Dig Diary – curvilinear decoration in Structure Five and a Structure Twenty-Seven revelation
Monday, July 25, 2022
We know that we seem to have been unusually fixated on the weather in recent weeks but today has confirmed that we are right – it is dreadful.
Heavy rain overnight, a coarse nasty wind from the north and unseasonal low temperatures have all conspired to make excavating something of a trial today.
Luckily the Ness came to our rescue with some superb archaeology.
Working at the inner wall face of Structure Five he uncovered a most unusual decorated slab of stone. It has pecked decoration forming a series of arcs which may bring to mind the enigmatic eyebrow motifs found on other Neolithic sites, but particularly the Holm of Papay South chambered cairn.
Although we now have hundreds of examples of incised “artwork” from the Ness, these tend to be comprised of straight lines or geometric motifs.
The stone was removed at the end of the day and will now be the object of intensive study.
In Trench T, Structure Twenty-Seven remains as difficult to interpret as ever. The team from Willamette University are working hard and have uncovered more of its beautifully constructed original wall.
More significantly, it is now clear that the wall core, the material deposited within the interior and exterior wall faces, is every bit as remarkable as the rest of the building.
Unlike the other buildings on site the wall core of Structure Twenty-Seven is composed of carefully placed stone. All other structures have wall core partially made up of midden.
Why is that important?
Some archaeological theorists suggest that midden, composed as it is partly of organic material, has connotations of “life”, whereas stone may reflect aspects of “death”. From this they argue that walls composed entirely of stone may reflect mortuary practices.
Site director Nick wants to make crystal clear that we are not suggesting that Structure Twenty-Seven is a chambered or stalled tomb. In truth we do not know what it is and we have no dating evidence thus far.
In addition, the fact that the walls do not include midden may simply be because the structure, whatever it is, was built before the curation and use of midden.
We have, therefore, accumulating evidence, none of which can yet lead us to an understanding of the function or date of this puzzling building.
In Structure Eight the belief that the small northern entrance is part of the second phase of the building, and that the first phase entrance in the same spot was a very large entrance, is now accepted. It is one of those situations where, once something is pointed out, it becomes blindingly obvious.
The stones on either side of the small entrance are not tied in and therefore suggest a rather unimpressive reconstruction to narrow the access. The original entrance will not be revealed for some time but it is already known fondly as the “barn door”.
The Japanese film crew who visited us have now left. They are heading to Wales to film work on a World Heritage Site slate mine. We hope to have a link to view their Ness programme when it is broadcast in Japan.
New diggers arrived this morning from our own UHI Archaeology Institute and also from the University of Central Lancashire.
They are very welcome and we desperately hope that they will not succumb to hypothermia.
We shall see….tomorrow.