Structure Fourteen

Structure FourteenThe smallest example of piered architecture found to date, Structure Fourteen is also the only Ness of Brodgar building to have been completely excavated.

Although not as well preserved as its Trench P neighbours, Fourteen was modified on several occasions over its lifetime until finally abandoned and much of its walling removed [1].

Built around 3100BC, but slightly later than the neighbouring Structure One, Fourteen was an oval building aligned northeast-southwest and surrounded by a paved walkway.

It was raised exactly on the footprint of its dismantled predecessor, Structure Thirty-Six, which suggests the maintenance of a physical link to the past.

An exploratory trench under Fourteen’s robbed-out north-western wall revealed activity going back centuries. Sherds of an Early Neolithic carinated bowl were found in a charcoal-rich layer beneath the later buildings.

Burnt bone associated with bowl was radiocarbon dated to 3512-3425BC [2].

Structure Fourteen from above in 2014. As is clear in this picture, the far wall had been extensively robbed out in prehistory. (Hugo Anderson-Whymark)

Structure Fourteen from above in 2014. As is clear in this picture, the far wall had been extensively robbed out in prehistory. (Hugo Anderson-Whymark)

A ‘double house’

Measuring around 11 metres long by nine metres wide, Structure Fourteen was smaller than its contemporaries but followed the same basic plan.

Structure Fourteen diagram

Two pairs of opposing piers and a pair of corner buttresses in the north-eastern end created the same side recesses and end cells found in the other piered buildings.

At the south-western end of the interior, the tapering piers formed a shallow recess, flanked by small, corner cells.

While the side recesses were defined and separated by orthostatic slabs, the end recess may have held a dresser-like feature akin to those found within the houses at Skara Brae.

Access to the building was by two entrances – one in the centre of the north-eastern end, the other in the south-eastern wall.

Structure Fourteen from above.

Structure Fourteen

Structure Fourteen is very similar to House Two at the nearby Barnhouse Settlement, which raises interesting questions about the relationship between the two sites.

Like House Two, a bench-like arrangement of stone orthostats ran between Structure Fourteen’s middle piers, dividing the interior into two distinct halves.

Also like House Two, Fourteen was a “double house”, with a second, small building, Structure Sixteen, directly opposite its south-eastern entrance. Little remained of Sixteen but, like House Nine at Barnhouse, it seems to have been an outbuilding associated with the activities in Fourteen.

Each of Structure Fourteen’s two halves had its own stone hearth.

As at Barnhouse, analysis of their contents suggests they served different roles. Although the south-western hearth was larger it does not appear to have been used as often as its north-eastern counterpart, which played host to larger and more extensive fires.

2014. (ORCA)

Structure Fourteen in 2014. (ORCA)

The location of the suspected standing stone in relation to Structures Fourteen and Sixteen.

The location of the suspected standing stone in relation to Structures Fourteen and Sixteen.

Standing stone?

Outside Structure Fourteen’s south-eastern entrance is a suspected standing stone akin to the one aligned to Structure One’s southern doorway.

Orientated north-south, the stone was incorporated into the doorway of Structure Sixteen.

The fact the stone does not align exactly to Fourteen’s doorway, and was integrated into the fabric of a contemporary building, suggests it pre-dated them both and may instead relate to Structure Thirty-Six, their predecessor.

Two phases

Although Structure Fourteen’s remains had been badly affected by stone-robbing, excavation revealed two main phases of activity.

Its primary phase was much as has been described above.

Looking down the axis of Structure Fourteen. (Hugo Anderson-Whymark)

Looking down the axis of Structure Fourteen. (Hugo Anderson-Whymark)

The secondary phase saw the interior remodelled and most of the orthostatic dividers removed – perhaps replaced by less-permanent, maybe organic, screens. At the same time the south-eastern entrance was altered.

The stunning polished stone axehead found in Structure Fourteen in 2014. (ORCA)

The stunning polished stone axehead found in Structure Fourteen in 2014. (ORCA)

Archaeobotanical analysis has confirmed the presence of naked barley and emmer wheat in Structure Fourteen, suggesting that small quantities of grain were stored, prepared and used within.

Charred hazelnut fragments were also found, along with crab apple pips – foodstuffs that were gathered rather than cultivated [3].

Peaty turf was the main source of fuel but charcoal from the building shows this was supplemented by birch wood as well as hazel, willow and probably crab-apple tree.

Where tree ring curvature could be seen in the charcoal samples it suggested branch and trunk timber was being burned, which in turn implies that some trees were being felled for fuel.

Abandoned and decomissioned

Around 2800BC, at the end of its life, Structure Fourteen was deliberately decommissioned.

A delighted Jo in 2012 with one of the most stunning polished stone axeheads found at the Ness to date. (Jim Richardson)

A delighted Jo in 2012 with one of the most stunning polished stone axeheads found at the Ness to date. (Jim Richardson)

A stunning polished stone axe, a pillow stone and a finely incised stone were placed inside the building along with a small, complete pot, which had been carefully covered with a flat stone.

2012: Neralie reveals the polished pillow stone in Structure Fourteen. (ORCA)

2012: Neralie reveals the polished pillow stone in Structure Fourteen. (ORCA)

Decorated with the same motif encountered at the Barnhouse settlement and Stones of Stenness, the pot was not only a decommissioning deposit but linked Fourteen to both sites – a connection already apparent due to the architectural parallels between it and Barnhouse House Two.

The deposits in place, the interior was then filled with rubble and the building remains left…but not forgotten.

After an unknown period, people returned and systematically, and extensively, dismantled the building, removing its stone – presumably for use elsewhere. The bulk of the masonry gone, the site was then buried beneath huge quantities of midden-enriched soil.

At some point a large pit was dug into the mound now covering Fourteen’s remains and a saddle quern placed inside.

After another unknown period the site was dug into again. More stone was removed from the remnants of Fourteen’s walls before a small, partially paved building – Structure Twenty-Two – was raised beside the mound marking the later building’s remains.

The quernstone fragment from the remains of Structure Fourteen under close examination. (Jim Richardson)

The quernstone fragment from the remains of Structure Fourteen under close examination. (Jim Richardson)

Notes

  • [1] Card, N. and Edmonds, M. (2020) Later piered buildings. In Card, N., Edmonds, M. and Mitchell, A. (eds) The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands. The Orcadian: Kirkwall.
  • [2] Card, N., Edmonds, M. and Mitchell, A. (2020) The story so far. In Card, N., Edmonds, M. and Mitchell, A. (eds) The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands. The Orcadian: Kirkwall.
  • [3] Timpany, S. and Mogollón Montaño, J. (2020) Grain and fire. In Card, N., Edmonds, M. and Mitchell, A. (eds) The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands. The Orcadian: Kirkwall.
3d model of Structure 14
Structure Fourteen Excavation over time