Dig Diary – Friday, July 7, 2017

Day Five

Pottery link to Durrington Walls?

Hoy looms large in the distance, over a guided tour of Trench T.

Linda samples the fill from within the drain at the southern entrance to Structure Fourteen.

We can hardly believe it, but this is the end of the first week at the Ness with only seven more to go.

Today was the first day of what you might call “proper” archaeology, with the initial aches of unaccustomed physical activity lessening and new muscle forming in arms and legs. (At least, that’s the theory)

True or not, the Ness team is working hard and already we have some exciting finds.

In Trench T, newly extended and with all the covers removed from the enigmatic Structure Twenty-Seven, Lewke unearthed a very handsome triangular flint scraper.

The new trench extension over Structure Twenty-Six has also delivered some serious surprises. 

The first thing to emerge was a new wall line running in a contrary direction to anything we might have expected.  It looks like a well-made wall but it is very high up and it will be interesting to see how it relates to the structures around it and, possibly, underneath.

The finely shaped flint scraper from Trench T.

Late on in the day, another surprise has emerged.

Excavating just outside the wall line, Mike has discovered a fascinating pot sherd with vertical applied cordons, which are very reminiscent of pottery from a particular period at the major Neolithic site of Durrington Walls, in England.

The pot is in a fragile state and will have to be examined closely and carefully, but there are possible indications that that one of the cordons may have an oblique incision, which is a hallmark of some of the Orcadian Grooved Ware. 

Do we have a hybrid, a vessel with Durrington Walls-style decoration augmented with an Orcadian motif? We will let you know.

Outside Structure Fourteen, the collection of drains is being examined  by Hugo and his team.

Curiously, some of them are well built and others are distinctly shoddy. Site director Nick wonders whether the poorly made ones may have been lined in some way, perhaps with tree bark as happened in at least one case at the Neolithic site of Rinyo, in Rousay.

The ‘Durrington Walls hybrid’ pot is gradually revealed.

In Trench T, there are more potential structural elements emerging, but at the moment it is difficult to see how they could be related to Structure Twenty-Seven as they are higher up in the midden deposits. Again, only time and careful digging will resolve the many, and increasing, questions surrounding this extraordinary trench.

We were delighted to be visited today by Steve Dockrill, Julie Bond and some of their students from their excavations at Swandro, in Rousay.

A significant number of senior diggers on the Ness site were either trained by Steve or had the pleasure of working with him and it was a real pleasure to see him smile happily at the site of the beautiful complexity of Trench T.

Also visiting was our decorated stone expert Antonia, together with daughter Lucy and new addition, Henry. Antonia will be keeping a close eye on the removal of the Phase Two inserted wall in Structure One as there is a real possibility that it will produce more of the decorated stone in which she specialises.

We’ll stop here as the weekend beckons.

We’ll be back on Monday bright and early. See you then.

From the trenches

The new wall line in the extension over Structure Twenty-Six.

For me, Samantha Brummage, PhD student of the Neolithic way down south in the Colne Valley, my last day of excavation for the week has taken me from the trenches directly into the buildings and life of the Neolithic way up north on these Orkney Islands.

Why am I here? 

After years of studying the behaviour of the living I decided that the behaviour of those people thousands of years long gone might be less of a headache! 

This summer is the first since 2014 without a big academic deadline looming, and will be the last for a few years after completing an MA in Archaeological Practice last Autumn and beginning a three-year research scholarship this Autumn at Birkbeck College, University of London. 

The perfect time to embark on the travel adventure of getting to Kirkwall and spending a couple of weeks on the frontline of Neolithic discovery.  Although I will be investigating prehistoric life in southern England, most of the archaeology I’ll be working on is underneath Heathrow airport or West London urbanisation and is on a very slightly smaller scale to the archaeology of the Ness of Brodgar! 

So, here I am at 3 o’clock on the last day of my first week here and what have I been up to?

Getting the site uncovered has been a huge job, my first experience of working on a chain gang removing tyres and sandbags and waterlogged tarpaulin from the trenches.  Next came the big cleaning shift, getting Ness ready for her 2017 photo shoot and closely followed by the opening up of a new extension trench for Structure Twenty-Six (Trench P). 

Today, however, has been transformative. 

Just as I went to collect yet another barrow load of material for the spoil heap, Ray’s mattock hit Neolithic gold (stone of course!) and the trench was no longer a place of 21st-century archaeologists, gardening equipment and a lot of dirt.

This was the beginning of a wall that people had worked on thousands of years ago, possibly in a manner not dissimilar to how we had uncovered it; a lot of physical exertion, a bit of coordination, a few quibbles and a great feeling of achievement and camaraderie.

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