Dig Diary – halted by rain again but only after some intriguing discoveries

Day Thirteen
Wednesday, July 10, 2024

It had to happen. After a few delightful days of sunshine, we were rained off again today when, after lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse.

The morning had been blustery and damp, but tucked away in the shelter of the trenches the diggers were able to continue work (in fact, I was positively cosy!).

But as the rain got heavier, conditions under foot became treacherous, particularly in Trench T, where supervisor Rick had joined Chris Gee and Tom to continue removing midden over Structure Twenty-Seven’s northern end.

The north end of Structure Twenty-Seven after rain ended play today.  (📷 Sigurd Towrie)
The north end of Structure Twenty-Seven after rain ended play today. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

Before site director Nick called for an exit from the trenches they had created a safe working area around the building’s north-western corner. Inside Twenty-Seven, Ishbel has started removing the midden baulks running over the surviving walls.

Rick, Nick and Mark also had a long discussion on the Trench T excavation strategy for this season, ready for the arrival of the students from Willamette University, Oregon, USA, this weekend.

Then Nick and Mark met with Structure Twelve’s supervisor, Jim, to consider what could be achieved in and around the building before the end of the season.

This focused primarily on the relationships between Twelve and its predecessors Structure Twenty-Eight and Twenty-Four. They have agreed with Jim that the curving wall across the northern end of Structure Twelve represents a later addition to Twenty-Eight, inserted to reduce the building’s size in the same manner as we’ve already seen in Structure One.

The stone-lined pit at Structure Twelve's north end.  (📷 Sigurd Towrie)
The stone-lined pit at Structure Twelve’s north end. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

Staying in the north end, a rather interesting feature has emerged over the past few days – a deep, stone-lined pit by the later northern entrance.

Structure Twelve’s northern area is no stranger to pits and excavation over the past few years points to considerable slumping of the floor over time. This was repaired, repeatedly, using a dumps of midden overlain by flat stone.

The latest pit, which lay beneath later floor repairs, is intriguing because it had been filled with a huge quantity of clean, processed clay.

Jim suspects the “occupants” had switched to clay because they recognised that the midden would simply compress again and the floor repairs would slump again.

The clay at the top of the 0.55-metre-square pit was about 20 centimetres deep and overlay a flat, stone base. That base, however, is just the tip of the iceberg with, we suspect, at least another 70cm of voids and midden material beneath.

Given the haphazard nature of other “repairs” and features in the north-end, the stone-lined pit is remarkably well-built, with the side and basal stones put together carefully.

The slab used for the base does not appear to be flagstone and is very dense with a black, uneven surface. But is still difficult to examine due to the clay residue smeared across its surface. Hopefully we’ll get better look tomorrow.

3d orbit of the unexcavated pit this morning. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)
The well-built, stone-lined pit this afternoon, after the removal of the substantial clay deposit. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

Next door, the removal of the final remnants of Structure Eight’s last hearth continued. This is to reveal more of Structure Seventeen’s floor and allow a sample grid to be established.

Seventeen is one of Eight’s two predecessor and the sampling of its floor deposits will hopefully reveal more of how the building was used and allow comparisons between the two.

The stone-lined drain running beneath Structure Five's hearth.  (📷 Sigurd Towrie)
The stone-lined channel, or flue, running beneath Structure Five’s hearth. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)
Jackson Clark, who will lead tomorrow's tour of the Ness exhibition at the Orkney Museum.  (📷 Jo Bourne)
Jackson Clark, who will lead tomorrow’s tour of the Ness exhibition at the Orkney Museum. (📷 Jo Bourne)

Jumping across to Trench J, the fine, stone base of Structure Five’s large, rectangular hearth was removed this morning to reveal a substantial channel/flue running underneath.

Something similar was encountered at the Early Neolithic Smerquoy settlement just outside Kirkwall and the Braes of Ha’Breck, Wyre, and Green, Eday.

Among the visitors braving the elements today was Emeritus Professor Ian Ralston, Abercromby Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at Edinburgh University.

Having visited the Ness dig some years ago, Prof Ralston returned to Orkney to view the site before fieldwork ends next month.

Site director Nick also showed a delegation of councillors from Orkney Islands Council around the site before a return visit from Radio Orkney, for a piece on tomorrow’s Around Orkney news programme.

We’ll be back tomorrow, when, we’re assured, the weather will be considerably better.

In the meantime, there’s a few tickets left for tomorrow’s lunchtime tour of our exhibition at the Orkney Museum. Leading the tour, with a focus on animal remains, will be Jackson Clark.

For more details or to book a free place, click here.

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