Dig Diary – Full steam ahead as we get back into the trenches
Thursday, July 7, 2022
After yesterday’s weather delay, it was full steam ahead today as the last of the covers were removed, the trowels came out and we finally got back into the trenches.
Proceedings began with the usual pre-dig sessions from site director Nick, finds supervisor Anne and our on-site geologist Martha. With everyone fully briefed on health and safety, site protocol, finds handling and “foreign stone” the task of sprucing up the trenches began in earnest.
Some areas of Trench P had been under their covers since 2019, which meant there was weeds to be culled, sections to be cleaned and floors to be refreshed. Structure One, for example, has not seen the light of day since 2018 but by the end of the day was looking glorious.
As well as the tidy-up, supervisors took the chance to check sampling grids, survey points and other technical elements essential to the thorough excavation and sampling of the buildings’ interiors.
In Structure Eight, Jo’s team removed the covers from the building’s northern section to reveal the final occupation layer. These deposits will be removed carefully to reveal portions of the Structure Eighteen, which lie beneath but are already partially visible.
The difficulty they face is differentiating the occupation layer relating to Structure Eight’s first use and the levelling layer overlying the remains of Structure Eighteen and which bleed through into its successor. Excavation will be slow and steady but we’ll get there.
Over in Structure Ten, Sinead and her team reinstated the sampling grid across the interior floor space. As regular readers will know, this involves dividing the floor into identifiable squares which can then be carefully sampled – a complex process that takes time but which is invaluable for the recovery of information about what went on inside the building.
Travis was back at Ten’s northern wall, an area he excavated last year. The goal here is to remove a series of low orthostats (earthfast stones) and allow excavation down through the building’s floor levels.
Because most of the work today was “housekeeping” rather than excavation proper there were no finds in Trench P. But over in Trench J an impressive (and large) worked stone was removed from Structure Thirty-Two – the later building constructed on top of the ruins of Structure Five’s southern end.
The stone appears to have been extensively dressed and worked which suggests it was robbed from somewhere else – presumably Structure Five? – and incorporated into the less-than-impressive Thirty-Two.
In other news, Structure Twenty-One, a badly robbed-out building adjacent to Structure One, was revisited today in an effort to see where it sits in the timeline of the Ness.
As well as being the supervisor of Trench J, over the past few months Paul Durdin has been painstakingly analysing the many, many layers of midden across the trench to piece together a biography of the buildings.
It’s an unenviable task, but Paul has done an incredible job.
One of the questions he’s looking to clarify is Structure Twenty-One’s relationship to One. Were they built at the same time? Was One earlier or vice versa? In an effort to answer this, a section beside both structures is being revisited.
Will it provide the answer? Time will tell.
Among the hundreds of visitors on site today were Dr Aimee Little, from the University of York, and Patrick Nørskov Pedersen, from the University of Copenhagen.
Aimee is one of the leads in the Chemarch Project and looking at whether DNA residues on these tools can be analysed to give us a better idea of how they were used.
But she was on site today, along with Professor Mark Edmonds, to work on grant applications for a project which will see Patrick examine aspects of polished stone axes – an artefact type that the Ness has produced in some quantity.
Among other things, the proposed project will look at how the axes were made, used and re-used.
Also joining us in the trenches today was Julia Becher, who, regular readers will know, is undertaking a separate Chemarch project looking at lipid residues on pottery from the Ness.
We can hardly believe that our first week back on site is almost over. But tomorrow, with the trench maintenance now complete, it’s on to excavation proper.
What will we find? Who knows. But it’s great to be back.