Seaweed, a standing stone and the ‘corner of loveliness’ revealed

Dig Diary – Friday, July 10, 2020
Day Five

Trench P, yesterday, Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Sigurd Towrie)

Trench P, yesterday, Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Sigurd Towrie)

Here we are at the end of what would have been the first week of the 2020 excavation season.

And, as suspected, it has been a strange week.

Having been at the site a couple of times this week and seeing it silent under glorious sunshine was particularly difficult. But fingers crossed we’ll get back in 2021 and make up for lost time.

We hope that this week’s diaries have been some consolation. Although we’d have rather been bringing you the latest news and findings, hopefully a look back at events over the years will help place the developments at this most incredible site in fresh light.

As mentioned previously, it’s been slim picking this week because eight-week excavations only began in 2015, but next week things will really take off, with excavation underway, or about to start, in all previous seasons.

That said, there’s no entry for 2015 today. As forecast on July 9, 2015, all excavation the following day was cancelled due to rain!

Heave-ho: Moving a megalith with log rollers. (ORCA)

In 2016, some of the diggers were drafted in for a piece of experimental archaeology dreamed up by the producers of the BBC Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney series, which was being filmed on site at the time. The idea was to see how the people of Neolithic Britain moved large stones.

As anyone who has seen the TV programmes will know, an eminently sensible, proven method from more recent Orcadian history saw the use of seaweed come up trumps. As the presenter put it at the end of the exercise: “We tried to over-engineer it!”



Yesterday we outlined the sampling quandary faced by dig director Nick in 2016. That solved, this day in 2017, saw the covers come off the floors of Structure Eight and sampling begin. Over in Structure One, the planning and recording of the phase two curving wall continued apace.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018, saw the hardy diggers in Trench Y  – probably the hardest workers on site for previous two days – continue to shift huge volumes of soil in the hunt for a wall which was thought might run across the west side of the site.

Among the apparently never-ending rubble there were two interesting finds – the butt-end of a small polished stone axe and a pot sherd from what appeared to be an early round-based bowl.

Declan with the butt end of a polished stone axe he found in Trench Y today.

2018: Declan with the butt end of a polished stone axe from Trench Y. (Sigurd Towrie)

Mike, Declan and Pete at work in Trench Y. The rubble spread at the top of the trench can be seen at the bottom of the picture.

Mike, Declan and Pete at work in Trench Y. The rubble spread at the top of the trench can be seen at the bottom of the picture. (Sigurd Towrie)


It was on this day in 2019 that the enigmatic “cell” outside the eastern entrance to Structure Twelve first had us scratching our heads.

Initially, “the corner of loveliness”, as supervisor Jim so aptly named it, seemed to be a passage aligned with the entrance – an entrance that, unusually, remained in use throughout the life of the building and is notable for its handsome flanking standing stones.

Investigating the area between Structures Twelve and Twenty-Six. (Nick Card)

It wasn’t long into excavation that it became clear the situation was much more complicated than that. Whatever was going on at this entrance, it appears to have been subjected to numerous phases of alterations and additions, before being finally blocked.

2019: Working down the midden layers in Trench J’s Structure Thirty-Two. (Emily O’Farrell)

For now, it seems that the material blocking the entrance between the two standing stones was part of a later annexe, similar to the one found at Structure Twelve’s northern end.

Almost prophetically, last year’s diary entry pondered whether the area would turn out to be an area “replete with incised and pecked stone decoration”. It did. Perhaps more than we could ever have imagined. But more of that in later days…

2019: The suspected entrance to Structure Twenty-Seven. (Jo Bourne)

Over in Trench J, more of the Structure Five entrance area saw the light of day, with an outer wall face, close to the original entrance, uncovered. All of this suggested that Structure Five, like the other buildings on site, saw several rebuilds and phases in its life.

Continuing this theme, in Trench T, work was underway to remove midden material from an orthostat that may be part of Structure Twenty-Seven’s entrance.

The nature of the robbing debris present suggested another parallel orthostat originally completed the entrance, forming what must have been quite a narrow potential passageway, perhaps only three feet wide.

You may also like...