Dig Diary – Friday, July 12, 2019

Day Ten

Back in the trenches

Marc and Aaron working on the hearth in Structure Thirty-Two. (Sigurd Towrie)

Yesterday, in a nutshell, was a day of hard labour, brought about by the foul weather conditions.

Today, on the other hand, it was back to archaeology in a big way with all trenches alive with activity that actually involved trowels.

The problem with all this meticulous archeological work is that, contrary to what you might think, its intricacies are very hard to write about. But I’ll do my very best and hope you get a flavour of what was taking place on site today.

The hearth in Trench J being excavated by Kaehlin. (Sigurd Towrie)

In Trench J, the day began with photographing and planning – a vital task that has to be carried out before the next stage of work can be carried out.

The focus today was again on two of the later hearths in the trench – one just outside Structure Thirty-Two, but which probably post-dates it, and the other, also later, down by the entrance to Structure Five.

Staying with hearths, another later hearth appeared to the west of Trench J this afternoon, as well as the remains of a fourth beside the one excavated and planned by Marc and Aaron over the past few days.

Ray and Emily at work in Structure Thirty-Two. The darker deposits against the later wall added to Structure Five are pictured in the foreground. (Sigurd Towrie)

Aside from the hearths, the walling in Structure Thirty-Two we mentioned yesterday that may relate to a remodelling of Structure Five has been puzzling today. It seems, at present, that the wall was built up against a rubble pile in the building and is notable for what appears to be an extensive area of burning adjacent. What this represents remains unclear at present.

Today’s better weather (although would still be a stretch to call it summer-like) saw a steady procession of people back into Trench P as diggers started to get back into their structures. Their numbers will dramatically swell next week as we look forward to a new intake of students from Willamette University, Oregon, and the UHI archaeology field school.

Alice cleaning the pit in Structure Eight that was dug in 1925 and which revealed the “Brodgar Stone”. (Jo Bourne)

In Structure Ten, the focus was the strategy for the next few weeks of excavation. Central to this discussion saw Sarah and Jo Mackenzie discuss strategies for the next few weeks.

This will involve the sampling of the interior of the building and the removal of the occupation layer that sits on top of the building’s primary, yellow clay floor.

All going well, they hope to reveal this floor across most of the building’s interior by the end of next week.

Structure Eight – showing the suspected relationship between the underlying Structures Seventeen and Eighteen.

The focus in Structure Eight was the north-end, where, interestingly, more of the features associated with one of the underlying buildings, Structure Eighteen, is beginning to appear.

As suspected, it looks as though it is definitely is another piered building, very reminiscent of Structure Fourteen.

Structure Eight incorporated the remains of both Structures Eighteen and Seventeen into its build.

Over in Structure Twelve, the painstaking work of producing a plan of the latest stage of the interior has been completed. This meant that work to remove the dumps of material in the recess that overly earlier deposits and obscure the orthostatic divisions within.

Some of the decorated pot recovered from Trench T today. (Sigurd Towrie)

In previous years, the excavators have encountered sub-circular, darker, charcoal-like impressions, which supervisor Jim thought might be soot marks from pot bottoms placed on the floor.

An alternative explanation has been suggested by ceramics specialist Claire Copper, who, during pot-firing experiments has encountered similar marks when upturned clay pots were fired. The question is now whether these circular marks relate to cookery or firing. We clearly need to do more work on this. Do they relate to cooking or pot production?

In Trench T, work to remove the midden and ash overlying Structure Twenty-Seven has been making great progress. During this process, a large spread of beautiful, decorated Grooved Ware pottery was recovered from an area over the enigmatic, rectangular building.

Brett at work by one of the orthostats in Structure Twenty-Seven. (Jo Bourne)

This gradual removal is revealing more of the building and, in particular, the extent of the stone robbing that the building suffered at the end of its life. By the end of next week, site director Nick hopes that we will start to see more orthostatic divisions within this Early Neolithic construction.

Finds have been coming thick and fast, including more flint from Trench J and a wealth of suspected, though ephemeral decorated stone around Structure Twenty-Six.

Now that two weeks have passed, the crew inside the Ness finds hut is due to change next week. Supervisor Anne would like to thank Louise and Annemarie, who had their last day on the Ness today, for all their help this season. The finds team are crucial to the operation of the Ness and without them – well, all the excavation would be for nought.

It has been a long day on the Ness. Some might be heading for watering holes this fine evening, others (i.e. your diary writer) have dates with a shower, some food and probably sleep, but we will return next week ready and raring to go.

Remember, though, that tours of the site continue over the weekend. I will be doing tomorrow’s 11am tour – suitably refreshed I hope – and look forward to seeing you there.

From the diary, however, we will bid you adieu until Monday.