Dig Diary — Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The new art in Structure Twelve.

The new art in Structure Twelve.

Day Three

Sorry, but we’re starting with the weather again.

After lulling everyone into a ridiculously sunny sense of security on Tuesday afternoon, the cloud and the rain rolled over the Ness with a vengeance today. Surfaces smeared into each other, midden became slick and waterproofs glistened. It wasn’t heavy rain, you understand, just a bit miserable.

Oddly enough, the diggers were in the privileged position. With the wind gusting, the most comfortable spots on the Ness were down in the trenches. Everyone orthostatically inclined (i.e. upright) was buffeted.

However, enough of the whining. You want to hear about the archaeology, and there was plenty to shout about for such an early stage in the excavation.

The black plastic has been removed from some of the precious floor surfaces ready for excavation and sampling.

The floors of Structure Fourteen are given a light, refreshing trowel.

The floors of Structure Fourteen are given a light, refreshing trowel.

Curvilinear decoration

In Structure Fourteen, Hugo had done his pondering, worked out his sampling strategy and was ready to roll.

He visited the neighbours in Structure Twelve for a brief discussion, just after the plastic had been removed from the floors there.

Then he spotted a curious stone peeking out from under some floor deposit and wall collapse. Like so many stones on the Ness, it has pecked decoration — but it is the form of the decoration which is so surprising.

It appears to be pecked in a curvilinear design, although it cannot all be seen at the moment.

This is instantly reminiscent of a stone recently excavated at the new site of Smerquoy, on the side of Wideford Hill, near Kirkwall, which was excavated earlier this year by Professor Colin Richards, of Manchester University.

He is also, as many of you will recall, the excavator of the Barnhouse Settlement — a Neolithic site a short distance award from the Ness of Brodgar excavations.

The Smerquoy stone is an incomplete spiral, looking something like a heart-shape, but it is possible that our own stone, once excavated, will be a complete spiral.

Spiral decoration is well-attested but rare in the Orcadian Neolithic, from Pierowall, in Westray, to the Links of Noltland pot and Eday Manse chambered tomb and other find spots. However, the Smerquoy stone has thrown a spanner in the works, being unequivocally Early Neolithic.

Where does our stone fit in?

Probably Late Neolithic, but remember that the earliest date for the Ness thus far is 3200BC and that there are even earlier structures under the presently visible ones. Could our stone be a reused early one?

A puzzle, but a pleasing one which will have to await further excavation in Structure Twelve.

Antonia carefully reveals the  new decorated stone in Structure Twelve.

Antonia carefully reveals the new decorated stone in Structure Twelve.

STOP PRESS – In the late afternoon drizzle it was decided to fully uncover the new pecked stone, as it was only obscured by some late collapsed slabs that had been planned last year.

As tension mounted, Antonia carefully removed these and, with the aid of light sponging, revealed a totally new design to our growing catalogue of Neolithic art.

Not one design as anticipated but two — one a ring formed by pecking and the other an “incomplete” double spiral. Apart from the cup-and-ring stone from Structure Ten, this is the only example of curvilinear art from the Ness so far, compared to the four hundred plus geometric linear designs so far recognised.

Antonia Thomas who is studying the art for her PhD really has her work cut out!

Visitors brave the elements

We were heavily visited today.

A-good-crowd-gathers-for-the-first-tour-of-the-seasonThe public turned out in great numbers, with around 80 people on the 11am site tour alone.

Visitors of note were Martin Kemp, from the BBC, with his assistant Katherine Longworth. They are here to prepare for tomorrow’s arrival of Neil Oliver and his film crew.

He is here to include the Ness in his new series on the history of religion from the Palaeolithic to the Reformation. Clearly, he likes a challenge.

Also visiting was Torben Ballin, the lithics expert, and his wife Beverley Ballin-Smith, who was one of the team involved in the original discovery of the Ness, when a large notched slab was unearthed in 2003.

Another visitor was the distinguished artist Phillip Hughes, who will be with us for some days. Today proved difficult for Phillip as his paper began to absorb the moist air and drawing became difficult.

As much of the day was taken up with cleaning the structures, few finds made it into Anne’s hut.

Notably, though, Ben unearthed a large and beautiful flint scraper from the central midden area. The flint is almost certainly not local and Nick believes its origin to have been somewhere down the east coast of Britain, and possibly as far south as Yorkshire.

Trowelling starts in the new Trench T tomorrow and no doubt there will be developments to report. Until then . . .

Antonia, Hugo and Jim contemplate the stonework in Structure Twelve.

Antonia, Hugo and Jim contemplate the stonework in Structure Twelve.

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