Dig Diary – The Odin Stone’s little brother outside Structure Twenty-Six?
Thursday, July 13, 2023
Structure Twenty-Six has done it again!
This later, not-very-well-built structure sits between Structures Ten, Thirty and Twelve and has, in the past produced some truly spectacular finds – objects that were completely at odds to its size and shoddy construction.
Among these were decorated and dressed stones which, we believe, were robbed from Structure Twelve and Structure Ten’s collapsed primary phase.
That penchant for prehistoric pinching manifested again today, outside the building’s eastern end.
Michele and Eleanor removed a rubble dump to find a paved pathway which seems to run along the eastern end to join up with the paved area outside Twenty-Six’s south-western entrance.
One of the stones used for paving was a large slab with an offset hole drilled through it.
Viewing the slab, thoughts of the Odin Stone immediately spring to mind, as well as the perforated standing stone that was (probably) one of a pair flanking Structure Ten’s entrance forecourt.
The stone runs back into the trench edge but the exposed section is 98 centimetres metres long. It is 50 centimetres wide and six centimetres thick.
The perforation has a diameter of 5-7 centimetres (it’s wider on one face) and ten centimetres in from the right hand side.
It has clearly come from another building but what was it? It’s not a plug-hole as someone suggested today! But it seems likely to have had a practical function – perhaps one side of a door bar?
Whatever, and wherever, it was, it was brought to the area outside Twenty-Six and laid flat. The footfall around the little building has caused the slab to break across the perforation.
Yet another lovely find from a strange, little building.
But it doesn’t end there. As well as pottery sherds, the same area produced the largest lump of cramp found on site to date!
Cramp is an Orcadian dialect word, defined as “small heaps of vitrified glass and stones found in ancient tumuli.”
It is a vitreous, lightweight material that is “vesicular in texture and generally of a light grey colour”. Because cramp it is often found stuck to burnt bone it has generally become associated with Bronze Age cremations.
But cramp is also found in the Neolithic.
In 2019, a large spread of cramp was encountered in Trench X at the Ness of Brodgar. Associated with this deposit were pottery sherds, with incised decoration, and a macehead.
These were interpreted as the residue of large-scale feasting events around the two sites. Do ours represent the same?
Next door to Structure Twenty-Six, Chris and Emma continued working down through the rubble layers in the small extension inserted into Trench P this week.
The rubble follows the line of the robber cut over the south wall of Structure Ten and obscures the animal bone deposit we know lies beneath.
The rubble is being removed to get closer to the bone, which will be excavated by a team led by Professor Ingrid Mainland of the UHI Archaeology Institute.
Inside Structure Ten, in the area of its second-phase south-western buttress, Jem and Lisa continued removing the morass collapsed masonry, which probably formed part of the primary floor.
They identified an orthostat socket at right angles to the south wall. This appears to reflect the orthostats on the north wall, suggesting a series of recesses in Structure Ten during its primary phase.
Around the north-east buttress, Nick J., Travis and Johanna continued sampling the primary floor before they are removed.
This will reveal more more of Structure Twenty – one of Ten’s predecessors – giving us a bigger window into the building and its deposits.
Earlier buildings was also the order of the day in and around Structure Eight.
Work outside Eight’s north-eastern corner paid dividends, exposing the eastern end recess of Structure Eighteen.
Inside, excavation in Structure Seventeen’s north recess revealed more of the rough, flagstone floor. It also confirmed that most of Seventeen sits beneath a very thin levelling layer that should be quickly removed.
As a result we will be able to expose more of Structure Seventeen that we expected.
Ray and Tom have also removed the last of the deposits that lay beneath the orthostatic box inside Structure Eight’s northern entrance. This has also revealed more of the interior of Structure Eighteen.
Jumping across to Structure One, Andy and her team continued investigating the secondary hearth at the building’s southern end. The construction cut for the stone feature produced a couple of very nice quartz pebbles.
Just over the wall, Sigurd was back in among the Ness drains – this time looking at a substantial example between Structures One and Nineteen.
The drain’s covering forms the paved passageway between the two buildings and the goal was to clarify the relationship between One and Nineteen.
It seems that Nineteen, as suspected, was constructed later than its neighbour, with a second drain built on top of the one serving Structure One.
The next stage will be to investigate a section of the drain directly outside Structure One’s eastern entrance.
Clad in surgical masks and gloves to prevent contamination, Sigurd and Rosalind painstakingly recovered 24 samples from the midden baulk at the trench’s northern end.
Analysis will show us the species of plants and animals once present that are not necessarily represented in the other surviving evidence, such as animal bone.
Further samples will be taken from floor surfaces, other midden sections and, you’ve guessed it, drains.
Our archaeomagnetic specialist, Cathy Batt, is due on site tomorrow so Trench J’s hearths were prepared for her arrival. They were cleaned up and the upper layers removed to expose the rich, red deposits which are best suited to archaeomagnetic dating.
Elsewhere in Structure Five, Paul’s team continued removing, the floor layers on the sample grid now extending across the building. This work is progressing really well.
As encountered previously in Trench J, the upper levels contain numerous features and deposits. The jawbone of a cow has been found within the rubble so far, with outer structural features turning up above the wall.
The most prominent of these, so far, is a series of three small post-holes.
The sunshine today brought out the visitors and it has been great to see, and talk to, so many folk.
Many told staff that they had come to Orkney specifically to visit the Ness before fieldwork ends and the site is covered next year.
But it’s not only the visitors who have come from all over the world.
Meet-and-Greeter David Hugo, from Perth, Australia, has travelled a long way to help out at the Ness. Why?
To David the answer was simple – to be involved in the project was a great privilege.
He has long been interested in Orkney’s history and jumped at the change to join the meet and greet team.
On duty with him today was Jane Robinson. Now living in Yorkshire but born in Durrington Walls, Wiltshire, Jane is no stranger to Neolithic archaeology. To her, at the chance to visit, and help out, at the Ness of Brodgar was one she couldn’t pass up.
As a result, she’s even saying that Orkney’s archaeology tops that of Wiltshire. But don’t tell anyone.
We’re delighted that David and Jane have enjoyed their time at the Ness, and in Orkney, and we’re eternally grateful for their help – and the help and dedication of all our volunteers.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. We couldn’t do it without you!