Dig Diary – More evidence to suggest the ‘Great Wall of Brodgar’ stood tall
Thursday, July 20, 2023
It’s been an incredibly busy day on site, so tonight’s diary is shorter than usual. Not because there’s any less to report, but we simply ran out of time.
So let’s begin.
Regular readers will have noted that worked bone objects at the Ness are few and far between.
People were undoubtedly working bone in the Neolithic, but the acidic soil at the Ness means that bone preservation is very poor.
If only the conditions were a little more alkaline we would probably have the full range and number found at other Orcadian Neolithic sites and which, no doubt, once graced the Ness.
Our last example was unearthed in July 2019 – a bone pin from Structure Eight.
And today Ray found another in Structure Eight. It is beautifully worked and the smooth, worn areas suggest it was regularly used.
A few moments later, in the same area to the south-east of the building , Ray found what, on first glance appeared to be an egg! This worked stone – a mere 55mm in length – is a beautiful object. Wear and impact marks across its surface suggests it was a hammerstone.
Finds aside, work in Eight today continued to concentrate on the hearths, with two being excavated and sampled by Alice, Tom, Ceiridwen, Ray and Kristina.
Over in Structure Twelve, Linda revealed more of the orthostats within the north-western, “slow cooker” recess (mentioned yesterday), while Jan spent the day planning her south-western corner cell, in advance of further excavation.
Elsewhere Chris Marshall has been investigating a deep, rubbly deposit outside Twelve’s original – but later blocked – north-western entrance.
It looks like the door blocking inserted in the building’s secondary phase sits on top of midden, suggesting the entrance remained in use even after considerable quantities of midden was building up around the structure.
The rubble may have come from the partial dismantling of sections of Structure Twelve ahead of its reconstruction and remodelling. This occurred after its roof collapsed and brought down the southern and south-eastern walls.
A common question about the northern boundary wall – the so-called “Great Wall of Brodgar” – is its height.
We have long suspected, for various reasons (outlined here), that it stood to a considerable height.
Further evidence revealed today suggests that was indeed the case.
A row of substantial stones emerged at the bottom of the wall today and these seem to be the collapsed outer face from a higher section of the monumental structure.
Supervisor Paul thinks these have been deliberately pushed from the top of the wall (or thereabouts). The wall, which was raised around 3300BC, had been deliberately reduced to its current height by around 3000BC.
The stone spread’s distance from the outer wall face – and the fact the stone fell long enough to invert – suggests the wall did stands at a considerable height – at least 1.5 metres and probably higher. Remember the southern boundary wall, “the Lesser Wall of Brodgar” survived to a height of 1.8 metres.
We’ll keep you informed of developments.
Meanwhile, in Structure Five, Paul has opened a sondage to investigate a strip between the south-western trench edge and the building’s primary hearth.
The goal is to clarify the nature of the ashy spreads in the area.
These clay objects are tiny. Chris’ example had a diameter of just 20mm. What were they for? We’re not sure. To hold paint or pigment?
Today’s final came right at the end of the day, when Jenna, working in the north-end of Structure One found a lovely shaped stone.
The stone had been broken across its width, but definitely had the appearance of the butt end of a polished stone axe. Was it? After careful examination we think not, but it is still a beautiful little artefact with signs of use at its pointed tip and across its surface.
Site director Nick welcomed his first boss, Dr David Clarke, to the site today.
Former keeper of archaeology at the National Museums of Scotland, Dr Clarke is best known in Orkney for his work at Skara Brae and the Links of Noltland in the 1970s.
His verdict on the Ness? He seemed suitably impressed.