Structure Thirty-Two

Overhead view of Structure Thirty-Two's remains. (Paul Durdin)
Overhead view of Structure Thirty-Two’s remains. (📷 Paul Durdin)

Structure Thirty-Two was first encountered in 2018, in the southern end of Trench J.

Surviving as a disturbed, gently curving wall and a floor surface, it was initially thought to be an addition to Structure Five relating to the re-use of its south-western end – something akin to the curved wall inserted into Structure One at the start of its second phase of use.

We now know, however, that Thirty-Two was a separate building, raised on the remains of Structure Five and incorporating sections of it into its construction.

It appears to have been a sub-rectangular building. Its overall dimensions are not known because its full extent was not revealed and excavated.

It was erected on an area cleared of Structure Five’s rubble, probably using stone robbed from its predecessor, with its new walls tied into surviving sections of the earlier building.

Position of Structure Thirty-Two in relation to the later phase of Structure Five and the northern boundary wall.

The exposed area of Structure Thirty-Two had a roughly paved flagstone floor with a single entrance in the north-western corner. This doorway lay between a re-used section of Structure Five and a “new” wall that followed the same construction style as Five – an inner double skin, midden core and outer face.

Despite this, the new walling was not as well built, with a marked difference noted between the neat inner face and scrappy outer masonry. While the slightly concave inner face was formed of well-laid flagstones, the outer face was decidedly haphazard, made up of stones of varying sizes and with no consistency in coursing.

Structure Thirty-Two cleaned and ready for photography/3d modelling. (Sigurd Towrie)
2022: Structure Thirty-Two cleaned and ready for photography/3d modelling. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

The interior of the narrow entrance was flanked by a pillar of stacked stone that perhaps emphasised it in much the same way as the timber posts once had Structure Five’s.

Outside the entrance was a separate retaining wall that may have helped hold back the rubble and midden lying to the north-west.

Because Thirty-Two was badly disturbed in prehistory it is difficult to say how it fits into the timeline of the Ness.

The building appears to have had a similar layout to Structure Five’s short-lived, original rectangular layout. On present evidence it seems Thirty-Two was raised shortly after Five’s south-western end was decommissioned and carefully dismantled, but before the construction of the large piered buildings in Trench P (c3200–3100BC).

Chris and Ceiridwen in Structure Thirty-Two following the discovery of a pottery depost. (Sigurd Towrie)
Chris and Ceiridwen in Structure Thirty-Two following the discovery of a pottery spread in 2021. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

When Thirty-Two was built, Structure Five’s north-eastern, curved end was still in use. Occupation deposits in this area are much deeper than in the original section, suggesting the extension was occupied continuously over a much longer period. The presence of Grooved Ware pottery in later phases suggests activity around/after 3200BC.

In contrast, the occupation deposits in Structure Thirty-Two were very shallow. This, together with a lack of hearth – although it may still lie outwith the trench – suggests the building was not in use for long.

Its demise was likely due to subsidence/collapse caused by poor foundations and the shoddy outer wall face, which collapsed in the surviving section, causing the inner face to lean outwards into the core.

Compare and contrast. The inner wall face of Structure Thirty-Two's north-eastern wall (top) and the outer face (bottom).
Compare and contrast. The inner wall face of Structure Thirty-Two’s north-eastern wall (top) and the outer face (bottom). (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

The abandonment of Structure Thirty-Two does not seem to have been accompanied by the same careful decommissioning seen in Structure Five. Instead it appears it was simply left before also subjected to episodes of stone-robbing.

The area continued to be used, however, with evidence for multiple later hearths, postholes, paving and material.

The 15 different hearth settings recorded so far are not associated with any buildings and the use of many appears to have been short-lived.

This may indicate that activity in the area above Structures Five and Thirty-Two was intermittent – perhaps periodic, short-term episodes during the lifetime of Trench P’s piered buildings.

In 2022, the scant remains of Structure Thirty-Two were fully recorded, planned and 3D modelled (see below) before being removed to allow full access to Structure Five’s interior. Beneath Thirty-Two’s curving north-eastern wall was the large, rectangular hearth relating to Five’s primary phase.