2022’s top ten – the whalebone artefact

The whalebone artefact in Structure Thirty-Two on Monday afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)

The whalebone artefact in Structure Thirty-Two. (Sigurd Towrie)

We remain in Trench J for today’s Top Ten entry.

A short distance to the north-west of the hearth mentioned on Saturday, and securely embedded into the floor of Structure Thirty-Two, was a large, worked whalebone artefact – the largest piece of whalebone recovered from the Ness to date.

The artefact was in poor condition and although it had clearly been shaped its purpose remains unclear. Trench supervisor Paul Durdin wondered whether it was a mattock or mattock-like tool. A mattock is not only a digging tool but used also to scrape blubber, maybe clean skins and a whalebone example is more likely to be used for these types of activities.

Although whalebone has been found across the site, at the time of its discovery, the “mattock” was the second recognisably worked whalebone artefact found on site. The first was a macehead in Structure Eight in 2010.

A few weeks later a whale’s vertebra was found deposited in a posthole within Structure Five.

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