Diary – Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Day Three

Structure One in 2011. With the water pipe running straight through it. (ORCA)

A momentous occasion in the history of the site as Nick cuts through the waterpipe! (ORCA)

This day, five years ago, will long be remembered as a historical milestone in the history of the Ness of Brodgar excavation.

It wasn’t because of any astonishing artefacts or ground-breaking discoveries. No, July 8, 2015, was the day the accursed water pipe was removed!

Since the excavation of Trench P began, the diggers had to work around the pipe, which ran right across the middle of the trench. It hampered interpretation and stuck out like a sore thumb on site photographs.

But with a huge, site-wide sigh of relief, finally it was removed – accompanied, naturally, by a ceremonial pipe-cutting by site director Nick.

The large, peck-dressed, yellow-sandstone block revealed by Robert.

2016: The large, peck-dressed, yellow-sandstone block revealed within Structure Ten. (ORCA)

2016 saw confirmation of the long-suspected theory that Structure Ten had, like other buildings on site, a tiled roof.

The first evidence of stone tiles turned up in Structure Eight in 2010 and on July 8, 2016, the basal deposits from Structure Ten’s south-west interior buttress were finally cleared, revealing a clay levelling layer covered in roofing slates.

This discovery suggests that the magnificent Structure Ten, at least in its first phase, had a flagstone roof.

Elsewhere in the building a beautiful example of a peck-dressed sandstone block was also fully revealed. Four faces of the stone, which formed part of the the original interior wall face, were extensively peck-dressed highlighting the importance placed on lavish appearance in the construction of Structure Ten.

2017: The end wall of Structure Thirty is gradually revealed. (ORCA)

Jumping ahead to 2017, we’re back at the trench extension over Structure Twenty-Six.  We saw on Monday that a curved wall line had started to appear and this became clearer as excavation went on. In fact, it was beside this wall that the Durrington Walls style pottery, mentioned yesterday, was found.

This wall didn’t, as expected, run towards Structure Twelve but instead ran parallel. A quick check at the previous geophysics scans and it became clear that the site had another new building – Structure Thirty.

All but this one wall section (which, in 2019 was found to be extensively cup-marked) of Structure Thirty remains unexcavated. Extrapolating the wall line suggests that it is likely to be as big as, if not bigger, than neighbouring Structure Twelve.

2018: Fresh from the earth – the stone axe from Trench J. (Sigurd Towrie)

Trench J was re-opened and extended in 2018 and before long began producing what was to be a number of polished stone axeheads (in fact, 2018 was a remarkable year for axeheads – but more on that in the days to come).

The first came from a lower area of the trench which had been initially excavated several years previously. We had returned to it to investigate a drain from Structure Five and that punctured the ‘Great Wall of Brodgar‘.

The large shaped and dress stone - probably robbed from Structure Ten in antiquity - removed from Structure Twenty-Six today.

2018: The large shaped and dressed stone – probably robbed from either Structures Ten or Twelve in antiquity – removed from Structure Twenty-Six. (Sigurd Towrie)

Over in Structure One, some interesting pot sherds were carefully lifted. The largest was covered by many parallel incisions – nothing unusual in that you might say. But there were far more of them than you would expect to see on sherds of this size.

Meanwhile, Structure Twenty-Six gave up yet another, presumably robbed, shaped and dressed stone. Another candidate for some pilfering from either Structures Ten or Twelve.

There was considerable relief two years ago when it became clear that the pits that had plagued the excavation of Trench T were coming to an end.

The highly polished stone tool recovered from Trench Y.

2018: The highly polished stone tool recovered from Trench Y. (ORCA)

As explained previously, these pits – which served no obvious function – had been holding up progress but there was relief on site when it became clear that the midden deposits on and around Structure Twenty-Seven could be removed fairly quickly in a way that would not jeopardise the collection of information.

Although Trench Y was continuing to produce interesting artefacts, there was still no definitive evidence of an elusive western wall. The latest of these artefacts was a highly polished stone tool, seemingly of quartz , that had seen heavy use wear and damage. Its condition suggested it was a hand tool used both for hammering or striking as well and polishing or smoothing.

Meanwhile, the rubble spread in the trench was becoming more defined each day and hopes remained high that the missing enclosing wall might lie beneath it (spoiler – it didn’t).

After days of inclement weather, the sun finally broke through on July 8, 2019, bringing with it the scourge of the midge. But these pests were pretty much ignored as we were so glad to get back to work. The poor weather meant we were behind schedule and cleaning was still the order of the day.

2019: Structure Twenty-Seven was the focus of attention in Trench T, with the start of the two trench extensions visible. (Jo Bourne)

The delay meant that finds were still few and far between, resulting in the remark that the finds hut was “uncannily clean and tidy”. That didn’t last long though and, as usual, it wasn’t long before the finds began streaming in.

July 8, 2019, in pictures

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