Dig Diary – More evidence of Structure Twenty-Eight beneath our feet?
Monday, July 24, 2023
Orkney’s summer days are not always renowned for blistering sunshine and blue skies. But today really took the biscuit. As we all gathered on site this morning the temperature was a mere 10C (50F)!
It was, without a shadow of a doubt, a bit chilly – conditions more reminiscent of November or December than the end of July!
So what better way to warm up than get back into the trenches and start our fourth week of excavation.
We welcomed a new group of diggers – all familiar faces who have been with us before Siobhan (a lecturer at the UHI Archaeology Institute and curator of archaeology at the Orkney Museum), Ralph, Gianluca, Michaela and Denise – who, after their inductions, were despatched to their designated trenches.
We’ll kick off today’s diary with Structure Twelve, where there were a couple of surprises late in the day.
In the north-western recess, Linda came across what is possibly another internal pier belonging to Twelve’s predecessor, Structure Twenty-Eight.
The pier (if that is indeed what it is) extends across the interior of Twelve in the right direction but is covered in a layer of red ashy material. This will have to be recorded and removed before any firm conclusions can be drawn, but it looks promising.
Sticking with Twenty-Eight, Jan continued excavating in the south-western corner recess of Twelve revealing more of the earlier buildings walls.
These will now be recorded, but fit nicely with the other known sections poking through Twelve’s floor.
Meanwhile, by the central west pier, Michaela continued work on the orthostatic divider cut exposed by Eleanor last week. As expected this slot once held a stone slab that separated the recess from the rest of the building.
But in the process of excavating, it seems we have another fairly substantial wall lying beneath Structure Twelve’s floor that seems to line up with the “lump” running across the building. Whether this represents another of Twenty-Eight’s piers remains to be seen. But watch this space. We’ll keep you updated.
Elsewhere in the area, Sigurd finished investigating and recording the area outside Twelve’s eastern annexe – as yet there is no sign of a rear wall in the western section, meaning the possibility it served as a passageway remains. For now, at least.
The large decorated slab first spotted in 2019 at the rear of the annexe has been exposed further and it is now clear it predates the roughly built cell in the northern half, which butts up against it.
Gianluca has been set to work in Structure Twelve’s notorious north-eastern recess – an area known to cause headaches in diggers!
It is something of a quagmire of mixed features – a situation not helped by the extensive robbing of Twelve’s eastern wall.
So infamous is this area – which produced dozens of hammerstones from its puzzling confines – that it saw supervisor Jim dub the Twelve the “Hammerstone House of Horrors”. A title Nick borrowed for the title of his 2023 pre-dig lecture, which is now available to view.
We have no doubt that Gianluca, who worked in Structure Twelve in 2021, get things moving along.
Over in Trench T, Structure Twenty-Seven was given a good clean in advance of a photographic session. Work then continued removing and recording the many roof tiles that litter its interior.
More evidence of furniture was also revealed today, including a robbed-out stone orthostatic feature at right angles to the huge prone orthostat at the building’s south-western end.
We suspect this represents another so-called “dresser” akin to those visible at Skara Brae. It lines up nicely with structure features at the building’s north-eastern end and which, we believe, represents the entrance.
Readers will know that we’ve got “dressers” elsewhere – in Structure Ten, where was an ornate one featuring decoration and read and yellow sandstone, and at least eight in Structure Five.
The term “dresser”, however, is a hangover from the Victorian antiquarians, who first investigated Neolithic structures in Orkney, and basically saw the stone edifices as simple display cabinets. A place for people to put their best pottery and prized possessions on show.
The significance and role of these so-called “dressers” has been questioned over the years.
Were they more than just a set of shelves? Their presence in buildings at the Ness of Brodgar has reignited that debate.
Hearths remained very much the focus of activity in Structure Eight with sampling and excavation work continuing on two within the huge building.
Ceiridwen and Tom concentrated on the southernmost hearth, while geoarchaeologist Dr Jo Mackenzie took micromorphological samples from the other.
This recording and sampling work is in preparation for the hearths’ removal, after which we can insert sondages through the floors of Eight’s predecessor, Structure Seventeen.
Now it’s time to clarify a situation!
Forget what we said about Structure One’s elusive northern floor on Friday. While work continued on the building’s southern hearth, Andy has identified what appears to be a floor level in the northern end. This, in many ways, makes much more sense than the proposal that the floor had been completely removed.
Trench J seemed quite empty today with no UHI Archaeology Institute students. However, we were delighted to welcome back Ralph and Siobhan, who are working on the northern sondage investigating the ashy spread over the Structure Five’s floor.
In the northern extension, Aaron and Sarah continued valiantly battling the multiple layers of lenses of floor deposits – a task that is getting no easier.
The first task of the day, however, was to relocate the rope barrier around the trench to allow visitors to view the outer wall face of the “Great Wall of Brodgar” exposed in this year’s extension.
So if you’ve not seen it yet, be sure to take a look on your next visit.
Excavation in Structure Ten’s north-eastern quadrant is progressing well, the results beginning to make a lot of sense.
The area under the south-western buttress, however, continues to frustrate, with multiple patches and layers. But, fortunately, between the two excavation areas we think we are beginning to piece together a sequence for activity within the building.
While we can see the levelling layer placed on top of Structure Twenty before Ten was constructed, there is another similar layer under the south-western buttress, possibly relating to a second building underlying Ten.
As regular readers will know, when an earlier building at the Ness was dismantled ahead, it was covered by a levelling layer of midden.
The new building was then constructed on top of this platform – a technique that inevitably led to problems of subsidence and eventually collapse.
The two levelling platforms under Ten are overlain by a horizon of pseudo floor deposits before Structure Ten’s yellow clay floor was finally laid down on top of them.
Confused? It’s all part of the fun!
This discovery led to a rethink on the building, which is also visible protruding from the trench edge between Structures One and Twelve.
So today, Emma started revealing more of the area around the Twenty-Nine’s exposed section, which, we hope will help clarify its shape and size.
It’s been all go in the finds hut today with Anne, Gary and Rosalind processing all the finds of the past week – all the while still taking in a steady stream of trays from all the trenches.
They have been cleaning stone tools and flints, sorting charcoal, and now that much of the pottery recovered so far has dried out, Anne began the cleaning process.
Rosalind sorted the burnt bone assemblage, which is now being catalogued and stored ready for further examination.
Gary has washed all the worked stone, which was then laid out to dry before it too was catalogued and put into storage.
A reminder now that because our open day takes place on Sunday, July 30, the site will be closed on Friday, July 28. We have to give diggers some time off.
So if you’re planning a visit this week, don’t turn up on Friday!
More details of Sunday’s open day to follow later in the week.
Now it’s time to sign off.