Dig Diary – ‘Structure Five really is turning into something quite special’
Thursday, July 6, 2023
What a glorious day.
And how good to hear the gentle sounds of trowels scraping in the trenches again!
Let’s begin in Structure Five this evening, where Chris revealed a drain running under building’s north-western wall.
What’s so exciting about that, you may ask. Quite a lot actually.
For one it shows the level of planning that went into the construction of Structure Five.
The drain, which looks to have been capped and possibly lined, was laid out and dug before work began of Five’s wall began and seems to have been specifically placed to cope with its design.
The exterior of Structure Five’s north-western wall slopes inwards at and angle and the drain seems to have been placed to channel away any water that penetrated the masonry and wall core.
It’s early days yet but it may be that the drainage system also extends into Structure Five’s original north wall (remember in its primary phase Five was a rectangular building — the oval extension visible today was added at a later date).
We don’t know whether a similar drain lies beneath the south-eastern wall because it was much better preserved.
Inside Structure Five, at the end of the 2022 season, supervisor Paul was certain we had five “dresser-like” features lining the interior walls but was not so sure about the sixth.
Examination today has resolved that doubt and we can proclaim there are indeed six — and possibly more in the unexcavated southern section lying outwith the trench!
If that was not enough, Paul thinks we may have another substantial post-hole (possibly two) to add to the six excavated last year.
The post-holes — up to 55cm (21.6in) in diameter – are similar in size to those encountered at Timber Structure One at the Wideford Hill settlement.
There, excavation in 2002 and 2003, not only revealed evidence of early timber buildings but a switch from wooden architecture to stone around 3300BC.
So, all in all, Structure Five is proving to be quite the ugly duckling.
Trench J was opened in 2005 and excavation continued until 2008, revealing the northern end of Structure Five. The trench was then mothballed until 2017. In 2018, its current supervisor Paul took the reins and extended the trench in an attempt to uncover the entirety of Five.
Five years later and Structure Five has become one of the most interesting (and intriguing) buildings on site.
As site director Nick exclaimed at close of business today: “Structure Five really is turning into something quite special. It didn’t look all that promising to begin with but has since now turned all our initial impressions on their heads.
“We’ve got a huge, rectangular hearth, multiple dressers, drains, not to mention all these post-holes. Let’s see what emerges over the coming weeks.”
In Structure One, we were delighted to welcome back supervisor Andy Boyar.
Andy and her team spent the day refreshing and cleaning the building’s floor surfaces ready to start further investigation into the life of the building and its occupants.
Earlier buildings remained the focus of attention in Structure Ten today, with work progressing in both sondages to reveal more about the construction of the visible wall of Structure Twenty and its unnamed neighbour.
Meanwhile, in Structure Eight, Alice and her team started to remove the last vestiges of the deposits to reveal more of Structure Seventeen below.
At Eight’s north end, at the entrance, the remnants of an orthostatic box were removed – revealing that a former roof tile had been incorporated into its construction.
The removal of a stone slab adjacent to the building’s sole entrance revealed a beautiful pollisoir fashioned from what appears to be a quartz-like material. A pollisoir is a stone used to grind and shape stone tools.
We say “appears” because we could not examine it closely. It had to be carefully lifted by Gary from the finds team, who donning latex glove to avoid contamination, quickly wrapped the artefact in a cocoon of tin-foil ready to pass on to the Chemarch project.
Chemarch is an international initiative run jointly by the University of York (UK), Universidad Autonoma De Barcelona (Spain), Kobenhavns Universitet (Denmark) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France). It focuses on archaeological chemistry, biomolecular archaeology and archaeometry.
One of the areas Chemarch is looking at is the function of stone tools — in particular whether residues can be analysed and give us a better idea of how they were used.
Because of this we had to make sure our suspected pollisoir was not contaminated by any modern material.
The artefact will now be sent to the University of York along with a sample of the soil around the stone tool, which can be analysed and used as a control against which potential cross-contamination from the environment can be assessed.
These will remain untouched until their supervisors arrive back on site and work can begin…
Aside from the hundreds of visitors who dropped by the site today, we were delighted to welcome a very special guest. It was, in fact, two Morph and his creator, Peter Lord, and his family.
Peter is the animator, film producer, director and co-founder of the Academy Award-winning Aardman Animations studio – best known for his clay-animated films and shorts, particularly those featuring plasticine duo Wallace and Gromit.
The pair had visited the Ness before but in September 2019 the site had long been under its protective covers.
Today, however, they were able to view the archaeology at its finest — bathed in the glorious sunshine of an Orcadian summer.