Coloured pottery, a Bronze Age arrowhead and an ‘eyebrow’ motif – a day of firsts for the Ness

Diary – Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Day Twelve

Another painted stone.

2011: Painted stone within Structure Eight. (ORCA)

Colour was the theme on this day nine years ago.

Not only did we have another coloured stone within the walls of Structure Eight but our first example of what appeared to be “painted” pottery. Back in 2011, the team were being rightly cautious about the discovery but the sherd of Grooved Ware pottery seemed to have red and yellow pigment applied to the decorated areas.

A fragment of highly decorated and coloured Grooved Ware pottery.

2011: A fragment of highly decorated and coloured Grooved Ware pottery. (ORCA)

2011: The worked stone cube from Structure Eight. (ORCA)

2011: The worked stone cube from Structure Eight. (ORCA)

Now, almost ten years on, we’ve recorded 23 examples of sherds which had a coloured layer deliberately applied to their exterior surfaces. The colours involved were red, white and black and the majority came from around Structure Twelve.

Among the other finds on July 21, 2011, was a worked stone cube with indentations on three of the sides. It came from an alcove in Structure Eight that had previously produced quartz pebbles, a whale’s tooth and a very rare whalebone macehead.

July 21, 2017: Drawing board on the edge of the trench. (Karen Wallis)

July 21, 2017: Drawing board on the edge of the trench. (Karen Wallis)

We leap now to 2014, and Structure Fourteen. There, the removal of huge blocks of rubble revealed the natural geology – 1.31m (c4ft) under the current ground surface.

This is just 20cm lower than the natural surface outside Structure One, re-affirming the remarkable depth of archaeology across the middle section of the site.

On July 21, 2015, a decorated stone in Structure Ten was the source of great interest and excitement.

The stone had a crude eyebrow motif pecked into its surface – a new design for the Ness at the time – and very reminiscent of a similar motif found in a chambered tomb — the Holm of Papay South – not to mention on the face of the Orkney Venus Neolithic figurine from Westray.

2015: The eyebrow motif discovered by Jo in the wall of Structure Ten. (ORCA)

The eyebrow motif at the Holm of Papay South chambered cairn. (

The eyebrow motif at the Holm of Papay South chambered cairn. (

2016: Claire revealing yet more bone under the buttress in Structure Ten. (ORCA)

Excavation of the bone deposits associated with the south-western buttress in Structure Ten continued on July 21, 2016.

The excavators were rewarded with yet more bone – a lot of which was cattle tibia – in various states of preservation.

There was also a sizeable quantity of pottery associated with the bones. Again, much of it is in poor condition, but decoration could be seen on some sherds.

The end of the third week of the 2017 season saw another first for the Ness – the discovery of a barbed and tanged Bronze Age arrowhead.

2016: A close up of the Bronze Age arrowhead – a first for the Ness!

This beautiful little artefact was found during the dismantling of the top layers of the remaining central baulk – a lump of midden that filled the outer passage of Structure Ten.

Previously, a distinctive piece of pottery came from the same context, in another part of the passage infill, and that was also identified Bronze Age.

The arrowhead had been used, as its tip was broken and a flake of flint had detached on one side due to the impact with whatever it hit.


As this day fell on the weekend there’s no entry for 2018 today.

2019: Structure Twenty-Six’s southern orthostat (the stone in the foreground) which we now know was 4.55 metres long! (Sigurd Towrie)

It was also a weekend in 2019, but the first of the season’s two open days. Under the watchful eye of almost 800 visitors, excavation continued and in Trench J Structure Five was being prepared for planning and photographs.

Over in Trench T, the southern orthostat within Structure Twenty-Seven was confirmed to be 4.55 metres long (just under 15 feet).

The south-eastern orthostat – which is also very large – was also partially exposed and will continue to be excavated.

2019: The first open day of the season. An overview of the Ness excavation site, with Trench T in the foreground. (Scott Pike)

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