Structure Five revelations during reduced-scale 2021 excavation


The 2021 excavation – the first since 2019, due to the pandemic – was on a much-reduced scale to previous seasons, with only Structure 10 and 12 in Trench P being uncovered, along with Trench J, which contains the remains of Structures 5 and 32, and the northern boundary wall.

Work on Structure 5 revealed that its history is much more complex than originally thought. It had always been assumed that the building’s northern end was primary and that the southern end was perhaps a later addition. A small trench extension revealed more wall lines, which indicate that the south end was primary.

It also seems that the building’s primary entrance was on the NW side but was sealed off and replaced by a series of doorways in the SE wall. An earlier phase of Structure 5 may also have had an outer revetment.

Another set of wall lines running off from Structure 5 could relate to another, earlier, structure. These features need further excavation before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

The partial exposure of primary floor levels within Structure 5 revealed that the building’s interior was below the external ground level. This probably accounts for the clay sealing found on the lower courses of the walls to prevent water ingress into the building. A few fine, hard-fired sherds of a round-based bowl were also recovered from the primary floor confirming Structure 5 ‘s initial early Neolithic pedigree.

Further excavation confirmed that the later Structure 32, built on top of the rubble of Structure 5, incorporated elements of its predecessor into its construction. The building, which was found to contain several ashy layers, also produced an incised decorated stone from its floor level.

In Structure 12 excavation concentrated on the internal multiphase floor deposits. Of note was the survival of wood within two small rectangular tapering postholes (50mm and 100mm wide) possibly forming part of a central internal division to the E of Structure 12’s southern hearth. This replaced an earlier orthostatic partition leading into the building from its ornate eastern entrance.

Further postholes were found to run along the northern section of the interior perhaps, to hold a screen or partition.

Two larger postholes were excavated in the SE and NW recesses. These were inserted into the structure prior to its initial collapse in an effort to shore up the roof.

Outside Structure 12’s blocked NW entrance very large sherds of a vessel, with applied decoration, that stood approximately 0.5m high with a similar diameter, were recovered. This reflects other similar pot deposits outside blocked entrances of several Ness buildings.

Work in Structure 10 continued to concentrate on unpicking the complex floor deposits based on a 0.5m grid for sampling. Further features were revealed relating to the primary phase of its use, including small postholes, robbed out orthostatic divisions, and pits.

Another example of a “painted” stone, a vivid red pigment, survived on an orthostat in the building’s northern interior. Beside the orthostat was a chunk of red sandstone that may have been the source of the pigment.

In the forecourt area outside of Structure 10’s entrance, a small sondage was opened into an exposed section of Structure 20 that is one of the buildings underlying Structure 10. Samples were obtained that should provide a date.

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