Dig Diary – A day of drains on a site abuzz with activity
Thursday, July 14, 2022
There is no finer place to be on a pleasant day that an archaeological excavation that is positively buzzing with enthusiasm and activity.
And the Ness was certainly that today.
After yesterday’s short digging window, conditions on site were much more amenable to excavation and the general impression was that people were delighted to get back on site and into the trenches.
The same was the case for the hundreds of visitors, many of whom had returned to see the Neolithic complex in more clement conditions than they’d experienced earlier in the week.
All in all, it’s been a good day.
It is especially heartening to see Trench T back in action.
Populated by students from Willamette University, they have been tasked to remove more of the robbing debris and midden dumps lying above the remains of Structure Twenty-Seven.
With the end of their first week on site approaching, the Willamette team are doing a sterling job and showing great promise in developing their archaeological excavation skills.
Working through the midden, they have experienced the delights of excavating animal remains, including a relatively well preserved bovine scapula, and some less-than-perfect cattle teeth.
It’s all par for the course in Twenty-Seven.
Elsewhere in Trench T, Charlie soldiered on with his sondage across the interior of Structure Twenty-Seven revealing more of the building’s primary yellow clay floor.
But as is always the case, things are never simple at the Ness.
Although the clay floor level extends some distance across the interior, it has now started to peter out, replaced by greasy layers of occupation deposits.
Work will continue and it may be that the sondage, which transects the northern area of Twenty-Seven, has hit an area relating to the structure’s hearth. Time will tell.
Over in Structure Eight, the floor sampling process continued but was punctuated by some discussion about a puzzling feature that runs beneath the building’s north-eastern wall.
The archaeology in the north end of Structure Eight is complicated by the fact that wall lines from one of its predecessors, Structure Eighteen, poke through its interior and beyond the two side walls.
At present the feature looks like a drain relating to Structure Eight. But we can’t rule out that it may relate to Structure Eighteen either. Perhaps an entrance?
We’ll have to wait for further excavation before we can say for sure.
And talking of drains. Stand by. We’ve got another two for you.
We’ll start with the mega-drain under Structure Thirty-Four. And the possibility that it might not be a drain at all!
Paul Durdin is Trench J’s supervisor and has a grasp of structural phasing that verges on the mystical. He has been analysing the incredibly complex stratigraphy of Trench P for many months to produce a sequence for the buildings within. Viewing the underground construction today, he posited that what we are seeing through the hole south of Structure Twelve might not be a drain but the outer wall faces of two earlier buildings!
The remains of these two walls, he suggested, may have been capped and reused as a drainage channel.
Only time and further excavation will tell.
But, you guessed it, there’s one slight hitch.
We now have a hearth relating to Structure Thirty-Four sitting smack bang on top of the hole leading into the drain. This means we can’t progress with the drain entry until the hearth is fully excavated and recorded.
The final drain of the day actually emerged yesterday.
You’ll recall that the aim of the section was to look for evidence that would clarify the relationship between the two buildings. It was beginning to look like a lost cause as the area had been extensively robbed of stone on perhaps more than one occasion.
But the drain that appear at the bottom of the section late yesterday afternoon now seems to run under Structure One’s western wall and emerges at the other side.
With Structure One supervisor Andy working on the drain inside the building today, we hope that the relationship between both drain sections and the building’s walls will reveal whether Structure Twenty-One is contemporary with One or built much later. Hopefully, we’ll have an answer tomorrow.
Over in Trench J, we’ve reached a point where we’re satisfied that all the floor deposits relating to Structure Thirty-Two – a later, scrappy building constructed on the rubble of Structure Five’s south-western end – have been removed.
This means we can now carefully dismantle and record the small wall and begin excavation of the Structure Five occupation layers lying beneath. This will give us a better idea of how this early building was used and clarify how it changed over time.
Despite the fever pace of archaeological work taking place across the site, it is Trench J that is keeping the finds hut busy.
Part of this is due to the new western trench extension, with the excavators in this area working down through centuries of accumulated deposits concentrated over a small area.
Among the star finds today was a flint blade, found by Mark, that was described by supervisor Paul as one of the finest he’d seen on site. And it was indeed a beauty. A textbook example of flint-knapping technique.
Paul also recovered a rather fine worked stone that bears the tell-tale impact marks of its use as an anvil.
Among the other finds of the day was a round worked-stone artefact that had been finely ground around most of its edges.
Because of its potential for the Chemarch project – a joint-initiative by the University of York (UK), Universidad Autonoma De Barcelona (Spain), Kobenhavns Universitet (Denmark) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France) – the stone had to be very carefully excavated to avoid contamination.
The reason? One of the aspects Chemarch is investigating is the function of stone tools – in particular whether residues on these tools can be analysed and give us a better idea of how they were used. Today’s stone object is now secure and ready for further analysis.
Speaking of Chemarch, another project was the subject of an on-site discussion this morning.
A project being undertaken by Julia Becher, who is excavating in Structure Ten this season, is analysing lipids on pottery sherds from the Ness. Once complete, Julia’s work will be one of the largest Organic Residue Analysis studies ever conducted on one site
The meeting saw pottery expert Dr Anne MacSween on site, along with Julia’s project supervisors Professor Oliver Craig, Dr Martine Regert and our very own Professor Mark Edmonds. They were joined by site director Nick, finds supervisor Anne and Ness ceramics specialists Roy Towers and Jan Blatchford.
The purpose of the gathering was to take stock of where the project is at and what is needed to progress it further. For more details of Julia’s project click here.
And with that, we’ll sign off for the evening.
Our second week of excavation draws to a close tomorrow but given what we’ve accomplished over the past fortnight – despite the weather-related interruptions – the coming weeks look like they’ll continue to be very interesting indeed.
We hope you’ll be there (virtually) to share them with us.
See you tomorrow.