Cupmarks galore around Structure Twelve entrance

Dig Diary – Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Day Twenty-Three

Friday, August 5, 2011, was another day of roof tiles in Structure Eight.

August 5, 2016: Looking across Structure Eight towards the viewing platform. (Karen Wallis)

August 5, 2016: Looking across Structure Eight towards the viewing platform. (Karen Wallis)

After recovering over 370 examples in the building, and recording them meticulously, the excavators thought they had passed through the “tile horizon” and were on to the material above the floor. And then, more tiles appeared.

Elsewhere in the building a collection of worked stone tools had been deposited with two cattle scapula (shoulder blades) that are thought to have been used in the Neolithic as a type of hand-shovel.

Meanwhile, geophysics in the region of the southern boundary wall (the “Lesser Wall of Brodgar”) confirmed earlier, less detailed, scans – suggesting that the wall traversed the width of the Ness of Brodgar and curved around, along the shore of the Loch of Stenness.

With the northern “Great Wall” known to be curving along the Harray loch side, the geophysics results prompted the idea that Ness of Brodgar site was completely enclosed by a massive wall. Subsequent work has ruled this out, with no evidence of evidence of walls connecting the northern and southern boundary walls.

In Structure Ten, the recess housing the “paint workshop” was found to be paved with massive flagstones. Under these a drain appeared, running from the recess under the building’s outer wall. The arrangement of these features –  the recess and drain – closely paralleled that encountered in both of the Neolithic structures at Crossiecrown, a few miles to the east.

2014: A scalloped rim sherd from Trench T. (ORCA)

The Crossiecrown connections continued in 2014, with the discovery of sherds of Neolithic scalloped rim pottery in Trench T.

Found on the largest, and most spectacular, Grooved Ware vessels, a scalloped rim is highly ornate and purely decorative as opposed to practical. With a rim shaped like a wavy pie-crust, you can’t pour from it and you can’t drink from it. It was all about looking good.

Scalloped rims are quite well known in Orkney. Rims of this sort with applied decoration are a component of the Pool, phase three assemblage, in Sanday and have turned up recently at the Links of Noltland, Westray.

2014: The finely incised pot sherds from the central midden area. (ORCA)

They are also found at Crossiecrown, just outside Kirkwall.

The Crossiecrown scalloped rims are from much larger pots than those found in Sanday and Westray and the Ness examples were also massive.

More sherds of beautiful Neolithic pottery emerged from the central midden area. They joined together to show a pot with a horizontal incision under the rim and with fine chevron incisions below.

2015: The holed, and decorated, stone block from Structure Twelve — but what is it?

One of the most intriguing stones from the site turned up at the south end of Structure Twelve in 2015. The large block was embedded in the ground and had a sizeable, perfect hole drilled through it.

It is also decorated with an incised cross and, beside that, small peck marks. It was also found to contain a very solid, white concretion of unknown material – which remains to be analysed.

2015: Mai points to the location of the holed stone in the southern half of Structure Twelve. (ORCA)

The stone was thought to be associated with the probable re-use and rebuilding of Structure Twelve, although it was also in the vicinity of what appeared originally to be a drain. What is was remains a mystery.

A visit from Dr Alison Sheridan, of the National Museums of Scotland, confirmed our 2014 diagnosis of pottery sherds from underneath Structure Fourteen, as being a type of carinated bowl.

At that point in time, this made it the earliest pottery recovered from the Ness, with radiocarbon dating placing it around 3500BC. To put that in some context, that’s 700 years earlier than the construction of Structure Ten!

In 2016, the focus of attention was floors – particularly those of Structures Ten and Twelve.

In Structure Ten, instead of the expected multiple floor levels (where a new floor is laid on top of its predecessor), it was looking like there was only one major floor. It seemed that a fine, yellow-clay floor was laid inside the building and when, after a relatively short time it had to be remodelled due to collapse, they simply carried out the work on the original floor. Patching and levelling this floor, however, was an  ongoing necessity as it slumped into underlying structures.

A similar picture was emerging from Structure Twelve, which, although was also extensively remodelled, also seemed to have a single yellow-clay floor. The only attempt to construct a new floor surface within the Phase 2 building was a narrow strip of yellow gritty clay that encircled the northern hearth.

We leap ahead now to 2019, where it was cupmarks galore in the vicinity of Structure Twelve!

The excavation of the annexe outside the building’s eastern entrance was progressing well and throwing up surprise almost hourly. On the northern side of the entrance a cupmarked stone was found that mirrored one found on the other side.

2019: The cupmarked stone from the north side of Structure Twelve’s eastern entrance. (Sigurd Towrie)

2019: The southern cupmarked stone at Structure Twelve’s eastern entrance. (Sigurd Towrie)

2019: The incredibly deep cupmark on a stone from the Structure Twelve eastern annexe. (Sigurd Towrie)

The area was also producing large quantities of reasonably preserved animal bone and the excavators seemed to be caught up in what seemed like a never-ending sequence of blocking and deposition within the annexe.

These episodes of deliberate blocking had created a series of alcove-like structures around the east entrance – and, at the end of the 2019 season, there was no apparent end in sight.

A large prone stone removed from the northern section of the annexe was found to feature what is probably the deepest cupmark found to date on site.

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