Dig Diary – Friday, August 5, 2011

Day Fifteen

The roof tiles keep coming . . .

The howls of anguish from Structure Eight could be heard all over the site!

After toiling through the detailed recording, and removal, of over 370 flagstone roof tiles, the team settled down, this morning, to some pleasurable trowelling of material above the floor surfaces. Then, they found…you’ve guessed it, more roof tiles.

Not too many, to be truthful, but enough to bring out all the recording equipment and the string, or bags, which hold the removed tiles together.

And all this has to be accomplished before Monday, when the structure will be cleaned, prettified and photographed, before the planning element begins.

Ray's latest discovery in Structure Eight - a wide range of cobble tools. (ORCA)
Ray’s latest discovery in Structure Eight – a wide range of cobble tools. (ORCA)

None of this prevented Ray, on his last day on the Ness, from uncovering a nice collection of worked stone tools, which had been deposited with two cattle scapula (shoulder blades) that are thought to have been used in the Neolithic as a type of hand-shovel.

It is hoped that the stones can be analysed by Scott’s XRF (X-ray fluorescence spectrometer) machine to see what material they may have been used with.

Over in Structure Ten, Claire’s recess, with the massive flagstone floor, which we told you about yesterday, has developed further.

This afternoon, she uncovered a drain running out of the recess under the main outer wall. Interestingly, this internal arrangement of features –  the recess and drain – mirror exactly the same arrangement in both of the structures at Crossiecrown, St Ola – a Neolithic site recently excavated, just to the west of Kirkwall.

An all-enclosing wall

Further investigations in the robber trench of the east wall of Structure Twelve. (ORCA)
Further investigations in the robber trench of the east wall of Structure Twelve. (ORCA)

ORCA, the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, which is leading the Ness excavation is fortunate to have its own, highly sophisticated geophysics unit.

On Thursday, the unit spent a considerable time being filmed by the BBC in the garden of Mrs Hoey’s house, Lochview, which sits on the “summit” of the Ness of Brodgar site, with her garden/field covering the southern portion.

The area between the two lochs in the garden was geophysically surveyed a decade ago, but the equipment used yesterday is more sensitive, with the data being collected every half metre rather than at one metre spacing.

The results, delivered this morning, are fascinating.

It appears that the “Lesser Wall of Brodgar”, which was known to be in the garden, now traverses the whole garden and curves around, along the shore of the Loch of Stenness – this had only been hinted at in the original survey.

With what is already known about the “Great Wall of Brodgar”, on the northern side of the site, this seems confirmation of site director Nick’s long-held view that the Ness of Brodgar site was totally enclosed by a massive wall.

In Structure Twelve, more of the rubble from the robbed-out east wall has been removed and it is clear that the two piers that should have been there are missing – at least at these higher levels.

Next week, work will concentrate on removing more of the midden infill from the centre of the structure and, from what is known about the dimensions of the existing walls, there is still at least a half-metre of material to be taken out before floor deposits are reached  – and hopefully a slate horizon, as in Structure Eight.

A great deal of work, undoubtedly, but a tremendously interesting task as well.

Aly reveals the passage between Structures One, Seven and Eleven. (ORCA)

Aly is still in the passageway between Structure One and the earlier phases of Structure Seven…indeed she may have taken up permanent residence there.

She has discovered some beautiful, secondary paving, which seems to lead to Structure Eleven.

This means that the later phases in Structure Eleven, which had seemed to be fairly straightforward, may have to be re-thought.

Meanwhile Structure One, which has appeared strangely empty while the MA students from Orkney College, who normally work there, have been surveying elsewhere is about to get a new breath of life.

They will all be back on Monday and will complete the removal of deposits and rubble, thus making further sense of the secondary phases of the structure.

Sore muscles will now rest for the weekend, hopefully not to be replaced by sore heads.

Claire reviews her paved recess in Structure Ten. (ORCA)

From the Trenches

Hi, my name is Simon Gray and I’m delighted to be back on the Ness of Brodgar, as part of the team, after a year away.

Since last season, I have graduated from the University of Southampton, after completing my undergraduate archaeology degree and have spent a week digging on site, with another to go before heading back home to Suffolk to return next year…if they’ll have me back.

I first came to Orkney at the age of 17 to visit some family friends with whom I am staying for my second week.

After being taken around sightseeing, I was amazed by the beauty of the islands and, as I was then studying archaeology for my A Levels, the wealth and magnificence of the sites. I, in fact, came for a site tour at the excavations in the torrential rain (and that’s not a soft, southerner’s exaggeration) where I heard one of the Historic Scotland Rangers say: “scratch the surface and Orkney bleeds archaeology”.

Inspired by this, I went on to finish my course and move down to Southampton to study further.

My personal area of interest is the British Neolithic; although since excavating here I have refined this interest to almost exclusively the Orcadian record – it’s the cheese and the whisky as well as the archaeology!

The subject of my dissertation was the potential relationships and interactions between the Ness of Brodgar and the neighbouring sites and monuments in the heart of Neolithic Orkney such as the Barnhouse Settlement, Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. Apparently Nick wants to have a look at it at some stage, so I’ll have to point him in the direction of the “acknowledgements” section to keep him sweet if he disagrees!

A great hope of mine is to move to Kirkwall, so I can complete a Masters course at Orkney College and continue excavating at the Ness, but also so I can continue to keep the pubs and bars in business as well! This may take a few years to achieve, however it is something I’ve got my heart set on, after returning to the site.

The removal of deposits in Structure1 revealing the floor relating to its major second phase. (ORCA)

After a night of heavy rain (a soft, southerner’s exaggeration), I arrived on site this morning to continue working outside Structure One, where, so far this week, I have uncovered an entrance and some incised stone on the wall that someone somehow managed to miss last year, to my fortune.

I had been following a clay deposit that covers the entrance and am looking forward to taking it out once it has been recorded. I am convinced it’s my turn to find something fantastic, so I’ll be digging like a badger on Monday, hoping to find it and live the dream!

However, my most immediate goals are to get back to the campsite for a much needed shower, before heading out to the town centre this evening, where I may have a drink or dozen with the good friends I made on the dig last year, as well as a few new ones!

For anyone yet to visit the Ness, I’d strongly encourage you to do so.

We’ve had two well-attended site tours today, which have been informed of the latest developments, as well as observing me tripping over my own feet (as usual) when striding up and down the spoil heap. So, if you want a good laugh, or, alternatively, to find out about a truly incredible Neolithic site, then come on down and I’ll be sure to make a fool of myself for your amusement.

Or if you can’t make it down to the site, but you’d like to buy me a pint, then I’ll be in The Shore at 8pm.



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