Dig Diary – Welcome return of Time Team member who discovered the Ness complex
Friday, August 4, 2023
Here we are at the end of week five. Just two more to go before the site is closed for the winter.
You’d be forgiven for thinking it was winter today, as there was a notable chill in the air with a fresh wind blowing across the site from the north.
But the visitors kept coming – admittedly, most clad in not-exactly-summer gear – to see the site up close.
John is an old friend of site director Nick, both having worked at the Pool and Toftsness excavations in Sanday, Orkney, in the 1980s, and, more recently, when Nick was a researcher at the University of Bradford.
He was also responsible for the initial phase of the geophysical surveys of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site.
So, in many ways, it was John who discovered the Ness of Brodgar complex.
Twenty-one years later, its quite safe to say he was was blown away by the results.
Also on site today was Rachel Stewart, one of the presenters of the BBC Radio Scotland programme Out of Doors. Rachel toured the site with Anne and Nick, while recording for the Scotland Outdoors podcast, which will be available shortly.
Some of the interview will also be part of a future Saturday morning episode of the Out Of Doors radio programme.
On their way around she also spoke to some of the diggers, including Lewis and Ralph, and Linda Aitcheson, one of the Meet and Greet team, about their experiences of life at the Ness dig.
For those unable to listen to the programme on the radio and BBC iPlayer, we’re assured a podcast version will be released shortly. Watch this space for details.
But on to the archaeology. And this evening we’ll begin in Structure Ten.
However, at the end of the day, it looks like any floor deposits relating to the earlier building are still some way away.
Under the south-western buttress, the stones that formed the now-defunct Structure Thirty-Nine have been removed, exposing some very large paving slabs, which can’t relate to the foundation of Structure Ten.
Instead, they must be part of another feature or building lying underneath – perhaps the capstones for a drain or the paving of an earlier structure.
At the start of the 2023 season, site director Nick wasn’t convinced we’d get down to Seventeen’s floors. Needless to say he more than delighted with progress so far.
Over in Structure One, work to remove the remaining northern floor deposits continues and the team are now starting on the levelling layer beneath the building. This continued to reveal examples of incised stone artwork, not to mention pottery and bone deposits.
This is particularly interesting as it shows that the geometrical incised artwork pre-dates the construction of the large piered buildings, such as Structures One and Eight, which were constructed around 3100BC.
East of the southern hearth in Structure One, Jill has also been excavating through the primary floor deposits.
Meanwhile, outside the building planning continues.
Lena is still working outside the building’s southern entrance, in the area of the central paved area.
This, and keyhole excavation by Sigurd last year, has revealed that the building’s foundation slabs along the eastern side sit about 20 centimetres higher than the rest of building – strongly suggesting the east wall was terraced into a pile of midden material.
This year the eastern side remains a focus of attention. In 2023, Sue has taken up the baton and is examining the drains running beneath the paved passageway between One and Nineteen. Today, she continued planning the drain outside the eastern entrance.
That complete, next week more of the drain will be exposed to see whether it can shed any light on the nature of the entrance itself.
Is it, as we have long thought, a later addition – punched through the wall at the start of the second phase of activity – or was it actually there from the start?
We’ll let you know.
After the timber fragments recovered over the past few days, it did it again today.
Excavation in the interior of the building revealed more organic material near the building’s original north-western, interior wall.
It’s not clear what this represents yet – is it the remnants of organic matting covering the floor or simply rake-out from a hearth? Or even just a dump of material against the wall? It will be sampled for analysis before being removed.
Outside the north-western wall, the excavation of the animal bone deposit is just about complete. It has, however, revealed more of the paving along the base of the wall as well as the clay layer overlying it.
There was great excitement today when one of the roof tiles lying within the demolition debris inside the building was lifted. Underneath was an ash deposit, which suggests the tile was overlying a hearth. If so, it seems that Structure Twenty-Seven had a single, central, hearth and not a pair.
There was also excitement in Structure Five this morning when what appeared to be another substantial post-hole – to go with the other six in the building – appeared against the north-western wall, directly opposite the building’s original entrance.
It was short-lived, however, when excavation revealed it to be a very slight depression in the floor.
Meanwhile, work on the building’s floor surface has also confirmed that it was restricted to the central area of the building, and did not extend out to the “furniture features” lining the walls.
This has been encountered elsewhere on site, where a building’s clay floor does not extend outwards to include the recesses and alcoves.
But what about the ongoing enigma that is Structure Twelve?
It’s been a long week and tonight I’ll say no more than work to unpick and unravel the features within, and under, the building continues.
Next week, when your weary diary writer has had a rest, we’ll pick up the story.
See you on Monday.