Dig Diary – Extending Trench J, buildings beneath Ten and hundreds of visitors
Wednesday, July 5, 2023
The excavation site opened to the public today and we are delighted to say they turned up in droves.
Over 600 visitors made their way to Stenness to see the trenches in all their glory. Many had been before, others new aficionados who had only recently learned about the dig.
We were delighted to welcome them all – the dedicated Ness supporters and the local Orcadians who appreciate all that the Ness means to Orkney.
The first tour of the 2023 season kicked off at 11am with a rather wide-eyed Sigurd standing before a crowd of over 120 people. He soon regained his composure and escorted the group around the site, glad for his newly acquired voice amplifier.
Sigurd isn’t renowned for having the quietest voice in Orkney, but even he would have struggled to reach the far ends of this morning’s visitor line without some electronic assistance.
Today, Sigurd was accompanied by Kath Page, who will be standing in for him on the 11am and 1pm tours on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Kath is a PhD student at the UHI Archaeology Institute and will be a familiar face to anyone who has visited Skara Brae, the Broch of Gurness or the Earl’s Palace, Kirkwall, in recent years. She gets around…archaeologically speaking.
As always our visitors asked questions – dozens of them – all intelligent and all really highlighting the level of national and international interest in the Ness.
We really appreciate them, partly, of course, because they buy books and other items from the site shop, sponsor site squares by the hundred and make donations – all of which is the life-blood of our site, where funds are always a problem.
But most of all we appreciate them because they are really interested in archaeology and what we do, and there is no greater compliment.
Among today’s visitors was Huw Williams, from BBC Radio Orkney, who was interviewing Anne and (site director) Nick for a segment in tomorrow morning’s Around Orkney news bulletin.
Meanwhile, in the trenches, all the covers have been removed, with the exception of some black plastic protecting the precious occupation level floors, which will be sampled and examined in detail.
So the team set to work doing an initial overall clean of the trenches – removing weeds from sections and generally sprucing the site.
Extending Trench J over the ‘Great Wall’
While the clean-up and preparation work continued, over Trench J, supervisor Paul laid out his proposed extension – one which first required the heavy work of moving an early spoil heap.
The narrow extension is running across the top of the northern boundary wall – aka “the Great Wall of Brodgar” from the point on its inner face where the second set of steps were revealed in 2022.
It will expose the outer face of the ‘Great Wall’ and let us see whether the interior steps are mirrored on the outside by another set.
Investigating Structure Ten’s predecessors
We know Structure Ten was raised on top of the remains of at least two earlier buildings – Structure Twenty and another (as yet unnamed) construction.
Structure Twenty can be seen under Ten’s entrance and forecourt. The visible elements suggest it was subdivided by stone slabs rather than stone piers – an architectural style also found in Structure Five and which suggests an early date, perhaps around 3300BC.
There is, however, little that can be said about Structure Twenty with any certainty. We don’t know its size or layout but do know that Ten was built directly on top of a section because its eastern wall undulates as it passes over the top of the earlier building.
Given the deluge at the weekend, and the volumes of water we had to shift yesterday, perhaps the strangest sight this afternoon was Travis strapped into his ‘Ghostbusters’ backpack and spraying water on the deposit above Structure Twenty’s visible wall line.
Why? Because the rock-hard deposit needed softening up so the diggers’ trowels could make some progress in removing it.
Other elements inside Structure Ten are almost completely obscured by the later construction but may indicate there was at least one other building underneath Ten.
We’ll keep you posted on what develops.
See you tomorrow.