Dig Diary – ‘Dressers’, DNA and earlier buildings
Friday, July 7, 2023
The end of week one already! Where does the time go?
Before we get into today’s events, for fans of Morph we received a batch of photos from his creator, Peter Lord, documenting the plasticine character’s second visit to the Ness.
These arrived too late for last night’s diary, but a gallery has now been added. Enjoy.
Now, on to today…
After a chilly start – which saw Sigurd concede defeat and don a jacket! – the sun soon put in an appearance. With it came the visitors and we’re delighted to say that we recorded yet another healthy number through the gate today.
To them, and indeed all the site visitors this week, our thanks for helping us keep the Ness project going.
The on-site shop has reported good sales of our books and donations and sponsor-a-square purchases have also been busy.
So, once again, our sincerest thanks. It is because of your ongoing generosity and support that we are able to keep working on this remarkable site.
But although today’s glorious weather undoubtedly boosted visitor numbers, in a few of the structures it caused something of a problem.
Aside from the dry, dusty conditions, bright sunlight is the bane of the archaeologist. It makes recognising subtle shifts in colour and tone of soil nigh on impossible.
For that reason, water sprays were spotted on site again today, dampening down dry surfaces.
In Structure Five, Chris and Claire have been the process or dismantling the remains of the two “dressers” flanking the building’s original entrance.
This is a delicate, but necessary, operation, with each step fully documented and recorded. Trench supervisor Paul’s 3d model of the northern “dresser” is available to view in yesterday’s diary.
Elsewhere in Five, Sarah was working in the building’s later north-eastern extension.
A meeting between site director Nick and Structure One supervisor Andy, first thing this morning, saw an excavation strategy for 2023 drawn up. This listed the tasks they want to focus on in the coming weeks and elements of the building that need clarified.
Among these are the post-holes revealed beneath the second-phase wall when it was removed in 2017.
Ness devotees will know that Structure One was reduced in size in its second phase, when a curved wall was inserted across the middle of the original building.
The new wall was raised on top of a horizon of roofing slabs that probably represents the partial remains of the original Phase one collapsed roof. Sealed by the slabs were several small, stone-lined post-holes suggesting a screen, or partition, separated the northern and southern sections at the end of the primary phase.
In Structure Ten, work progressed in the sondages (a small, deep and carefully dug trench) investigating the underlying, earlier, buildings.
There are two structural features (possibly three) visible underneath Structure Ten. These have been interpreted as the remains of at least two buildings preceding Ten’s construction around 2900BC.
But Trench J supervisor, Paul, today pondered whether we might actually be looking at a single large building beneath Ten.
Paul has noted differences in the construction in the single wall section of Structure Twenty visible poking through Ten’s floor.
This is very similar to what he has encountered in Structure Five, where a large, well-built rectangular structure was remodelled with the addition of a decidedly shoddy extension.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to definitively answer the question of “how many predecessors” simply because so much of the earlier buildings are obscured by the mass of Structure Ten.
But work will continue and we’ll keep you posted on any updates.
Lunch-break was followed by a talk by our pottery specialist, Jan Blatchford, whoshowed the diggers what to look out for while excavating and outlined some of our ongoing ceramics research.
The subject of DNA was also a topic of conversation today, in particular our plans to start a sampling process across the site next week.
In essence, we will be taking samples from floor surfaces, midden sections and drains, which will then be analysed for DNA.
The results will show us the species of plants and animals once present on site that are not necessarily represented in the other surviving evidence, such as livestock bones.
Although the analysis procedure is in its early days, the samples can be stored until such a time as the technique is refined. That said, we’re hoping for some results shortly after sampling so we can target specific areas of the site in the weeks to come.
Watch this space.
But back to excavation and we’ll now jump to Structure Eight – or more correctly Structure Seventeen, one of Eight’s two predecessors.
Here Kristina and Ceiridwen have started opening two sondages radiating out from Seventeen’s southern hearth. They are looking particularly to see the extent of the building’s yellow clay floor.
So far, however, it doesn’t look like that floor extends very far at all!
Meanwhile, at the northern end of Structure Eight, Roy and Tom have begun removing the orthostatic box that lies directly inside Eight’s later, narrow entrance.
If it does we’ll let you know.
We now have the weekend off. Weary muscles will be rested and after-sun cream applied. A new batch of diggers are due on Monday, including students from UHI Archaeology Institute fieldschool. So we’ll see you all then.
Have a good weekend.