Dig Diary – A new week and the christening of a new building!
Monday, July 31, 2023
Another new week – the start of the fifth of this year’s excavation season.
And with it came a new intake of diggers – some new and some familiar faces.
After their induction talks – covering health and safety, finds procedures and geology – all the new arrivals were allocated to a trench and started work.
Also back on site today were animal bone specialists Professor Ingrid Mainland and Dr Julia Cussans, from the UHI Archaeology Institute. They started working on a new section of the SmartFauna project around Structure Ten, focusing on the small trench extension inserted earlier in the season.
SmartFauna saw the animal bone placed around Structure Ten, following its decommissioning feast, recorded in great detail using laser scanning, rectified photography and 3D recording.
This allowed for a very detailed analysis and interpretation of the massive bone deposit.
The same techniques will be used on a known bone deposit lying between Structures Ten and Twenty-Six and the results compared to other faunal remains found along the former’s paved outer passageway.
Ingrid and Julia have also been examining the animal bone outside Structure Twenty-Seven’s north-western wall. Although this deposit is smaller and less well-preserved, they think it will be worthwhile to use the SmartFauna methodology of 3d recording on the bone.
Although it looks totally different to that encountered outside Ten, who knows what a detailed comparison will reveal.
Chemical analysis of the soil around the bone deposit will also be carried out, by our geoarchaeology specialist Dr Jo McKenzie, to see what was present in areas where the bone has not survived.
Staying in Trench T, excavation continued on the rock-solid demolition layers within the interior of Structure Twenty-Seven. This continues to reveal more suspected roof tiles as well as the building’s interior features.
Clearing debris from the south-western corner of the building Molly found an intriguing perforated stone, which she carefully excavated and brought to the finds hut, where it was cleaned.
What does this represent? To be honest, we’re not actually sure. But further excavation in the area may reveal some more clues.
Outside Twenty-Seven, Jack and Elena worked on the aforementioned animal bone deposit.
Elena returned to the Ness today, having been one of the 2019 Willamette University students. She is now undertaking a PhD in soil science at the University of Cambridge.
Their work is a slow, delicate process because the bone is so poorly preserved.
We jump now to Structure Five, where a notched slab turned up in the sondage across the building’s southern floor. Although it has not been fully exposed, the slab seems very similar to one found in Five a few years ago.
We’re wondering whether the two slabs – if they are related – were part of the original entrance arrangement. Perhaps a means of securing the door from the inside.
While Tony planned the new wall section, Lewis revealed more of the stone tumble at the base of the outer face. This, thought to be part of an upper section of the outer wall face, will then be fully planned and modelled before it is removed.
Over in Structure Ten we witnessed the birth of a new building.
Well, technically its official naming…
A large double-faced wall has emerged from beneath Ten’s south western buttress, and this afternoon site director Nick allocated it the grand title of Structure Thirty-Nine.
Thirty-Nine is the second confirmed earlier building underlying Structure Ten, and is probably responsible for the collapse of Ten’s south-western wall at the end of its first phase. The other is Structure Twenty in the north-eastern section of the building.
There is a probable third structure beneath Ten, but not enough of it has been exposed yet to warrant its own number.
Next door to Ten, more of the levelling deposit laid over Structure Seventeen before the construction of Structure Eight was removed. This has revealed more of the former’s floors and other features, including a robbed-out orthostat slot and the end of the building’s west, central pier.
But, unfortunately, high hopes of finding a nice, level, yellow clay floor in Seventeen have been dashed. We really should know better than to hope.
Where this block came from is anyone’s guess. Structure Twelve? Or somewhere else?
Chris’ sondage also appears to show that the base of Structure Thirty is higher than Twelve’s, suggesting it is a later building.
This makes sense, visually, as Thirty appears to have been carefully placed so as to avoid blocking the view from Structure Twelve’s eastern entrance – the only doorway that remained in use throughout the building’s life.
Inside Twelve, the building continues to mystify.
Michaela’s section by the western central pier has exposed more of Structure Twenty-Eight, Twelve’s predecessor. Directly beneath Twenty-Eight, however, we have Structure Twenty-Four. Its predecessor!
Supervisor Jim says he’s won the bet!
It has also produced more evidence of the shoddy building methods used on site. If there was any doubts that Twelve had flaky foundations, those can, most definitely, be cast aside.
Across the site, we have long known that after the partial dismantling of an earlier building a layer of midden was spread across the remains to create a flat platform on which to construct the new structure.
It now appears, with Structures Twelve and Twenty-Eight at least, they didn’t even bother to do that. They just built the walls up to, and over, the earlier structure, changing the number of masonry courses so as to keep the top of their new wall level!
In the north-eastern corner, Gianluca continued taking out a section of shoddy walling. Once complete, this will hopefully reveal more of the puzzling wall that appears to be curving around the northern end of Twelve, its ends apparently heading south-east and south-west.
Elsewhere in Twelve, Jan was excavating an ashy “lump” outside the building’s southern hearth. It’s early days yet, but we are pondering whether this is another example of a “slow cooker”, akin to the one found in the north-western recess.
There, you will remember, hot ash was dumped in large quantities, upon which pots were placed – presumably to cook, or keep their contents hot.
Within that recess, we were joined today by Gunther and Nina who continued excavating a series of stakeholes in the recess’ northern end.
Among the many visitors to site today were Joe Horrocks and Nigel Jennings – both bearing animal remains!
Joe brought along an aurochs horn that was found in a stream, in Cheshire, when he was but a lad. When compared to the horns of our scale model of a Neolithic bull, the size is very similar.
Nigel, on the other hand, had an altogether smaller animal – a badger. Well, its partial remains.
He (and his wife, Tish) presented Professor Ingrid Mainland with the skull and vertebral column of the animal, found in Kent, to add to the UHI Archaeology Institute’s Zooarchaeology reference collection.