Dig Diary – Friday, August 9, 2019

Day Thirty

Roy contemplates the weather outside Trench X this morning. (Jo Bourne)

Wind, puzzling structures and a Neolithic bull!

To be honest today has been a bit of a struggle.

The day started grey and windy and became very windy indeed. It’s no comfort that the whole country seems afflicted by gales and storms. We are all outdoors and that makes it so much worse.

Enough of the whining.

We had a surprise this morning as the teams turned up for work. Caught in the overhead power lines was a unicorn. Not the beast of mythology and political commentators but an actual unicorn, albeit made from plastic and inflated.

Site director Nick reckons it blew over from the Dounby Show, one of the many agricultural shows which take place in an Orcadian summer, and that somewhere there is a very unhappy child.

Now to the serious stuff.

One of the numerous cupmarked stones on the external wall of Structure Thirty. (Sigurd Towrie)

We have missed our rock art expert, Antonia, but she made a visit today.

We think we have nearly a thousand identified examples of decorated rock at the Ness and Antonia is facing a backlog in her examination of the many pieces which have emerged this year.

She has been lecturing in China and had a scary flight back home due to extreme turbulence, but the sight of the outer wall of Structure Thirty has cheered her up considerably.

That wall was known to have cup marks but Antonia’s eagle eye has spotted what looks like several more marked slabs.

Structure Thirty is turning out to be something of a surprise. It corresponds to one of the anomalies spotted by geophysics, but extrapolating the wall line suggests that it is likely to be as big as, if not bigger, than neighbouring Structure Twelve.

Will we ever see more of it?

Nick says not in his lifetime and, as he is absurdly young, we reckon that is a no!

Defeated by the weather. The eastern entrance to Structure Twelve (aka the corner of loveliness) after rain brought excavation to a halt this afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)

Work at the eastern entrance to Structure Twelve (the corner of loveliness) has uncovered yet more pottery and spreads of bone together with further ephemeral wall lines.

All of this adds to the gathering evidence of a whole sequence of re-building and the construction of small alcoves in this entrance area.

In terms of complexity, that entrance cannot match the area between the south end of Structure Eight and the north end of Structure Twelve.

It is possible to see walling and stones representing Structures Seventeen, Eight, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Four and Twenty-Four but trying to untangle the sequence of building there is causing severe headaches.

At one stage, it seems that the interior of Structure Twenty-Four was demolished and removed to create space for Structure Thirty-Four, which in itself is a confusing morass of small orthostats, (some forming three-sided boxes) with no obvious purpose.

The actual floor of the structure (if it ever had one?) has not yet been located but we know that the massive drain discovered a few days ago is nearby, and that may be a future complication.

Nice pottery continues to emerge, with a well-made everted rim from Trench J, which may be associated with earlier Grooved Ware, and a sherd from Trench T which has a beautifully impressed “rosette” consisting of a circular impression with smaller impressions around it. This is not unknown as a decoration but it is very pretty nonetheless.

The Trench T team bid farewell to supervisor Cristina. (Jo Bourne)
Linda washing stones from Structure Twelve, checking for incisions. (Jo Bourne)

We are sad to see Cristina (Trench T) and Jim Rylatt (Structure Twelve), both supervisors, leaving tonight.

They are both tremendous archaeologists and we hope to see them back next year. They will be succeeded by their assistant supervisors, and both of them took part today in a mini-conference with Nick in which the objectives for the next two weeks were agreed.

The site will be closed tomorrow as it is County Show day in Kirkwall.

Come along to see us there as we will be together with Highland Park distillery who have produced a commemorative Ness of Brodgar whisky. You will have a chance to taste it, and also to see our massive bull, a life-size reconstruction of one of the largest Neolithic beasts found at the Ness.

It is 1.8 metres tall at the shoulder (as was the original) and it will be in the care of Jan who conceived the idea for the bull and persuaded some kind benefactors into making it.

She is not expecting it to get “best in show” but we think it is a winner.