Dig Diary – A special cattle bone deposit, more post-holes and a turf roof?
Wednesday, July 12, 2023
It was another wet start today.
Sheets of rain buffeted the site as blankets of grey cloud shrouded the hills surrounding the Ness.
As the rain came down, diggers scurried to shelter – taking up residence in the tool shed and assorted cabins.
Fortunately, and almost as forecast, the downpour fizzled out shortly before 10am and we crept, cautiously, outside again and back into the trenches.
The star find of the day award (if there was one) goes to Ceiridwen and Rowan, who were excavating within Structure Seventeen – one of Eight’s two predecessors.
They were investigating the paved surface of the building’s northern recess when they revealed large, relatively well-preserve cattle bones.
The bones appear to be a radius and ulna (from the animal’s upper foreleg).
The radius is just under 26cm long, so is not the largest example found on site to date and presumably came from a younger animal. All this will be confirmed when the remains are examined by Professor Ingrid Mainland, from the UHI Archaeology Institute, when she returns to site soon.
The fact both bones were found together, and appear to be associated with pottery, suggests we have yet another special cattle deposit at the Ness. We’ll keep you posted on developments.
In Structure Eight, supervisor Alice has been going through the records double-checking which of the building’s multiple hearths have been undergone archaeomagnetic sampling.
Archaeomagnetic dating uses known alterations in the earth’s magnetic field over time compared with the fixed orientation in burnt samples to estimate dates. This, in conjunction with radiocarbon dates, provides indications of the length of use of each of the hearths – and hence helps date the buildings themselves.
Dr Cathy Batt, who is in Orkney for our specialists’ meeting this weekend, will be on site on Friday to carry out more archaeomagnetic sampling.
She will also be looking at Structure Five’s primary hearth. Before it is prepared for sampling tomorrow, Chris has been removing the last of a layer of black material lying on top of floor deposits within the building’s original section.
Does this black layer represent a turf horizon relating to the original abandonment of Five? Or do we have evidence of a dismantled or collapsed turf roof? All very intriguing, when we consider the post-holes within the building…
This corner of Trench P is now looking delightfully spick and span. It’s been particularly gratifying to see some of the beautiful stone in Structure Twenty-Six again. Stone that was clearly pinched from Structures Ten and Twelve!
Outside Twenty-Six, efforts to clarify the relationship between the later building and others in the area will see a rubble pile at its north-eastern end removed. This work will, weather permitting, start tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the was another new trench extension opened today!
This time in Trench P, where Linda, Chris and Emma inserted a small triangular notch to expose more of the bone deposit along Structure Ten’s southern wall.
Readers will recall that a mass of cattle bone was carefully placed around Ten after its “decommissioning feast” around 2400BC.
Professor Ingrid Mainland excavated and recorded this deposit and will return this season to lead a team who will use the techniques pioneered around Ten to examine more of this deposit.
The discoveries kept coming today – this time inside Structure Ten, where a series of small post-holes were found under the building’s second-phase north-eastern buttress and associated with the primary floor.
At close of play, these looked remarkably similar to the posts found in Structure Twelve in 2021, which still contained wood.
Will we find the same in Structure Ten? Watch this space.
Meanwhile, excavation of the area under Ten’s south-western buttress continues to mystify and confound. In short, the floor levels don’t want to play ball and make sense.
It may be that what we’re seeing is material taken in a dumped in the area in an attempt to stabilise that corner between its primary and second phase. Time will tell.
We’ll finish today’s diary with mention of yet another special visitor to site.
Professor Philip Dixon directed the excavations at Crickley Hill, Gloucestershire, and was making his first visit to the Ness site today. He was met by site director Nick and seemed very impressed by what he saw.
See you all again tomorrow.