Dig Diary – This season’s second polished stone axe from Trench J
Tuesday, July 12, 2022
Well that’s been another busy day.
With multiple tours – private and public – the site has been a veritable hive of activity, with hundreds of visitors making their way to Stenness to see the Ness team in action.
Among the crowds today, we were very pleased to welcome two distinguished visitors from Historic Environment Scotland – Alex Paterson, the chief executive, and Hugh Hall, the organisation’s new chairman.
Neither had seen the Ness complex before and were suitably impressed by the site and what we’re doing.
Due on site later today is Laurie Goodlad, from Lonely Planet guides, who is touring Orkney gathering material for a new guidebook.
Now on the the archaeology…
It is a wonder to behold. The cutting edge is undamaged and appears to have been resharpened on several occasions during its lifetime.
Meanwhile, in Structure Thirty-Two Ralph was removing the last vestiges of the deposits covering the floor when he revealed a large spread of clay.
We think this may have been gathered and, because temper had been added, was going to be used to create pots. Why it wasn’t is anyone’s guess.
But we have sampled the clay and Jan Blatchford, one of our ceramics experts, is going to use some for experiments investigating how it shrinks when dried and fired.
Just outside Trench J, the UHI Archaeology Institute students working on the western extension are soldiering on and gradually working their way down the layers – all the while becoming more proficient in trowelling – under the watchful eye of Linda Somerville from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA).
In Trench T, the students from Willamette University, Oregon, continued removing the detritus that is only to be expected in a trench after three years of inactivity. It is looking resplendent again now and excavation proper can begin.
This will focus on the enigmatic Structure Twenty-Seven and, in particular, the north-western section of the building which we are very hopeful will be better preserved than the wall lines uncovered so far.
Other planned work includes a sondage (a small but deep exploratory trench) against one of the prone (standing-stone-sized) orthostats embedded into the structure’s floor.
We know these were used to support large stone slabs that clad the interior of the building. But the depth of the orthostats remains unclear. The sondage will specifically to look at how deeply the orthostats were inserted into the floor and will also give us a better idea of the composition of the infill.
Staying in Trench T, Charlie has opened a small exploratory section beside the south-eastern prone orthostat and has reached the yellow clay level of the primary floor.
The fact the floor lies just under the overlying material is particularly welcome news as it means the excavation team don’t have metres of midden to trowel through to reach it and the information it contains.
The shallowness of the overlying deposits could suggest that the use of Structure Twenty-Seven was short-lived. Or that its floor – like others across the site – was kept scrupulously clean throughout its lifetime
Back in Trench P, the painstaking process of removing, and sampling, floor deposits continued. It is, by necessity, a slow task but the results pay dividends when it comes to interpreting how each area of Structures One, Eight and Ten were used over time.
The deposits within these boxes are being removed, sampled and recorded and one has been found to have a flagstone bottom.
What were these boxes used for?
Are they akin to the stone boxes found embedded in Structure Twelve’s floor and those still visible at Skara Brae?
There’s just one small problem. Structure Thirty-Four’s boxes only have three sides, making them useless as containers.
Sampling and further excavation will hopefully reveal more.