A gigantic pot sherd and investigating the building underneath Structure Ten

The huge pot sherd as it first appeared – emerging from the section outside Structure Twelve’s blocked north-western entrance. (Sigurd Towrie)

Dig Diary – Day Thirteen
Wednesday, July 14, 2021

We have already mentioned the very large pot which has been uncovered near the blocked north-west entrance to Structure Twelve.

Well, it is now bigger….much bigger.

The pot sherd ready for lifting. (Ole Thoenies)

The pot sherd ready for lifting. (Ole Thoenies)

Jim and Chris preparing to lift the pot slab outside Structure Twelve. (Ole Thoenies)

Jim and Chris preparing to lift the pot slab outside Structure Twelve. (Ole Thoenies)

Chris has excavated it beautifully throughout the day and our understanding of the vessel has changed almost hour by hour.

The pot sherd in situ. (Ole Thoenies)

The pot sherd in situ. (Ole Thoenies)

This morning we could see the full profile of the pot, from the point where we expected the base to be to the rim. Then, another very thick piece of pot emerged which turned out to be, in fact, part of the base.

We had noticed that the rim is decorated on the interior with an incised line but, as more and more of the pot was revealed heading into the section, further decoration on the top of the rim appeared.

This consists of three pellets of clay close together and is a well-known decorative design on Grooved Ware.

However, where we see it on smaller pots the pellets are applied together and then repeated a little further along the rim. The rim of our pot has, so far, only this one section of pellets, suggesting that further repetition of the design, if it exists, would make the pot very big indeed.

It is also clear that it has fractured vertically on both sides of the main section.

It is possible that this indicates a slab-built pot, rather than one built up by concentric rings of clay placed one on top of another.

Lifting the gigantic pot. (Ole Thoenies)

Lifting the gigantic pot. (Ole Thoenies)

At the moment we can’t say how big our pot is, but the main section suggests a height of 49 cm and the width of that section alone is 31cm.

Close examination shows that the body of the pot has been invaded by plant roots so it is very unlikely that the elements we have can be lifted in one piece. Part of it looks already as if it has been broken when the pot was deposited in the ground in the later Neolithic period.

Lifting the sherd. (Ole Thoenies)

Lifting the sherd. (Ole Thoenies)

Various ingenious methods have been suggested as to how to lift the vessel but, at the time of writing, the favourite consists of a section of metal information board, cut to size and slipped under the pot. It might then be carefully wrapped in protective spongy material and lifted gingerly from the soil.

The really difficult moment will come when we try to see if there is decoration on the exterior surface of the pot, which was face-down in the ground.

This can only be done by holding it firm on its support and turning it swiftly upside-down…….think tarte-tatin.

At close of play today, a large part of the pot was lifted by Jim and Chris, in reasonable condition, and is now safe in the finds hut. The next task is to remove another large part still buried and disappearing into the trench section.

We will let you know exactly what happens, and also later when the pot may be included in our major programme of lipid analysis which could tell us exactly what it was used to hold or prepare.

Paul, the supervisor of Trench J, has also taken a series of photographs which he will use to construct a 3D image of the vessel.

In Trench J, Peter has been working in the south-west corner and has uncovered another section of stonework which, so far, is incapable of interpretation. It may be part of a wall or it may give us some indication of the overall form of Structure Thirty-Two, but at the moment it is impossible to tell.

Duncan and Ray excavating the rubble-filled mid-section of Structure Five. (Ole Thoenies)

Duncan and Ray excavating the rubble-filled mid-section of Structure Five. (Ole Thoenies)

Also in Trench J, Ray and Duncan have been removing another horizon of rubble from the interior of Structure Five, one of our earliest buildings. They can’t be far from reaching the probably secondary floor of the building, especially as Structure Five was built on the natural boulder clay and sections of that have already appeared in small areas.

Ceiridwen excavating the cattle bone between Structure Five and the 'Great Wall' (Ole Thoenies)

Ceiridwen excavating the cattle bone between Structure Five and the ‘Great Wall’ (Ole Thoenies)

Ceiridwen has been removing rubble from the extension between Five and the adjacent “Great Wall of Brodgar“.  She lifted a large flat stone and found a really enormous cattle bone, from a leg and in unusually good condition for Ness bone.

Could it be an Aurochs, the huge Neolithic cattle who were probably dying out around the time of the Ness. It requires one of our bone experts to make the decision.

The entrance area of Structure Ten, with the earlier Structure Twenty highlighted. (Sigurd Towrie)

The entrance area of Structure Ten, with the earlier Structure Twenty highlighted. (Sigurd Towrie)

Professor Mark Edmonds, outside Structure Ten's entrance, contemplating the best way forward for exploring Structure Twenty. (Ole Thoenies)

Professor Mark Edmonds, outside Structure Ten’s entrance, contemplating the best way forward for exploring Structure Twenty. (Ole Thoenies)

The curved section of walling in the foreground belongs to Structure Twenty, an earlier building beneath Structure Ten. (Sigurd Towrie)

The curved section of walling in the foreground belongs to Structure Twenty, an earlier building beneath Structure Ten. (Sigurd Towrie)

Unlike the other trenches, Structure Ten is not expanding but is going down. A small section of Structure Twenty, an earlier building under Structure Ten, appeared several years ago.

It consists of a wall line, an orthostat partly built into the internal wall face and strongly implies an early structure.

We can’t reveal more of it as we would have to remove Structure Ten to get to it, but a small sondage (a small, deep, carefully excavated hole) has been started in the hope of revealing the Structure Twenty floor deposits and taking samples for dating its construction and use.

Professor Mark Edmonds will be undertaking this task and, with health and safety in mind, has installed shoring in order to make sure that no stonework moves unexpectedly.

All in all, an exciting day. More to come tomorrow.

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