‘Painted’ stone in Structure Ten and a marvellous illustration of our puzzling pot

Dr Jo McKenzie documenting the second wooden stake in Structure Twelve. (Sigurd Towrie)

Dr Jo McKenzie documenting the second wooden stake in Structure Twelve. (Sigurd Towrie)

Dig Diary – Day Twenty-Nine
Thursday, August 5, 2021 

So here we are rapidly approaching the end of our penultimate week of excavation. 

Flint scraper found by Ray in Trench J today. (Sigurd Towrie)

Flint scraper found by Ray in Trench J today. (Sigurd Towrie)

Knowing the end is night brings a change in activity across the site. There’s no slowing down – far from it – instead there’s a drive to ensure that all tasks are completed before the site is put to bed for the winter.  

What’s top of the task list?

You guessed it. Paperwork.

As we’ve said before excavation generates mountains of record keeping and these documents (hundreds of them each season) must be finished, cross-referenced and above all accurate.

As the end of the season approaches, the push to complete the documentation and tie up all the loose ends increases. 

Although the site records are the most vitally important part of the excavation, their completion doesn’t make for a particularly exciting diary post. So was it all paperwork today? 

Fortunately no.

Excavation continued but as we set our sights on bringing the 2021 season to an end next Wednesday, there’s an awareness that the current work must be wrapped up to allow time to be spent on the subsequent recording duties. 

But before we jump to the excavation updates, you’ll recall that yesterday we outlined the decoration encountered on one of the huge pot sherds recovered from outside Structure Twelve last month. 

Successfully turned - one of the pottery sherds recovered from outside Structure Twelve's blocked north-western entrance earlier in the season. (Sigurd Towrie)

One of the pottery sherds recovered from outside Structure Twelve’s blocked north-western entrance earlier in the season. (Sigurd Towrie)

We posted a picture (repeated above) but in its midden-encrusted state could understand completely why some folk might be somewhat underwhelmed. 

Fortunately, today Cecily returned to site and shut herself in beside the pot sherds along with a sketchpad and pencils. She emerged a few hours later with a splendid representation of the decorated sherd. 

Cecily's drawing of the puzzling pot sherd recovered from outside Structure Twelve last month.

Cecily’s drawing of the puzzling pot sherd recovered from outside Structure Twelve last month. (Cecily Webster)

You may think that we’re throwing the adjectives “gigantic” and “huge” around a little freely. But Cecily’s calculations today, based on the curvature of the recovered sherds, suggests the rim of our pot had a diameter of half a metre (19.7 inches)!  

For our excursion around the trenches, we’ll begin with Structure Ten. You’ll recall that yesterday Travis found a second flint scraper in the building and we posted a photograph of it in situ. 

The eagle-eyed among you might have questioned a rather vivid red splodge to the right of the scraper. We suspected yesterday that we might have another example of deliberately applied pigment (aka a “painted” stone) but wanted to get a second opinion before mentioning it. 

Travis' second flint scraper of the week (pictured here in situ) from Structure Ten. (Sigurd Towrie)

Note the red area above Tavis’ small-finds tag – possibly another example of ‘painted’ stone. (Sigurd Towrie)

Today our Neolithic art specialist, Dr Antonia Thomas, from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, was back on site and confirmed our suspicions. The next step is to take a series of high-resolution photographs of the “painted” stone and examine them using specialist computer software. The exact details of what happens are undoubtedly much more complicated than that, but you get the idea. 

Also in Structure Ten, another decorated stone was confirmed – a fragment of yellow sandstone that was probably once part of the original, highly ornate, interior corner decor. 

Structure Five's blocked south-eastern entrance. Complete with paving and curving exterior walls. (Sigurd Towrie)

Structure Five’s blocked south-eastern entrance. Complete with paving and curving exterior walls. (Sigurd Towrie)

The outer paving and curving walls of Structure Five's blocked entrance. (Sigurd Towrie)

The outer paving and curving walls of Structure Five’s blocked entrance. (Sigurd Towrie)

Jumping over to Trench J, Structure Five’s blocked south-eastern entrance is now entirely clear. I know we told you this yesterday, but the curving exterior walls and paving were looking particularly good in the afternoon sun today. 

Chris and Ceiridwen inside the entrance to Structure Thirty-Two. (Sigurd Towrie)

Chris and Ceiridwen inside the entrance to Structure Thirty-Two. (Sigurd Towrie)

A short distance away, in Structure Thirty-Two, Chris and Ceiridwen removed another ashy deposit outside the small, later building’s entrance. They revealed a rubble layer that seems to be bounded by a large orthostat to the south-west. 

Once this layer is planned it can be removed to reveal the building’s floor levels.

Outside Structure Twelve Jenna and Andy continued to investigate layers of rubble outside the building’s blocked north-western entrance. Like so much of the rubble and collapse encountered across the Ness site, here it seems to be interleaving with deposits of midden, rubble and dumps of clay. In amongst this they found flint debitage and pottery sherds. 

There is also a large void but this is probably just a gap in the layers of rubble collapse lying below. If it turns out to be anything different we’ll be sure to let you know. 

Outside the south-western corner, Clare, Melvyn and Peter continued to remove the midden deposits in the vicinity of the possible collapsed drain. Possible structural remains showed up under Structure Twelve’s wall but we will need further evidence before anything can be said about their nature.

Clare's planning frames over the paving and structural features outside Structure Twelve's south-western corner. If there's anything you want to know about planning, ask Clare! (Sigurd Towrie)

Clare’s planning frames over the paving and structural features outside Structure Twelve’s south-western corner. If there’s anything you want to know about planning, ask Clare! (Sigurd Towrie)

Across the site, the visitors have been coming in droves. If you are not one of the 1,000 or so visitors this week so far, remember that you only have until next Wednesday, August 11, to visit. After that, the Ness of Brodgar will return to its winter slumber and closed to the public. 

(Sigurd Towrie)We’ll finish today with an update on the auction for Chris’ handmade replica carved stone ball. The current high bid is £236. 

To bid for this one-of-a-kind creation, email info@nessofbrodgar.co.uk. Please put “CSB auction” in the subject line and include your bid in the body of the email. 

We will update you on the highest bid received each day until the auction closes on Friday, August 13, the last day of the 2021 season.

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