Dig Diary – Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Day Thirteen

Whalebone recovered in a day of ‘frantic archaeological activity’

Declan, Mike and Marcus start the delicate process of excavating the whalebone found in Trench Y today.
Declan, Mike and Marcus start the delicate process of excavating the whalebone found in Trench Y today.

Today at the Ness has been simply hectic, manic, or any other adjective you care to conjure up which accurately describes frantic archaeological activity.

Because of that today’s diary is a little shorter than normal, but still has plenty of nice pictures and, we hope, enough information to keep your appetite whetted.

The whalebone fragments in Trench Y.
The whalebone fragments in Trench Y.

The most extraordinary find today turned up in Trench Y, the trench searching for the putative west wall. We mentioned yesterday that things were looking more positive. 

The rubble spread, somewhat defined but still irritatingly inconclusive, appeared to be resolving into what might be the wall.

Hopes were high this morning for confirmation, but something extraordinary appeared amongst some large flat stones.

At first glance it appeared to be a large piece of wood, but prehistoric wood is extremely rare and usually only found in waterlogged, anaerobic conditions, which are free of oxygen.

Mission successful. The whalebone is recovered safely after a delicate excavation operation.
Mission successful. The whalebone is recovered safely after a delicate excavation operation.

Luckily, site director Nick was on hand to take a look and spotted immediately that the newly found object was, in fact, a large chunk of whale bone.

Even more importantly, it seems to have been worked or shaped, which transforms it into an object of rarity.

We have occasionally had whalebone objects at the Ness in the past. 

Structure Eight yielded a whale’s tooth and an extraordinary whale bone macehead, but both of these objects were within the structure. Nobody expected to find whale bone in what is probably a wall.

Extracting it proved difficult. It is obviously fragile and, as frequently happens at the Ness when something interesting is found, it was surrounded by inconvenient stone.

It took some time but the bone was eventually removed and taken away for urgent conservation.

We are not sure what it represents but will let you know as soon as we hear.

Travis at work recovering a fine sherd of Grooved Ware pottery from Structure Twenty-Six.
Travis at work recovering a fine sherd of Grooved Ware pottery from the outside of Structure Twenty-Six.

We were delighted that one of our youngest diggers, Travis, had a most interesting find. Digging just outside Structure Twenty-Six he came across a large pottery sherd.

Careful excavation uncovered a magnificent sherd of decorated Grooved Ware pottery, with branching cordons joining at a “knot” or “rosette”.

This is a well-known decorative motif on Grooved Ware pottery and usually is found on later material.

This fits well with the find spot, which is fairly high in the sequence and therefore likely to be from the later part of the Late Neolithic. Well done Travis!

We told you, yesterday, that Structure Five in Trench J is likely to have two phases of building. 

Hugo and Paul put their heads together today and have now identified a third phase.

This will help further with reconciling the pottery which has already come from the structure with material emerging now, and with the evolving phasing of the building.

We are now all heading for darkened rooms where cool cloths can be applied to fevered brows.

We’ll be fine by tomorrow.

See you then.