Dig Diary – Monday, August 11, 2014

Jo McKenzie removes a micromorph sample from the hearth in Structure One.

Jo McKenzie removes a micromorph sample from the hearth in Structure One.

Day Twenty-One

Something special . . .

The new 'polished pillow stone' from Structure Eight.

The new ‘polished pillow stone’ from Structure Eight.

We promised you in the last blog that something special might be happening soon.

Well, it has only half-happened, so today we have just about 50 per cent of the story to tell you.

It centres on the southern end of Structure Eight and began last Friday afternoon, when Andy revealed a setting of stones –  one of which was broken and notched, lying just to one side of the hearth at that end.

Peeking delicately around the side of one of the stones was a beautiful, rose-red stone implement, apparently perfectly formed but not readily identifiable.

As regular readers will know, excavation is definitely not a matter of hauling stuff from the earth. Careful trowelling and cleaning is followed by photography and planning before the unveiling can continue.

This afternoon, Andy progressed further by removing the stone covering the implement.

Ansy, closely observed by Hugo, delicately cleans around the new polished stone from Structure Eight.

Ansy, closely observed by Hugo, delicately cleans around the new polished stone from Structure Eight.

It is not as beautiful as first thought, although it had been some 4, 500 years ago.

For some extraordinary reason the lower half of the implement –  the bit that had been hidden by the covering stone – appears to have suffered from lithic leprosy.

It has been eaten away by an unknown process, perhaps a reaction of some component of the stone with something in the surrounding midden material.

However, it is not instantly identifiable.

It is not a stone axe, not a cushion macehead, indeed not anything that you can instantly put a name to – all suggestions are welcome, although “polished pillow stone” is a strong contender.

In fact, it looks very like a new category of stone tool which has emerged from the Ness in recent years.

A very similar stone, if not its finer twin, was found by Ray on August 3, 2011, again from Structure Eight (thanks to Nick for astonishing instant recall) and that one is now in the Orkney Museum, in Kirkwall. Nick has sent an email asking the museum to send it out to the site so we can reunite it with its fellow.

However, it is now clear that the find spot of the object still has something to give.

We are not sure yet what this is, but the suspense is set to continue until tomorrow’s blog. Watch this space.

Andy and Lesley-Ann expose more of the pier in Structure Twenty-One

Andy and Lesley-Ann expose more of the pier in Structure Twenty-One.

In Structure Twenty-One, we welcomed back Lesley-Ann and Andy, friends of Willamette’s Scott Pike, who have revealed a very nicely defined pier, which, oddly enough, is not oriented in the same direction as the other piered structures, but which seems instead to run roughly east-west.

As much of it disappears below the spoil heap, we are unlikely to see more of this building this year.

We are also glad to see Jo McKenzie, of Bradford University, who will carry out further micromorphological sampling in Structure One, including the hearth.

This will complement the archaeomagnetic sampling carried out by Cathy Batt, which we hope will continue next year. Jo may also, if she has time, do some sampling of the floors in Structures Ten and Fourteen.

In Trench T, Ben is happy to confirm, without the slightest doubt, that our midden mound is Neolithic, as identifiable pottery, bone and flint continues to emerge.

The metre-square sondage (defined hole) he is digging at the top of our trench (around the “Crack of Doom” which continues downwards), is showing clearly the very finely defined layering of a classic midden. Whether he will ever reach the chambered tomb (or whatever), which everyone hopes lies at the core of the mound, is anyone’s guess (but not this year).

Jan removes the last of the robber material from the east wall of Structure Ten to reveal more of the original building.

Jan removes the last of the robber material from the east wall of Structure Ten to reveal more of the original building.

In Structure Ten, the numerous clay layers laid down in an attempt to keep the floor level have been giving Sarah severe headaches as she untangles the sequence.

Further over in the structure, Mark, Claire and Jan have almost removed the very last remnants of the robber fill of the front east wall. In the process they have uncovered vital evidence for the construction sequence of the wall and how it was built.

The site undoubtedly looks quieter this week with the departure of the University of the Highlands and Islands field school. However, we still have 50 or so diggers and there is plenty of work still remaining.

See you tomorrow.

From the Trenches

Hello, my name is Megan Cohen.

Regulars of the Ness’ dig diary may remember me from last year as the strange American who couldn’t think of what to say, so chose to write haikus about our spoil heap. I didn’t think it would get published, but there’s archaeology for you.

I’m back this season, my second at the Ness, to work on my project that I’m hoping will contribute some new level of understanding to the goings-on here.

The Ness of Brodgar is famous for its artefacts, from the grandiose stone art to pottery to the shocking deposits of animal bones deposited around Structure ten. This year, however, I have found myself imbedded in the study of flints, a common yet complex variety of artefact.

The flint assemblage that has been collected at the Ness is quite impressive, made up on many hundreds of flakes, blades, scrapers and more, with new finds coming in every day.

Even today I was shown a piece of flint that has been deemed an arrowhead. My study, however, has revolved around what I have called “cupcake scrapers”, though their proper name is “Stonehall” after the site where they were first recognized.

My mission, while I’ve been here, has been to investigate these scrapers and it has taken me all over the site.

I spent a certain amount of this year excavating, trowelling through the dirt like everyone else. I’ve spent the majority of my time inside, identifying them from the large selection of flints on site and examining them. One of them was even a scraper I found last year.

To better understand them, I spent a few days flint-knapping, making scrapers of my own and seeing how certain actions affected the shape of the flint. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I spent a lot of time talking to people about what I was doing, gauging their reactions, and considering their questions.

It is not an exaggeration to call conversation vital to archaeology. It is a field of science very limited in many ways, and it ultimately destructive in nature. With these limitations, the best resource we have is one another’s thoughts on what we are doing.

It is a resource I am very glad I have, as I found myself periodically wandering to ask people what they thought of pressure flaking, and whether handedness could be involved in scraper decision-making.  I’ve learned so much this year from trying to answer other peoples’ questions and I’m extremely grateful I got the chance.

My last season here was my introduction to archaeology, where I decided that this is a field that I could spend my life working (or, let’s be honest, volunteering) in.

This year, I have been able to put my thinking mind to the test, to work on a project that has real applications and meaning in the context of the Ness of Brodgar.

I’ve had a wonderful time and am learning every day that I am here. I will certainly miss it when I have gone.

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