Dig Diary — Friday, August 9

Day Twenty

The stone robbers

Jan, at home in Structure Ten, reveals more of the south-eastern corner's robbing.

Jan, at home in Structure Ten, reveals more of the south-eastern corner’s robbing.

Structure Ten may have lost much of its internal walling to stone robbing in the distant past, but a clearer understanding of this dramatic structure is now progressing quickly.

Claire, Jan and Christine, working again today in the area of the large robber trench, discovered huge, foundation corner slabs, exactly mirroring those in two of the other corners.

Interestingly, they also found many chips and flakes from “foreign” stones — stones which do not originate from the site, but which have been brought here for some reason.

Working with them, Professor Mark Edmonds, an expert on stone and stone tools, suggested that they may have been flakes from hammer stones which were used by the stone robbers to test the stone they were planning to take.

If you hit a rotten, or degraded, stone with another stone you get a dull thud. If the stone is solid, you get a nice ringing sound.

A hive of activity in Structure Ten today.

A hive of activity in Structure Fourteen today.

Obviously, the act of testing avoids the drudgery of hauling out a stone which you can subsequently see is rotten.

Mark even raises the possibility of provenancing the hammer stones, or tracing them to their area of origin, in order to determine where the stone robbers were coming from.

Trowels and spray-paint

An extra colour has been added to the area of midden at the south-west end of Structure Eight — bright orange.

Dave, supervising in that area, had spent a good deal of time with his trowel yesterday delineating the various discrete dumps of midden material which have become evident.

With rain threatening over the weekend, and the possibility of all his good work being washed away, he resorted yesterday to emphasising the different areas with a can of road-marking spray. It is certainly a successful technique.

The marked areas stand out with startling clarity, although anybody taking aerial photographs of the site over the weekend will be seriously puzzled.

Dave and his team are also making good progress in further clarifying the south-west end of Structure Eight.

It is a complex business, but the last of the midden has been cleared from the outer revetment and more internal features have been revealed.

Also appearing is a small section of end wall, which, most unfortunately, disappears under the baulk holding up the infamous water pipe.

Samples from hearth and midden

This is the last day for our trio of soil scientists, Zoe, Jo and Lisa.

They have taken hundreds of samples from midden and hearths for micromorphology and archaeomagnetic analysis and dating, all of which will vastly aid the reconstruction of a sequence for the site by the use of such complementary evidence.

Zoe, in particular, has been thrilled by the fantastic archaeomagnetic material she is getting from the hearth in Structure Eight. It is extremely difficult, of course, to discern the difference between such short periods of time as those represented by thin layers of material in a hearth.

Archaeomagnetic dating is only really taking off now for the Neolithic, and the Ness is playing a vital role in supplying material and, hopefully, dates for the establishment of a solid base of evidence for that task.

Zoe is working with Dr Cathy Batt, who will be coming up next week. She has a small British Academy grant and hopefully will be able to take some more samples for analysis.

Jim carefully disentangles the layers in the baulk across Structure Twelve before final drawing.

Jim carefully disentangles the layers in the baulk across Structure Twelve before final drawing.


Meanwhile, Structure Twelve is coming on well.

Jim is carefully examining levels in the central baulk before recording next week and removal before the end of this digging season.

The interior of the structure will be totally transformed by the removal of the baulk and we will be able to see it in all its magnificence.

More importantly, levels on both sides of the baulk will be properly reconciled for the first time since the structure was found.

And now for the weekend.

The brilliant weather this week has facilitated the excavation, but has left everyone a little tired. It is time for recharging batteries, of the human kind.

From the Trenches

Planning proceeds in Trench T, as the sondage gets deeper and more of the mound structure is revealed.

Planning proceeds in Trench T, as the sondage gets deeper and more of the mound structure is revealed.

Hello! My name is Jenna and this is my second year working at the Ness.

Last year, I came as a student and mainly worked in Structure Fourteen. This year, I have come as a volunteer to further my learning experience in the trenches.

I have spent the first week working in Trench T, stripping away context layers at the bottom of the trench area and finding mass quantities of bone and burnt bone.

There have been a few small finds consisting of pottery, flint and what is being described as “foreign stone”.

The supervisors for the area are Keir and Ben and they have been very patient teaching us how to properly record context sheets and soil samples, photographs, planning, levelling and how to see and understand the different context layers.

Hugo joined us yesterday and was taking aerial photographs using a kite.

He was also doing some flintknapping during lunch, which was also just amazing to watch. This is why I love coming to the Ness — there is always so much to learn, both in and out of the trenches.

Overall, I feel very lucky to have been placed in Trench T as I have learned so much and have also been able to apply the knowledge gained from the university modules.

Next week we are hoping to trowel down to the natural layer and then work our way back up to the top of the trench, where the wall is.

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