’s presence as she, quite rightly, requires rigorous evidence of the presence of such beasts.

So, we are NOT claiming an aurochs, but can certainly cite more evidence of the prodigious size of many Neolithic cattle at the Ness.

Structure Twenty-Seven revealed

Andrew exposing the orthostat in the Trench T extension.
Andrew exposing the orthostat in the Trench T extension.

Over in Trench T further parts of Structure Twenty-Seven are appearing from the blanketing midden.

Harry, one of our youngest and most enthusiastic diggers, has found an orthostat which parallels another one nearby.

In one respect, these orthostats suggest an entrance passage, but if this is correct Structure Twenty-Seven would be dumpy and short, which it most certainly is not.

Perhaps they do define an entrance, but an internal entrance to an interior element of a very large building. We shall see.

J’s got a wall!

Diggers abound! Work to uncover the wall and rubble in the Trench J extension today.
Diggers abound! Work to uncover the wall and rubble in the Trench J extension today.

In Trench J, more of the curving wall which emerged yesterday in Structure Five has been uncovered.

It is likely that this wall is not part of Structure Five but may be part of a building which overlay the structure, or even part of a remodelling of that end of the building.

Trench J started off years ago as one of our earliest trenches, but also one of the most perplexing and difficult to understand.

Nothing has changed.

Regular readers may have noticed the absence of weather reports in the Daily Diary this year.

This is because it has been almost constant sunny, hot and sometimes windy weather.

Today the wind dropped, the heat rose and the non-biting midges, in which the Ness specialises, appeared in multitudes.

We will not tell you of the suffering which ensued, except to hint that idiot insects often stick to sun block.

Enough. Until tomorrow.