Dig Diary – Wooden fragments recovered from two Ness structures
Thursday, August 3, 2023
Regular readers will know that the preservation of organic material at the Ness is very poor. You can blame the acidic soil conditions.
Where it does survive, it’s usually in small, localised pockets – microclimates conducive to preservation.
Well, hurrah for microclimates because today we can report we now have three deposits of prehistoric wood!
These, however, are nowhere near as substantial as the wooden post fragments found in the floor of Structure Twelve in 2019. What we have are mere fragments. But it’s still more evidence of timber use on site.
The first two actually emerged on Sunday and it is thanks to the eagle-eyes of the finds team that they were recognised for what they are.
Both were examined today by Dr Jen Miller, forensic archaeologist and botanical expert from the UHI Archaeology Institute, who confirmed one was from a coniferous tree, the other a broad-leafed species.
Jen needs to look at them again using a higher magnification microscope before she can confirm the species.
Needless to say, we await that information with bated breath!
But it doesn’t end there.
This afternoon, excavation around the remains of an emerging orthostatic feature in the south-western end of Structure Twenty-Seven revealed more.
The timber fragments were in among a deposit of clay – the water content in and around which undoubtedly provided the anaerobic conditions that contributed to their survival.
It’s unclear what the first two examples relate to – they are both very small. But today’s deposit might relate to the demolition of Structure Twenty-Seven’s roof and represent the remains of its timber ‘A’ frame.
Elsewhere, the surface of the demolition layer is littered with roof tiles, presumably lying where they fell when the roof came down. We’ll keep you posted on developments!
In Structure Twelve, the picture of activity beneath its floor is becoming somewhat clearer. For today at least.
As you’ll remember, Michaela’s sondage beside the western central pier unleashed a whole new world of problems on supervisor Jim – new walls, apparent piers and diving holes.
At the end of play yesterday, we had a huge void lying beneath a large stone slab. And in last night’s diary, we suggested this might be a drain…
And that is exactly what it now appears to be.
Stretching across the site for over 30 metres, the “mega-drain” was discovered in 2019, when excavation between Structures Eight and Twelve revealed a hole that led down into its depths.
And talking of drains, we have another in Structure Five.
Yesterday, we noted that excavation around the central hearth had revealed voids. Today, at the hearth’s north-eastern side, several flat stones were revealed. These may represent the capping stones of an interior drain. Where this potential drain runs and exits the building remains to be seen.
We’ll end today’s drain round-up by confirming that Sue finished planning the drain outside Structure One’s eastern entrance and is now preparing to carry out further work in the passage between One and Nineteen.
Going back to Structure Five, excavation of the sondage running across the centre of the building’s primary, rectangular section is being extended. This is to expose more of the building’s floors and, hopefully, clarify some of the elements of earlier activity revealed under the floor.
Lewis and Tony have already started work on the southern quadrant, with work to to begin on the floor north of the hearth tomorrow.
Although the structural features poking through Ten’s undulating floors fit nicely with floorpan of a large piered building, there’s one problem – a lack of piers.
The evidence so far seems to indicate just one pair of opposing piers within the building. If that were the case, Twenty’s side recesses must have been huge!
Of course, it may be that there are the remains of other piers still to be exposed.
That puzzle aside, the extended Structure Twenty shows that there was ample space for it and Structure Eight to be contemporary – which fits very nicely with the overall site phasing and the transition between the larger piered buildings and Structure Ten.
Outside Structure Ten, Professor Ingrid Mainland, Dr Julia Cussans and Jackson Clarke, from the UHI Archaeology Institute, continued excavating more of the large animal bone deposit in the southern section of the paved outer passage.
They have confirmed the faunal deposit is likely to be another part of the deposit placed around Structure Ten after its decommissioning feast around 2400BC.
The bone coming from the new section is primarily cattle tibia and the nature of the deposit is identical to that encountered at the front of the building.
An interesting discovery is the presence of Orkney vole bones among the cattle remains.
Further research is needed to see whether these remains are the result of natural intrusion or were, as has been suggested, voles were exploited as a food source.
It was marvellous to see our pottery specialist Roy back on site today and getting stuck into a batch of ceramic fragments found so far this season.
Among his discoveries this afternoon was a very fine piece of pottery, from outside Structure Twenty-Six, exhibiting deeply incised decoration.
To conclude today’s diary, we’ll jump back across to Structure Twenty-Seven, where Kevin and Olivia have done a wonderful job exposing the area inside the north-western wall.
This shows the robber cut used to remove stone from Twenty-Seven after its abandonment as well as the wall’s primary construction.
But what is immediately apparent is just how much of the inner wall face has been removed.
Elsewhere in the building, planning work is nearly complete and we’re hopeful work to remove more demolition debris will resume tomorrow and reveal the building’s hearth – or possibly two!
Whatever happens, we’ll be back to keep you updated.