Dig Diary – Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Day Twenty-Three

Mai points to the location of the holed stone in the southern half of Structure Twelve.

Mai points to the location of the holed stone in the southern half of Structure Twelve.

Interesting finds and interesting visitors . . .

Today was a day for interesting finds and interesting visitors. One of the most intriguing stones we have seen for a long while has turned up at the south end of Structure Twelve. It is a chunky affair, embedded in the ground and with a sizeable, perfect hole drilled through it.

The holed, and decorated, stone block from Structure Twelve — but what is it?

The holed, and decorated, stone block from Structure Twelve — but what is it?

It is also decorated with an incised cross and, beside, that, small peck marks.

More than likely it is associated with the probable re-use and rebuilding of Structure Twelve, although it is also in the vicinity of what appeared originally to be a drain, but which might be part of the wall of one of the several structures which underlie Structure Twelve.

It is solidly fixed in the floor of the structure and, despite several attempts by senior figures (you know who you are) to act in an uncharacteristically clumsy manner in its vicinity, it remains fixed and will have to stay that way for a while yet.

Our first visitor today was the intrepid Dr Alison Sheridan, of the National Museums of Scotland, and an authority on Grooved Ware pottery, among other things.

It’s been a while since Alison has seen the site and she was clearly delighted with progress, especially as the Ness is part of a major programme called The Times of Their Lives, designed to date the European Neolithic accurately, and with which she is also associated.

Ben Chan, the Trench T supervisor, shows Alison Sheridan and Gail Drinkall around his area of the site.

Ben Chan, the Trench T supervisor, shows Alison Sheridan and Gail Drinkall around his area of the site.

She also brought us considerable relief by confirming our earlier diagnosis of pottery sherds from underneath the structure, which is also underneath Structure Fourteen, as being a type of carinated bowl.

This makes it the earliest pottery yet recovered from the Ness and should date it, roughly, to around 3600BC to 3300BC.

Later in the afternoon we were also visited by our new colleague, Gail Drinkall, who is now the archaeology curator at Orkney Museums. She and Nick had discussions on the massive size of our assemblage and its eventual home in the museum stores in Kirkwall.

Over in Trench T, Dave and Ben made strenuous efforts to clean the trench in preparation for a session of photography. It looked simply marvellous and we can’t wait to see the images.

Hugo also unearthed his camera-on-a-pole and took a number of photographs over and around Structure One.

These will be joined in coming weeks by further photographs of other structures, all of which will eventually be stitched together to make a three-dimensional panorama of the entire site. That will be worth seeing.

In Structure Ten, Jan and Claire are working on the remnants of the robber cut and Mike is removing the last vestiges of the south-west corner buttress.

Surprisingly, there are not many, if any, decorated stones associated with this process, although nobody knows yet what may lie at the base.

Jenny's beautifully excavated cattle jawbone.

Jenny’s beautifully excavated cattle jawbone.

West of Structure Ten, and in the infill of the passageway and as an outlier of the bone deposit, Jenny has expertly excavated, cleaned and lifted a huge cattle skull — partly in the traditional Ness manner, with the aid of the cake slice from the Finds Hut.

And just when we thought we had finished with the last of the massive pottery spreads on site Colin, outside the blocked south entrance to Structure Twelve, is up to his ears in another one.

Its presence ties in nicely with the growing conviction that almost all of the structure entrances at the Ness have large concentrations of pot at their exteriors.

Perhaps they are there to commemorate the closure of the buildings, but it is also clear that there were several sequences of pot deposition involved.

Colin is now wearing a slightly haunted look, something like a doctor who knows exactly how his illness will progress.

He is only too aware of his good friend Mic, who spent the best years of his middle age excavating a massive pot spread at the North entrance of the same structure.

Sorry Colin, only time will cure you.

Until tomorrow . . .

From the Trenches

Hi, my name is Jayne and I am back at the Ness after being here for three seasons previously, including a module for my Masters degree.

It’s such an amazing site, and I love Orkney . . . I have missed it! I am helping with the finds, and so far it has been great. I really enjoy this aspect of excavation, and so thought I would come to the Ness to help with this.

Colin puzzles over his next move in recovering the large pot spread outside the southern blocked entrance to Structure Twelve.

Colin puzzles over his next move in recovering the large pot spread outside the southern blocked entrance to Structure Twelve.

The finds team are a great bunch of people, and I think we make a good team! I also always enjoy the aspect of talking to old and new faces alike, and, of course, being able to be in the beautiful place which is Orkney.

So far — this is my first week — I have been sorting out the bone which comes in the finds trays by laying the bone out and putting it into its separate contexts and also into separate groups within those contexts, depending on whether the bone is burnt, unburnt or teeth, so as you can imagine this involves a lot of boxes, pots and labels!

I think working with finds you have to like organising things, which I don’t mind at all!

The small finds and stone from the finds trays also get taken out, with the “foreign” stone getting taken up to the house for Martha, our geologist, to look at. The small finds are put into numerical order so that they can be put into the finds register, and are also dried and cleaned by people in the team.

Yesterday, we began the task of cleaning all the stone tools found so far, which some of the others in the team finished today, which is great! All ready for Ann Clarke, who is coming to have a look at them too.

The stone always looks so nice when it’s free of mud and some reveal lovely colours as well as the smoothness of some stone edges.

This afternoon, after writing this, I have a whole bone deposit (of which each group or single bone within this deposit gets a small find number — the rest of the general found bone mentioned above doesn’t) to lay out, and then there will be the finds trays to sort out when they come in at the end of the day- glad there are a few of us, as there can be loads that come in!

But it’s all really enjoyable, and I’m so glad I can be here for the next three weeks (the maximum amount of holiday I can get off from work is four, so even though I would have liked to do four weeks, I couldn’t, sadly)

Oh well, I will be back again next year, no doubt.

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