Dig Diary – Friday, August 4, 2017

Day Twenty-Five


A blast from the past — the original excavations of Trench J in 2008. Can you recognise anyone?


A box, an entrance and the revenge of Trench T

Casey reveals the stone base to the box in Structure Twelve.

There were a number of interesting developments at the Ness today.

The first concerns an intriguing stone box, near the northern end of Structure Twelve, and very close to the location of a huge deposit of pot, which was excavated in recent years.

There have always been high hopes that the box contained something really exciting. Why else construct a stone box if you don’t want to put something interesting inside?

Today, Casey carefully excavated the primary fill of the box and at the bottom she found the broken base of a vessel.

Yes, that is interesting.

How does it relate to the nearby pot spread, which in itself contained some fascinating sherds?

Luckily, we may be able to tell.

Casey’s pot is thickly encrusted with carbonised material on the inside of the sherds. This is probably the burnt remains of whatever it contained and it can be radiocarbon dated.

Excitement mounts as the blocking in the entrance to Structure Eight is removed.

This can then be compared with the dates for the pot spread. Will they match up, and if not, what does that mean?

This may seem quite mundane analysis, but activities like this are the bedrock of modern archaeology.

Other nice finds today included a rather unusually narrow chisel arrowhead, a clay ball and a polissoire (a grinding stone for polishing stone axe heads).

Further interest today centred on the entrance to Structure Eight, blocked up until yesterday and at the north end of the building.

Supervisor Dave and some UHI students ponder the horseshoe stone setting in Trench T.

Structure Eight has always been recognised as the location of some very special finds — such as a whalebone macehead, a whale’s tooth in a carefully arranged setting, and finely made stone spatulas.

It was reasonable, therefore, to expect something special from under the stones blocking such an important entrance — indeed the only entrance — but little was found.

Intriguingly, there was some cramp, which is vitrified fuel ash, sometimes associated with cremations or the burning of seaweed.

The area is now being carefully recorded and planned and next week the primary flagstone will be lifted. We will tell you if anything is discovered.

Trench T continues to baffle.

Yesterday’s diary suggested that little blinks of understanding were beginning to peek through the confusion. Today, Trench T has fought back, with a vengeance.

What we had thought to be a new, large orthostat in the south-west of the trench has turned out to be nothing of the sort.

The narrow ‘chisel’ arrowhead.

It is not as large as its four-metre-long neighbours, doesn’t fit in with other elements nearby and may be a later insertion, associated with some of the ephemeral walls which are so puzzling.

Neither is there much enlightenment from the horseshoe-shaped stone setting inserted into the midden and cut by one of the many pits. Next week will definitely be better.

In Trench J, Hugo and his team have uncovered more of the wall of Structure Five. It has turned out to be badly stone robbed and, though it may not allow a complete circuit of the building to be revealed, it should still be possible to trace its outline.

Our second contingent of UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands) students have been planning the “Great Wall of Brodgar” in Trench J today.

This is their last day and, with five weeks completed, it is also the final day, this year, for a number of our professionals and volunteers. They have done a tremendous job and we thank them all.

The rest of us will be back on Monday.

See you then.

From the Trenches
Avery Pike

Avery, today’s blogger.

I am a second-year student at Beloit College and this is my third straight season at the Ness.

I have been joining the Willamettes and my father, Scott Pike, on site during the summers since I graduated from high school in Oregon.

Currently, I am studying Philosophy and Biology/Health Studies in the States, but have a strong interest in archaeology from accompanying my father on various archaeological endeavours, in Orkney as well as in the US, Greece and Italy.

During the past three seasons, I have been running geochemical analyses of the floor layers from the structures in Trench P.

Sarah exhibits the polissoir from Structure Ten.

Using a pXRF (portable X-ray fluorescent spectrometer), my father and I are building a database of the geochemical components of the floors from the structures in Trench P.

If the study goes according to plan, the data will help us create geochemical fingerprints for each floor layer that will provide information on what activities may have been occurring in different areas of the structures during different periods of occupation.

I am extremely thankful to Nick and the rest of the Ness Staff for the opportunity to work on the site for past few seasons and have greatly enjoyed my time in Orkney during the summers.

I hope to return in future summers, and for the remainder of the season I will continue to analyse geochemical samples and help in the trenches when I can.

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