Decorated ‘dotted’ stone was a first for the Ness

Diary – Thursday, July 16, 2020
Day Nine

2012: A sea of polythene and stones at the start of Day One. (ORCA)

There was a new look to the site when the excavation team turned up on Monday, July 16, 2012. The spoil heaps had been moved to improve the visibility for visitors and Trench P extended to reveal the full extent of Structure Fourteen, which has first been exposed in 2011.

That said, operations on Day One 2012 didn’t change – they still faced the hard work of removing the several thousand stones that held the plastic sheeting in place (this was in the days before tyres) and lifting the innumerable sandbags that help support and protect the stonework.

2013: Relief in Trench P as the last of the sandbags are removed. (ORCA)

Day Two of the 2013 season dawned wet and windy. While the uncovering work in Trench P continued, over on the other side of the site there was something new – Trench T was being opened on the huge mound to the south-east of dig HQ.

As regular readers will know, surveys were carried out over the mound in 2002 as part of the World Heritage Site Geophysics Programme. The results showed concentric features which were interpreted as the outerworks of a broch.

By 2005, some subsidence of the top of the mound was noted and an exploratory trench opened. Instead of the Iron Age material you would expect with a broch, a Neolithic assemblage emerged. This was interpreted as the re-deposition of Neolithic material as a result of the late nineteenth century squaring of the field.

The concentric features remained. Although we now know these represent an Iron Age ditch and revetment walls, back in 2013 the possibility remain that they may have been Neolithic – and possibly represent a chambered cairn.

2014: Cleaning starts on a newly ucovered Trench T. (ORCA)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014, saw the first find of the season – a re-touched, well-used flint blade from Structure Twelve – and the first visitors of the season.

Over in Trench T, plans to extend were being discussed while in Structure Twelve hints of a large hearth at the northern end of the building were emerging. At this point it seemed to be rather ephemeral construction, prompting thoughts that it might be a late insertion.

2014: The yellow clay floor of Structure Fourteen is revealed again. (ORCA)

Five years ago today, the weather continued to plague the 2015 season.

2015: The midden baulk that once supported the water pipe that ran across the trench is steadily removed.

Strong winds and heavy rain were forecast for the following day, so the site was closing. As a result a large part of the day was spent preparing for the worst an Orkney summer could throw at us. Black plastic covers were wrestled back into position over vulnerable areas and the tyres temporarily brought out of retirement to hold the whole thing down.

Despite the impending storm, excavation continued and Structure Twelve yielded an extremely rare discovery indeed – fish bones!

2017: View across Structure 1, with wind blowing the barrier tape. (Karen Wallis)

2017: View across Structure 1, with wind blowing the barrier tape. (Karen Wallis)

This was particularly interesting as evidence of fish consumption is unusual in the Neolithic. It seems the people of Neolithic Orkney turned their backs on the produce from the sea.

While the lack of fishbone is sometimes due to poor preservation conditions or in old excavations were not noticed or perhaps ignored, at the Ness, where excavation is meticulous, the number of fishbone contexts at that point remained in single figures!

In 2016, July 16, was a Saturday, so there’s no excavation to report. In time honoured fashion, we’ll jump ahead to July 18, 2016 – but there was no digging that day either. Yes, you’ve guess it. The weather brought everything to a halt.

“This is not a day we wish to remember” exclaimed the diary.

Sunday, July 16, 2017, however was our open day with 950 visitors to the site. Click here for more pictures.

2017: The skin-covered boat used by the BBC for their televised voyage across the Pentland Firth last year, was on site for the open day.


The stone axehead from the bottom of Trench J ready to lift...

2018: The stone axehead from the bottom of Trench J ready to lift.

As has been mentioned previously, 2018 at the Ness was definitely the year of the axe and on this day, two years, ago another example – although rather small – emerged from the bottom of Trench J.

Originally opened in 2008, Trench J had been re-opened and extended in 2018, to further investigate the early Structure Five and also its relationship to the northern section of the “Great Wall of Brodgar”.

The axe was found in a trench section (wall) during operations to remove more of the infill between the structure and the wall.

Over in Trench Y, the hunt continued for the putative wall on the west side of the site but although there was plenty of rubble there was still no sign of a wall face.




As outlined yesterday, 2019’s third week of excavation started on a high note with the discovery of the incised stone from Structure Eight/Seventeen. Little did we know it was going to get better.

Once again, at the close of business, the Structure Eight team emerged clutching another large decorated stone.

2019: Structure Eight’s ‘domino’ decorated stone.  Click the image for a larger version. (Sigurd Towrie)

Trench J supervisor Paul at work in the cut that held one of the ‘floating’ hearths encountered above the remains of Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

This one was completely different. Instead of the incised chevrons, triangles and zigzags, the new stone featured several rows of “dots” divided into two groups. Click here for more images.

This was new to the Ness, although a similar technique was used in the creation of a rosette-shaped decoration, also found in Structure Eight, in July 2016.

In Trench T, the removal of ash and midden from Structure Twenty-Seven was revealing more evidence of stone-robbing events throughout the life of the building – not just when its remains were out in the open but during and after the deposition of midden on top.

A further revelation added weight to a theory first proposed in 2017 – that Structure Twenty-Seven had been built on a specially constructed platform. The discovery of more of the original ground surface at the building’s south end suggests the site of Structure Twenty-Seven was built up carefully to create a level platform for its construction.

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